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Your Life Is a Series of Games. Know When to Quit Each Game.

Tim Denning Writing

Photo by Louie Castro-Garcia on Unsplash

Look at each aspect of your life as a game. It changes how you view everything you do in life, according to Twitter personality Naval.

In my case, treating life like a game involves going back to being a teenage gamer and playing Warcraft at “Lan Parties.’

Naval loves to riff on life being a game. It certainly is when you view your life like this.

Birth game

This game is one you play in free mode. It’s decided for you. If you’re born, you’ve already won the game, although most people don’t see it that way.

School game

You go to school. You make friends. You get good grades to make your parents proud. You play the school game that was invented for factory workers who needed to memorize knowledge and didn’t have the power of the internet.

University game

Everyone is doing it. You’re told this game will lead to a high-paying job. For the most part, this is bullshit. Universities are businesses that need revenue. The game of needing to go to university is an elaborate marketing plan created by schools and corporations.

Needing to go to uni is an ad. You don’t believe all ads you see, do you?

The rules of the game are simple: get good grades and don’t cheat.

Then you meet a genius later in life who has a Ph.D. and a low-paying job and realize you can end up becoming way too smart, therefore getting trapped in the game. Think of it this way: are professors the most successful people in life? Nope. Yet they smashed the university game for six.

First job game

Now the real games begin. This is adulthood. You don’t have nine lives anymore, because each death in the game destroys your ego and has the potential to leave your mind a mess.

You dress up as a character for the game. You go to an interview and overstate your player attributes for the game in the hope you gain access to the game they’re offering with a logo as part of the avatar.

They’re impressed with your acting skills. You pass level one of the game. But the game has changed. You need to do a code test. Or if you’re in sales you need to come back and do a mock presentation to a fake customer. The hiring game has many rounds.

You’re competing against other players who want to enter the same game as you and reap the rewards (a salary with the promise of a bonus). You keep trying. You get rejected from the game. You get told you don’t have enough experience to play the game.

Your game playing experience shown on a resume is put to the test. Your experience is scrutinized heavily by well-dressed folks that could be your parents. They tell you you’re not good enough for the game or you’re not ready for the game. They don’t know they’re playing the same game half the time. The game is invisible to them.

Despite the challenges of the game you get the job. You crack another level in the game. You do a victory lap. You think you’ve won. Then you start playing the job game and realize it’s ten times harder.

But playing a game you’re not ready for forces you to 10X your skills. You become a competent player as a result.

Career game

Once you’re in the career game it’s like being in an open world. There are so many other job titles you can get. The leader titles have the highest reward. The quicker you cycle through the job titles the higher you can get in the career game.

The purpose of the career game is to make money. Money buys you a ticket to the other games. The career game is long. It’s a game that takes most of your game-playing time. It comes with many setbacks. Just when you think you’re winning the career game, a recession hits, you get a redundancy, and it’s game over. You feel like a beginner all over again.

Or you get too confident and think you’re playing on invincible mode. You walk over other people you call ‘dead bodies’ in order to take their place in the game and bag their rewards. After a while, the career game is rough. You want control of your career game. The game is controlled by your boss and the logo they serve.

Freedom game

The career game leads you to the idea of the freedom game. Freedom is sold as the expansion pack to your career game.

You can play as a single player. You can build your side hustle. There’s nobody in control but you. You look at people with laptops sitting on beaches and think that could be you. You give it a go. You realize it’s a lonely game with no other players. You realize if you’re lazy with this game, the game takes away all the trophies and you can’t survive and pay rent.

The second part of the freedom game is startups. This is where it’s your turn to make the game and set the rules. You recruit the other places who sit below you in the game. Bossing people around in the game and getting a much larger piece of the rewards is supposed to be straightforward.

It turns out it’s hard. Getting players to work together isn’t easy. So you quit the game and go back to career games, or you stay in the startup game too long and lose all your poker chips. Or you win the startup game and realize it wasn’t the game you thought it was.

Money game

The games you play earn you money. This money can then be deployed in yet another game. This is the game of investing.

This is where you attempt to make money while you sleep. If you understand what you’re doing and educate yourself about the game, you do well. If you don’t, well this game carries huge downsides.

The game has a hidden enemy: the tax of inflation which takes away your purchasing power to buy items in all the games you play in life.

Car game

To get to the career game you play the game of cars. You’ve got to own four rubber wheels with a piece of metal on top of it for a cabin. The wheels and metal are mostly the same. But the dude selling you the vehicle for the game makes you think the brand matters.

In return, you get into debt to play the game. It sounds like a weekly payment of only $49. Later, you do the math of the game and realize that’s only the beginning. Exiting the car game is where things get expensive. It costs you points in the game that you could use to gain a higher score in another aspect of the overall game.

Finding love game

The rules of the biggest game of all — life — imply you need a partner to hold hands with in the game. You take out the slot machine full of notifications in your pocket. You install a new game called Tinder.

The game shows you faces with text below it. You mostly swipe life or right on the faces and ignore the text. The game is you swipe, they swipe back, and you chat. It’s not easy. Getting a reply to a message is hard. Other game players in the game are also bombarding the same players with messages. Some are even stupid enough to send a photo of their private parts.

The next level of the love game is the date. You dress up, make your avatar look pretty, and find a location to play the game with a series of challenges.

Challenge 1: Find a car park not too far away.
Challenge 2: Look attractive.
Challenge 3: Show up on time.
Challenge 4: Be interesting, funny, cute, etc.
Challenge 5: Ask about them.
Challenge 6: Don’t talk about an ex and die.
Challenge 7: Get a second date (the next level).

The game is fun. You find another player. You can’t work out if you’re supposed to be with this player for the rest of your life in the game. Nobody tells you. You have to find out for yourself. Or else, face separation, divorce or a breakup and start all over again like a newb.

The fame game

You spend time on social media. You wonder whether attention might make you feel better. You start trying to be famous. You create a podcast. You post daily on Instagram. You get likes in the game. You get attention. Your posts go viral. Then the game takes a wrong term. The game doesn’t pay you.

The game gives you attention and then the algorithms eventually take it away from you so they can spread the attention amongst more players and make everybody think they can win this fame game. The point of the game starts to make no sense.

House game

You’re together with another player. Congrats! How cute.

This is the game where you buy a house. The problem is the house takes most of what you’ve earned so far in the game. You need to get into debt because all the other players who came before you have bid up the house prices. It’s a little annoying.

You find a house. It’s not what you really want but it’s what you can afford. The home improvement game is always an option, but the thought of it drains your life bar in the house game. Debt makes all the other games so much more real. The stakes in this game are much higher.

Kids game

This game is serious. This is where you hand over the keys to your game to a screaming toddler who doesn’t want you to sleep.

They have a cute avatar, but they require a lot of work. This is a game that has no rules. The only rule is don’t let the kid die. Protect the kid with everything you’ve got. Love the kid. Make the kid happy.

When you exit your final game, make sure the kid takes over what was leftover from your game. Hope the kid is a better player in the game than you were. Make your game dependant on their game until you can’t anymore.

Retirement game

A pre-cursor to the final end of the game.

A place where you escape to the beach, finish the career game, enjoy the rewards you racked up in the money game, and where you prepare for the end of the overall game and to leave something behind.

Except as soon as you start the retirement game, you realize you like the game of work. You don’t want to sit in a caravan and drink soda pop. You want to work because work gives the game meaning. Work is where you secretly serve the players of all the other games.

The end game

Nobody tells you when all the games end. The end of all the games can come at any time. The point of all the games is to enjoy playing them while you can.


You’ve got to play some games. You’re on this planet. You’re alive. You may as well play something, says Naval.


Some Games Are Optional

You can just say no to games, because you can’t play all the games. Otherwise, you’ll have no time to play any of them well enough.

Society makes you think the fame game, or the car game, or the owning a home game are ones you have to opt in to. The truth is, you don’t. You pick the game you play, so choose wisely.

Set the Definition of the Game Early On

If you don’t know why you’re playing a particular game, you’ll lose the game. Every game has a point.

The question of ‘why’ makes the game have a purpose.

With a definition, you give the game boundaries. You work out an exit plan in case you need to escape the game or quit gaming for a while.

All These Games Have Downsides

There’s no perfect game, although the birth game and the opportunity at humanity comes pretty close.

Games require skills, other players, resources, time, and sometimes, money. Know the downsides of the game so you don’t fool yourself.

You may be able to fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but the easiest person to fool is yourself.

As long as you continue to fool yourself, about where you are or what you are (or are not) doing, the more you will struggle to gain your balance — Kathryn Lang

Don’t Compare Your Level in the Game to Somebody Else’s

This is the trap with games: thinking about what level someone else is at.

Who cares what level another player has reached. If they’re at a very high level in the career game, then maybe their love game is at a zero.

When I see someone at a high level in one game of life, I think to myself “what other games that they play have had to suffer?”

Realize When You’ve Won the Game

Most games don’t have an ending. You can keep playing them. You can keep climbing through the levels and have more levels to follow.

With the money game, as an example, even if you become the richest person on earth, your victory in the game will be short-lived. There always another player ready to come and take the number one position from you.

When you’ve met the definition you’ve set for the game, you’ve won.


How Do You Get out of the Game so You’re Not Just Trapped Playing That Game Forever?

The reason to win the game is so that you can be free of it — Naval

The games in your life never end.

Infinity playing any game means you never get to win.

‘The win’ is where you decide you’ve had enough of a game or you’ve met your objective of that game. Not ever completing a game is a trap. Completing games is a superpower.

Find a game. Set the objective. Play it. Then exit the game knowing you’ve achieved enough.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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