img_1047I’m not much of an online gamer. When I spend time with one of my devices, I’d rather watch a movie, read, or listen to a podcast. I’ve watched my teenager gather Pokeman as we drive around town, but I’m slow to pick up on fads. Like a lot of people, though, I use my device to occupy down time, so for a little brain stimulation I’ll challenge myself to a few games of MetaSquares.

MetaSquares is the game played on an eight-by-eight grid in which the object is to make squares with strategically placed dots. Larger squares, and those placed at an angle, earn the most points. My daughter usually wins decisively when I play her. And this is not because I let her. I gave up letting her win during our Chutes-and-Ladders/Candyland days. My win/loss record versus the computer is much better, and I’ve taken some life lessons from the game.

It’s a fairly simple game, so while part of my brain is occupied with finding squares, the rest is making a mental list of the ways life is like a game of dots.

From the start, have a strategy. It takes playing MetaSquares a few times to figure out how to maximize scoring  high-value squares. I have to go after those squares right from the start. No randomness. The computer has its own plan, which means competing dots often appear right where I’m about to make a move. In my initial plan of attack, I go after three positions simultaneously, knowing some will be blocked before I can complete them. By having a strategy honed by experience, and sticking to it, I can usually rack up some early points.

Be willing to change your strategy. So let’s call the computer, my opponent in the game, “life.” It’s not enough to say, “have a strategy and stick with it.” We all know life gets in the way. It’s like when you’re walking down a crowded street. You have to move left and right in order to reach the destination ahead, and sometimes it’s even necessary to step over a pile of poo. As the game unfolds, and obstacles pop up on the game board, it may be necessary to make some different moves. But I know life isn’t out to get me, it’s just making its own moves.

Lose occasionally. I find that if I win round after round of MetaSquares, I get bored and look for something else to occupy my time. I’m not being challenged. I’m not learning. It’s the losses that help me hone my strategy, that help me learn better ways of playing the game. Now there’s a life lesson for you.

Don’t take it too seriously. It really is only a game. Lose a round. Shrug. Move on. This feels like pretty good advice for non-game parts of life, too.

Play your own game. The most important thing I’ve learned playing MetaSquares is I never win when I go on the defensive. The moment I begin wasting turns blocking my opponent’s moves rather than playing through with my strategy is the moment I begin to lose. This is really hard, because when I see the computer is one move away from making a square, I can feel the triumph in placing my dot in that space. But that’s one dot I’m not using to my advantage, and one chance my opponent has to block the move I had planned.

I guess it helps that I’ve never been a win-at-all-costs kind of person. But I am human. Out-strategizing a computer feels good. Out-strategizing life feels even better.

Copyright 2016 Liz Behlke