deck of cards thrown randomly down

Do you remember that card game called War? Was it only Gen X’ers like me who played this game as a kid? Do you older and younger folk also remember draggingly long afternoons when Mom was taking forever to start making dinner, and there was nothing on TV, and you had no one to play with except your staggeringly stupid younger sibling, or that staggeringly stupid kid next door, and there was nothing to do except play this draggingly long and staggeringly stupid card game that never ends?

Apparently, there are alternate rules whereby War can end. But, using the rules I grew up with, the game literally never ends. I guess it’s statistically possibly for it to end, but I have never seen it end. I mean, Monopoly and Risk can drag on for hours and hours, but eventually it becomes clear who’s going to win, and then eventually that person wins.

But War? It’s such a stupid game! Here’s why:

The objective is to amass as many cards as possible. When you win a battle, it’s because you have a higher card than your opponent. But the prize? You get the opponent’s lower card! So the more cards you win, the more low cards you get. You also get to keep your high cards, but it’s a game of moving your stack of cards more and more toward a 50-50 split of high cards vs. low cards. And who wants that? Yay, your Ace just won a 2! Now you have an Ace and a 2. And a 50% chance of losing the next battle.

But why am I ranting about this silly childhood game? So, I am Taylor Swift’s biggest fan.

Okay, I’m not; that’s another game I’ll definitely never win! Though I do have a Taylor Swift wall calendar, which should count for something. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s not something I like to spread around.) But anyway, I do love her music a lot. (Props to my friend K.D. for saying to me one day, “Taylor Swift’s music is really great. I was surprised to discover that I love it.” It was all over for me from there.) So, Swift’s most recent album includes a line that’s been stuck in my head, endlessly, for the past couple weeks:

“You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes” (from the song Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince).

The saying “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” wasn’t invented by Swift or her team; it’s been in the zeitgeist for years. Swift’s contribution was to put it in a specific context. In the song, she imagines herself back in high school. The narrator of the song is dating some guy, and this apparently causes the whole school to talk trash about her.

The social bullying game. What a stupid game! Swift’s lyrics are spot on: it’s like the card game War. If you’re a social bully, the people you amass on your side are the weaker ones. If you win a follower into your clique or gang, that person is by definition weaker than the person you didn’t win.

Wouldn’t it be smarter to play a game whereby winning equates to amassing the best cards, or people, around you? How would that game work?

Not like this. Click that link if you want to see two women fighting over toilet paper at Walmart. Fighting over toilet paper is a stupid game, because you might win the toilet paper, but you’re also going to win the bad card: seeding anger and frustration among people who are already angry and frustrated. Plus, by definition, the toilet paper, which is something you can fight over in a store, is the weaker prize than the stronger one, which is working to avoid getting sick and getting others sick, and in general trying to seed goodness around you.

That prize is harder to win. But it’s a way better prize.

And, as my friend M.B. pointed out, who needs toilet paper, when we have running water? (And, I would like to add, leaves? As a long-distance runner, I know the utility of leaves in desperate situations. But don’t spread that tidbit around, either, K? Thanks.) But running water isn’t something you can really fight over in Walmart. Neither are leaves.

So don’t click the link; you might win the stupid prize of wasting your time in a mildly amusing way that’s also counteractive to your good mental health.

Then, what games and prizes aren’t stupid? Those are the ones we should be playing. I’m asking you this question seriously. How about the game of trying to stay home as much as possible over the next month? The prize for that isn’t stupid at all: the prize is better health for ourselves, our country, and our economy.

What other games and prizes aren’t stupid? Let’s think of the win-win games. Help me think.

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