It’s just a game. Sure, I’ve said it many times. When the boys get frustrated while playing the Wii. My oldest is notorious for showing his emotion when something goes wrong in a game. He gets frustrated and makes it know. It’s just a game.

Investing isn’t a game. As you mature, our investment strategy gets more conservative. You can’t afford the risks. Your time to reset is shorter, the rebound harder, the pressure greater. It too mimics life in a way. Typically as you get older your approach to many aspects of life become less risky. Not to mention your ability to physically recover from taking up a new activity. Perhaps we learn? Perhaps we just wear out?

A couple of weeks ago my oldest son and I setup a Minecraft server. It is limited to just us (our household) and gives us the opportunity to play the game together. For those who don’t know what Minecraft is, it is a simple game with very basic graphics (relative to most games these days) where you gather materials, build structures, mine underground and fight monsters (there are more complex aspects to the game but if you want to dig deeper, just google it). It is also very addictive. I tend to stay away from games for that very reason, I get too into them, and next things I know I’ve lost hours of my life.

So back to our server. With the Minecraft server setup one of the biggest thrills for my oldest is to play together. We build structures, we collect gold and coal and diamonds. And even my youngest gets into it (between playing more competitive Minecraft events like the Hunger Games worlds- again, google if you are interested). It is a lot of fun working together and the game seems to provide some learning amidst the entertainment.

One thing I realized during the game play was that my son is much more adventurous in the game than I am. He goes out and tries to find monsters while I am happy building another level of the house, digging for new items in the mine and staying safe while doing it all. My son was getting frustrated because he kept falling into lava and running into monsters while looking for diamonds (a rare and valuable gem even in the game). His frustration was amplified by the loss of items he was carrying with him when he died (when they fall into the lava there is little chance you can recover them even when you re-spawn in the game).

His risky approach to the game made me think and we talked about it. I shared the old saying “haste makes waste” but he didn’t get it (give it a year or two to sink in). So we discussed it and then my own voice rang out in my head – “It’s only a game”. I was so focused on maintaining my possessions in the game, on protecting my investment in time, that I was playing it very safe. My son was happier roaming around, looking for adventure (while using the safety of my structures when the going got rough) and taking risks. That was his way to play the game (yet very different than his normal personality).

So, in some ways the way we play a game can emulate the way we typically go through the stages of life. We can afford to be risky and bold when young but tend to be more conservative and safe as we get older. As we gain possessions, invest in building things that are our own, we get more careful. Free spirits (such as kids) can be free in many ways and that freedom runs through various aspects of their life. If they have little to lose, they live more freely.

Now the challenge for me is to play less safely. To push the edge of my comfort. Perhaps this will convey over into my real life (I know, using a game to expand your real life sounds a little disturbing- I get it). Likewise I can share with my sons the lesson of being just a little safer- not to stifle their free spirit but at least to be cautious, consider risks, assess their situation. Perhaps we can both learn from Minecraft.