Life is a Game: Insert Coins & Press Start

How do you win at the game of life?

For the next 24 hours try to play life as a game. Your life is a game. What are the rules? Can you break them? What’s the objective? What’s your overall goal or ultimate prize? What level are you on? What’s your progress in the game so far?

In short — do you think you have what it takes to beat the game?

What’s your style of play? That probably depends on what type of game you’re playing. Look at your life for clues.

What kind of game do you think you’re in? A shoot ‘em up, a beat ‘em up, a cute platform scroller?

If you’re yellow, eat a lot of pills, and have a problem with monsters trying to chase and eat you, then congratulations, Pac-Man. Once you realise that special power pills allow you to chase and eat the monsters instead, then it’s not too hard to figure out how to spend your day.

More likely you’re in one of those open-ended multi-directional games like Grand Theft Auto, which at first glance don’t seem to have levels in the traditional sense.

The playing field is wide open — or at least it feels that way.

First time up, it seems like there’s an unlimited number of ways to score points, and just as many ways of keeping score.

You make your own rules. Your only confines are the physics engine of the game itself and any limits on the parts of the game that are open to you.

Get to know your game space. Are there any parts you’d like to unlock that are currently off-limits?

How you play is up to you.

Play for long enough and you’ll realise that there are side missions, and bonus levels, if you choose to accept them. You may have to go out, and look for them, but they’re there.

You can play for kicks, mess around until you get bored, or play obsessively non-stop, right the way through to the end.

You may choose to go exploring, invent your own mini-games, or wander ‘round doing completely mad random things for nothing more than your own amusement.

It doesn’t matter if the things you do don’t seem to contribute to achieving any of the game’s objectives. So long as you play, you win.

The game ends when you run out of lives. Though, you can always go back and start again. It’s only really over when you stop playing. When you walk away. When you quit.

If you put the controller down, you literally give up control over your character in the game, but it’s no big deal.

You can save your progress in the game. And when you come back to it later, your character will be exactly the same. There are no consequences if you stop playing.

But in the game of life, you can’t put the game down. If you stop playing, your character still ages in real time. You can start over, or try to pick up where you left off, but the game will have moved on without you.

The game ends when it ends, unless you rage quit, whether you want to play or not. Game Over.

The only way to win at this sort of game is to play to the end, and try to make it the type of game that you most enjoy.

Score points, complete all the available missions, or just go exploring — it’s up to you. Just don’t quit.

If you want to beat the game of life you have to play it to death.

So how do you get the most out of your game if you’re only playing for one day?

You can’t possibly win in that time. Test the limits of the game. See what happens when you push things. Figure out the physics engine. Look for bugs that you could exploit. Hack reality.

Choose missions and activities that you can accomplish in one sitting. Do one thing that contributes to your overall objective. Or just try to have the most fun you could possibly have in 24 hours.

The clock is ticking. Do you still want to play? How you keep score is up to you.

Cover image by Ben Neale. Feature image by Carl Raw.

James Garside is an independent journalist and writer. You can follow him on Medium, join him on Patreon, and chat with him on Twitter.