Game of Life

Game of Life

The most controversial game I have ever played in my life is Snakes and Ladders. It was never simply a game for me; it was a play of human emotions. It commenced on a cheerful, friendly banter note; one sibling teasing the other, and culminated into a raging emotional outburst! One of us would be livid or cry, leave the room in a huff; sulk. This was the only game where every player had a fervent prayer; either for their own victory or for the opponents’ loss. We have played Carrom, Chess, Chinese Checkers, Cluedo, Monopoly, Business, and many more board games, but Snakes and Ladders evoked something different in all of us. Every other game, we teamed up, helped the other person win; gave a grace chance or bent the rules a bit; it was all sportsmanship and game for fun.  Can’t say for sure why this game evoked none of those feelings of camaraderie and kindred spirit; as if the venom from those snake pictures poisoned us even before we started to play. One fine day, unable to resolve an ongoing dispute, dad threw the culprit (game) out of the house. I am sure he was worried sick of seeing his children ready to kill each other over a silly game.

Many years later, the dreaded game made its re-entry. Our darling daughter, used to love board games. Much to our dismay, she was not an avid television fan; within 10 minutes, she needed a new distraction. Even her favorite shows, she wanted one of us as company; listening to her narration! None of us could endure the torture of ‘Thomas the Engine’, or ‘Oswald’ or ‘Cee-Bee Bees’; thus, a new game every week became imperative; our only escape route. That is how Snakes and Ladders got reintroduced into my life.

She and I used to play for hours; and as a mother I was not competing with her, I was happy if she won. It made her happy too and I had a chance to sneak in a few other quick chores, multi-tasking was a feasible option. Her brother and dad also took my cue and she became the sole monarch of the game! Resultantly, she grew up not knowing how to accept defeat and overconfident that this was her game, none other was entitled to be victorious, ever. Our daughter’s sand castle crumbled, and her victorious spree was throttled when she began playing with her granny. Like her, her granny also, always, plays only to win, be it her grandchild or anyone else, and unlike us, she was putting her life into the game. Watching the intense play of emotions and brazen rivalry; it was deja’vu; I was transported to my childhood. The first time my daughter lost she took it sportingly and hid her shock well in front of her granny; she cried her heart out to me wailing, “Granny cheats! She is not a good person, she does not know that in snakes and Ladders I am the only winner, she won!” It was a string of epithets and wails, uncontrollable tears due to her first ever defeat!

That set me thinking; I definitely did not want to throw the game out of our life, like my dad. There had to be a way to win over this seemingly harmless, yet viciously disruptive board game! How come we all behaved so unpredictably when it came to this game? I could not let the game win over our humane side; that would be a true loss. I could convince and coax the granny to allow her grand kid to win; but that served no purpose.  what after that? How was my daughter ever going to learn to accept defeat?

Another revelation that came was; I had blundered badly; in my lethargy and escapist attitude I had inadvertently affected my daughter’s outlook; for which she may have to suffer for the rest of her life. I was unable to pacify my little one that day, just hugged her and kept thinking what my next course of action should be. She obviously did not go back to playing snakes and ladders with her granny, not in that trip, and I was glad. It gave me a reprieve; and time to introspect.

We sat down to play after a short hiatus; and whilst playing came my moment of epiphany. I had to treat this game as ‘The Game of Life’; win or lose, we have to accept both with equanimity, that was the spirit and attitude I wanted nurture in my daughter. Marshalling my defenses; ever so cautiously, I rolled the dice; and at every turn I spun a yarn.  When her soldier landed on a snake, she immediately looked at me askance; hoping I overlook, give her another turn, like I used to. It broke my heart not to. But I smilingly refused to succumb to those pitiful looks, instead I introduced a new story for every ladder and snake.  A ladder came when she was honest, able to compete, play fair, not feel jealous, and think that this is a game and every game is to learn, enjoy, win some, and lose some too! She lost to granny and she did not like it, and similarly I lose every time I feel sad too and would hate to play and continue to lose! A snake bite was when she was getting angry, ready to cry because I was winning. Demanding an extra turn so she could win or even teasing me if she was on 98 and I was miserably stuck at some stupid 10; not being humble, a snake if she could not cheer my previous win and so on and so forth.

It took time, some very patient, long drawn, exceedingly intense games before it finally dawned on her that she had to learn to play, enjoy the game, win or lose; every game had a lesson and in the end, it was a game, enjoy and have a good time.

She plays all games with the same ease and grit now, to win always, but willing to roll a quarter over to the winning side and congratulate the opponent too! Snakes and Ladders had arrived with a bang in my house, teaching my daughter and myself the game of life.