What Games Taught me About Life and Finances

Who didn’t play games growing up?  I did.  I am sure you did too.  Have ever thought about the life and financial lessons and habits you picked up playing games that in one way or another helped form the person you are today?

I have, but it wasn’t easy.  Whittling down 20+ games to discuss in this article meant I had to sacrifice some fantastic games.  So while I had to leave out some great ones but I wanted to share 6 games that had influence in my life.


I sure played a lot of Tetris when I was younger.  For such a simple concept progressing in Tetris can get obsessive.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tetris the game drops “blocks” of which are shapes composed of 4 equal size squares.  The player can rotate the shapes and place them in an attempt to create a horizontal line (or a few) which then disappear when formed.  If your block placement reaches the top of the screen you lose.  As you create (and remove) more and more linesTetris the player advances a “level” and the pieces drop faster … and faster … and faster.

In Tetris the game shows you the next piece that is going to drop but be assured that as the blocks fall at a furious pace it becomes extremely difficult to track and plan for upcoming pieces.  Tetris also allows two players to go head to head competing for a higher score.

The key to Tetris is to create a solid base. It is extremely difficult to remedy a line once you leave a gap due to a block placement mistake.  Most importantly, don’t panic!  Likewise creating a strong base personal financial plan and sticking to it is key for our finances. A second lesson I learned is that I need to be aware of and give due attention to our future financial plan to ensure we reach our goals. The final lesson I learned is that you need to  play your own game and not worry about what the other guy is up to.  The same couldn’t be truer for your personal finances!

Ms. Pacman

Ms. Pacman

No, glowing dots won’t provide you with sustenance, but Ms. Pacman does have some valuable life lessons.  Life sends you down all sorts of roads with various twists and turns along the way.  The ghosts of your past can, and will haunt you, but every once in a while you will have the power to confront and overcome the ghosts.  You should take full advantage when life throws you a power pellet energizer to improve your well being. One other great lesson: fruit is good for you.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan

Big fan of the move ‘The Beautiful Mind’.  Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winner John Nash.  One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Nash “discovers” that legendary social philosopher and pioneer economist Adam Smith’s theories needs revision.  The scene begins in the local watering hole when an attractive woman (a blonde) walks into the pub with some friends:

Hansen: Recall the lessons of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. “In competition …”

Everybody: “… individual ambition serves the common good.”

Nash:: [after thinking] Adam Smith needs revision.

Hansen: What are you talking about?

Nash: Adam Smith said the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself. Right? That’s what he said, right?

Hansen: Right.

Nash: Incomplete. Incomplete, okay? Because the best result will come from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself … and the group.

Hansen: Nash, if this is some way for you to get the blonde on your own, you can go to hell.

Nash: Governing dynamics, gentlemen. Governing dynamics. Adam Smith … was wrong!

Nash’s colleagues aren’t quite with him but he continues.

Nash: If we all go for the blonde, we block each other, and not a single one of us is goin’ to get her. So then we go for her friends, but they will all give us the cold shoulder because nobody likes to be second choice. But what if no one goes for the blonde? We don’t get in each other’s way, and we don’t insult the other girls. That’s the only way we win. That’s the only way we all get laid. Adam Smith said, the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself, right? That’s what he said, right? Incomplete. Incomplete! Because the best result would come from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself and the group.

Having played 2-4 games of Settlers of Catan for what seemed like every weekend for a few years on end Nash’s theory couldn’t ring more true.  In Settlers of Catan you acquire resources via a roll of the dice.  The die roll depends on what tiles your settlements border.  The likelihood of being able to obtain the resources you require / desire to build additional settlements and roads joining your towns via rolls of the dice is low – especially if you want to win the game.  That means trading of resources with other players is vital to grow for both parties.  You are doing what is best for yourself and what is best for your opponents to promote growth.


Now Monopoly I dislike.  This is a game I never enjoyed for either the game play or the concept.  All players start with the same resources and chance for success but ultimately one will dominate and control the game .  Often the losing player(s) will have to give up assets to pay down debt to the person dominating the game.

A monopoly is formed when all other players are incapable or not willing to challenge the entity who has the monopoly.  This site has been victim to monopolies.  Most recently the largest search engine out there decided that Sustainable Personal Finance should have no authority in their public ranking system.  The result? A large decrease in advertising opportunities. The result from that? Reduced ability for us to keep the lights on both online and at home (no, we’re not at any personal risk but making money online is something I have done for decades to produce side income).

At the end of the day we will explore opportunities that challenge reliance on advertising monopolies.

Fantasy Baseball

Something a lot of folks won’t know about me is that I have been playing fantasy baseball since 1990.  Stats, names and players bounce around my head year round.  Last night Mrs. SPF and I watched the Moneyball movie and there I was noting that Ramon Hernandez was playing behind the plate, that Raul Ibanez had over 100 RBI that year and that Ugeth Urbina was a great pick in what is called Vintage Drafting.

fantasy baseball
baseball © by theseanster93

Yes, Vintage Drafting. A number of fellow fantasy baseball statistic nuts can evaluate and draft every player in MLB history (1870’s onward) and use criteria (such as the first letter of the players first or last name) by which we draft full rosters.  He (we’ve never had a woman participate) who assembles the best statistical squad, wins.  Add a time limit to make your selection from thousands upon thousands of players and the challenge increases.

Nerdy right?  Perhaps. But when you think about it there are some parallels between fantasy baseball and personal finance.  Numbers and statistics are an obvious one.  On base percentage, debt service ratio, wins above replacement player, total net worth, career strike outs and annual percentage rate.  Don’t forget all of the acronyms! MER, RBI, A-L and WHIP to name a few.


Scrabble is so humbling.  Playing this game I have learned that there will always be someone smarter than I am.  At the very least there are folks who have larger vocabularies than I do and/or are more creative at organizing their seven tiles with more skill than I possess.  And I see nothing wrong with this.  By playing Scrabble I have learned that I will lose and to be gracious when I do lose.  I have also learned that I do enjoy a good challenge as well, which I think is healthy for the human brain.

So what games do you enjoy and what have they taught you about life and finances?


44 thoughts on “What Games Taught me About Life and Finances

  1. Great parallels. It is so true how much games can related to money skills and life skills.

    I have the same experience with scrabble as you. There are always better words put down by someone else.

    We really like ticket to ride, cranium, and fantasy football. Fantasy helps me hone my risk management skills. lol.

    1. Thanks for coming by Miss T. We own Crainium but I have yet to play. I am not a big FFB fan. Mostly the issues around contenders not playing their best once they secure their playoff position. I find when you are vying for your season and the NFL guys you need to perform get benched – ticks me off.

        1. Even still, the end of the year – regular season games often get to the point where the team knows it will win the division and they’ll “rest” the QB or RB or whatever. Kills your FFB season.

  2. Hey Miss T, we’ll have to set up a fantasy football league next year! I wrote a post about fantasy football and hedge fund managers awhile back that you might like.

    I am a huge fan of Settlers of Catan as well! I think it is a very underrated game, and is an interesting case of resource management skills.

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  4. Very cool article!

    When can we expect your followup post on the financial lessons you’ve learned from playing Skyrim, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft or Dungeons & Dragons? ;)

    Gamers Unite!

    1. Dungeons & Dragons (first version or Advanced?) How about MERP (middle earth role playing!). Or Robotech? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Role playing was a part of my youth as well. As for video games, I played a lot of Diablo II. Check out the making money online article to learn more about that. :)

  5. Really cool comparisons you drew here. I pretty much loved all the games you mentioned here at one point except for fantasy football and Settlers of Catan, which I have never played. Yes, I even enjoyed Monopoly. I have to say I do love a good game of scrabble though but I find it hard to find others who enjoy playing as much as I do so I only play it every few years or so.

  6. Great article, and thanks for the retweet today!
    I’m a huge fan of Settlers of Catan as well. I’ve only played Cities and Knights once, but it turned into an all day epic game. I completely agree with you that trading is essential to success and that you need to succeed by partially helping others grow. The key is being able to grow more than they are and faster! I have figured out several go-to Catan strategies, though any of them can be ruined by an unlucky day with the dice. I also really want to get into a good Fantasy Baseball league this year before its too late – let me know if you hear of any good leagues looking for another player.

  7. Really enjoys this article. I seriously dislike Monopoly; have no idea why. We recently starting playing Cashflow – not bad. One can test different options and scenarios.

    1. Perhaps you dislike it for the reasons I do! It just seems kind of pointless. The winner is determined SO early and then the other players dwindle until it finally ends.

  8. My girlfriend and I are currently arguing about spending vs. investing. Despite the fact that she in a non-gamer, I tried comparing it to Civilization. You start off with one city that builds one thing at a time. The more time you spend early on building up the city and building more cities, the more production you get towards the end game. Basically she wants to spend the GDP of a small European country on renovations, while I’d rather invest.

    Someone also told me this is kind of parallel to some economic discussion about having factories build factories vs. final product.

  9. Hi SPF,

    Fascinating article. Being both a gamer and a finance guy, seeing the parallel lessons is very interesting.

    I love Vintage Drafting, but I do it with X-Box Hockey. The best All-Time players only have initials. I did a bunch of research and found out who each one is, so I could create the actual player. Then I created a team of the best All-Time players. First I went for the highest team stats, but then I tried to create the most winning team when I play them.

    The most winning team would need depth, but also matching up players for the best line combinations. Forward lines usually won more with a mix of play-makers with scorers and grinders, and defense pairings need a mix of offensive and hitting.

    From reading your article, I realized that my investing philosophy is the same. I invest with mutual funds, but I choose them entirely based on the fund manager skill. I track fund manager stats through their career with all the funds they managed to identify the All-Time top fund managers that are still active and still on top of their game.

    I also diversify the portfolios similar to the line pairings.

    My finance philosophy is a lot like Civilization (just like Rothmcroth). It’s all about building for the future, and finding how to build more quickly and reliably.

    The key to success with Civ is to expand quickly early and remain focused on expansion and technology, without getting sidetracked into wars. It’s a lot like building wealth for financial independence. Investing aggressively and even leveraging when you are young, and then remaining focused is the key.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the article Ed. I really enjoyed writing it – I could have added so many more games but after 1000 words or so I had to wrap it up. Perhaps a Part II is in the cards!

  10. I’m not a big fan of monopoly either simply since the outcome is mostly determined by the first couple of trips around the board. I also find there is never trading since there usually is no feasible way for one person to trade without another losing, unless someone doesn’t know what they’re doing and trade to let the other guy get a monopoly. ;)

  11. I used to play Sim Farm with my son. I can’t tell you how long it took to build the farm only to be wiped out be a tornado. I thought it taught us a lot about planning for the future and budgeting for expenses. I’m not so sure my son appreciated those lessons! ;)

  12. I used to play Monopoly every year at Christmas with my brother. What I learned is that he’s good at getting money and keeping it. :) He’s worked for banks most of his life – should have seen it coming!

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  14. I think words with friends has help me enjoy scramble a lot more. But the results are the same. There is someone who is smarter/knows better longer words. As goes life. I know I like playing with people who are smarter and can teach me. As in life I like having people around who can teach me a few things. The key is learning from them and not looking for the easy way out like finding a lesser opponent.

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  17. I know it’s not really a game – but my pocket money really taught me to be frugal – that and my Dad’s constant worries about not having enough money! – Now I have the opposite problem and find it difficult to part with cash – no one ever talks about that.

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