Playing Games

When the struggle is no longer interesting, when the rewards are no longer fulfilling, question the game you’re playing.

Every day we wake up and play by a certain set of rules. We know what will happen if we break those rules, and we know what we hope to achieve by adhering to them.

Oftentimes breaking the rules is either difficult or unwise. But stepping away from them in favor of another set? Setting them aside, opting instead to play another game? It’s an option we all have.

This is an option we’re encouraged to ignore, of course. Pop culture is rife with examples of people winning the game, and we celebrate those who win in a spectacular fashion. Tradition and common sense are pervaded with hints that storing our dice, putting away our pieces, and reaching for another box containing a different board and set of instructions can be dangerous. Harmful. It’s a foolhardy thing to do, we’re told. Maybe you’ll end up playing a more difficult game. Maybe the rewards for winning won’t be as glamorous. Maybe you’ll be forever filled with regret that you didn’t stay the course and keep playing the first one, despite how intellectually listless it made you feel. Maybe it’s a character flaw, this inability of yours to play boring games because that’s the socially acceptable thing to do.

Deciding on one game over another isn’t a judgement on the one you withdraw from: it’s a decision to find something that is not just potentially winnable, but also a joy to play by your personal standards.

It’s an act predicated on the recognition that you don’t get another go around — if you spend your whole life with this set of rules, this reward system, this collection of dice and cards and little plastic pieces, then that is and always will be the framework for everything you do.

Stepping outside of that world and into a new one — trying out a new basis for success, a new concept of failure, a new mechanism of achieving forward-movement, a new convention for interacting with other players — allows you to experience a novel pace, state of play, and metric of success.

And maybe you won’t enjoy that one, either. Maybe you’ll work your way through dozens or hundreds of games before you find one that aligns with your ambitions and strengths, your moral predilections and ideals.

But so what? So what if it takes you time to find your bearings?

So what if you continue playing new games, forever?

I would argue that it’s a better indicator of strength and ambition to be willing to set aside something that’s not working in favor of someday finding something that does, than to stubbornly stick with what we know is unfulfilling, and likely always will be.

There’s nothing wrong with playing games that aren’t immediately satisfying, and there’s a lot we can learn from such challenges. But it’s important to be able to step out of that game, away from those rules, and look at where we’re sitting and with whom. To be able to consider how we’re spending our time, and realize that there’s a whole world of other games available to play, should we choose to pull them down off the shelf.

To recognize that we have a choice about — and responsibility for — how we spend the finite amount of time we’ve got.

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