I am one of the only people I know who enjoys the board game “Life” by Hasbro. Any time I suggest playing it to a group of people, it’s almost as bad as suggesting Monopoly, which everyone likes for the first thirty minutes and then remembers why they hate it. No one wants to put the Life board together or deal with the tiny little shitty plastic pink and blue people, all the cardboard life tiles, one of which is invariably soggy despite the fact that the game has been in the box for eight years untouched.
All this drama—and the unwillingness of my compatriots to play the game—was resolved for me when Hasbro released an app of the game for the iPad. My boyfriend downloaded it because he knows how much I love the game, and sometimes he even plays with me. But recently, I was playing the game alone, against three AI bots, and I was struck by a sudden and intense bout of judgmentalism. If youknow me well, you know this is not uncommon. I will judge the shit out of things at a moment’s notice.
Anyway, there I was. I started playing merrily enough, chose the purple car and the college track, of course, hoping to pull the doctor, the one sure way to be set to likely win the game. The great thing about being the doctor in Life is that you have no cap on the number of raises you can get. Your income just keeps increasing and increasing. Perhaps this is realistic; I don’t know, I’m not a doctor in real life, but I was lucky enough to pull the doctor card in the game. I won by a wide margin, especially after I hit the lottery AND found buried treasure.
Still, all that lay ahead of me, unknown, while I was still in college. Some of the AI bots charged ahead of me, with their inferior careers. The judgment mode began when one of the bots drew the “computer engineer” career, which netted it a paltry $50k a year. That’s not very realistic, I thought. Today’s “computer engineers” are likely making more than the 100K starting salary on my doctor’s card. But, no matter, I thought. That’s the way the game has always been.
But then came the time to get married, and I felt my unease increase. I had no choice. I had to get married, and I had to get married to an opposite gender little plastic person. When you play the game in real life, with the board and stuff, clearly one can circumvent this requirement. But in the app, you have to do it.
And then there’s the super heteronormative image that accompanies the event on the board; a scrawny ass ginger dude and his heavily made up, somehow seventies-evocative bride, staring at him in adoration despite the fact that it looks like someone could break him over their knee. We all know she’s going to be dreaming of the Argentinian base jumper she had a one-night stand with in college for the next fifty years.
As I went through the game, I felt more and more targeted by it. “Life” was trying to force me into a mold I didn’t want to fit. Plus, there seemed to be no black people or minorities in Life if you only paid attention to the visual indicators along the board’s path. Along the way there are those same portraits style images like the one when you get married, and as far as I noticed, they were all white people. Sure, at the beginning I had the opportunity to pick between eight or twelve little faces, all carefully benign and smiling, all mixed races, some looking vaguely Asian without being caricatures, some maybe Asian, maybe Mexican. But where were the pictures of the black and Asian infants when I was FORCED to have children just by landing on some shitty square?
And then there’s the pictures of those perfect white infants themselves. The girl baby is a drooling weirdo with a bubble coming out of her mouth, supposed to be adorable and nothing more. But the boy baby, see, he’s already smart enough to stack blocks. He’s a MAN, a WHITE MAN, and he can stack those fucking blocks with his eyes closed. And then there was this: do I want to take the family path, or the path of LIFE? I can choose between a baby and a fucking redneck massive SUV with some floodlights on the top? How about just a picture of a happy (NON WHITE) couple without a baby? With like a dog or something?
There are spaces along the game board that represent Life events, and man, do those need some updating too. Really? Buying a flat screen television in today’s day and age isn’t a life changing event, it’s a fucking Black Friday sale. And as for the “Donate to African orphans” square—well intended, but also a misfire. How about just “donate to oprhans?” or better yet, “adopt an orphan”? Where’s the “protest the fiscal dominance of the 1%” Life tile? The “go to rehab and get your shit straight” Life tile?
Here’s the thing; I know the game was invented in 1860, got a facelift in 1960 and hasn’t been redesigned since. But Hasbro, I’m telling you, the time has come. Today’s life is so much more liberated than your game represents. I understand reducing the complexities and nuances of human existence to a series of squares on a game board is difficult, but could you at least be a little more inclusive in the design of your app, if not in the game as a whole?
And I must say, I feel sorry for my fake opponent Bernard. Dude must be a Catholic.