Calvinball: The Only Game Worth Playing

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a kid, you’re rewarded for following the rules.

If you do your homework and eat your broccoli, you get to swim in a pool of Chunky Munky ice cream and play Call of Duty until your eyeballs fall out. If not, you’re grounded!

This “follow the rules or else” song and dance may be an effective way to raise children; however, it leaves many people unprepared for the task of creating an enjoyable life in adulthood.

That’s because adulthood has no real rules.

Once you enter the “real world,” the fixed boundaries of childhood disappear. You can take infinite paths, and you can walk each path on one leg, barefoot, or backwards in a pink fedora.

Figuring out how to spend your life is unlike any task you faced growing up. There are no correct paths or guarantees of ice creamed filled swimming pools along the way. And no parent, teacher, or cult leader can give you the answer. Only you can decide what to do. 

And if you mess it up, you risk becoming a cranky old fool who yells at teenage cashiers for refusing to take expired coupons. Damn kids never respect their elders.

So what do you do if you want to enjoy life and avoid becoming a coupon-clipping curmudgeon?

You play Calvinball!

Calvinball is a game with only one rule: it can never be played the same way twice. Like life, it’s a free-for-all adventure in which you can make up and change the rules as you go.

Wait…Calvin, did you invent a game, name it after yourself, and then write about it?

No, dear reader. I’m not that big of a navel-gazer. Calvinball was invented by a blonde boy named Calvin and his pet tiger Hobbes in Bill Watterson’s cartoon series, Calvin and Hobbes.

And yes, I admit that I’m partial to the game because I’m a blonde guy named Calvin. But I digress, and it’s time we get back to the regular programming.

Now that you know about Calvinball, I’d like to tell you why treating your life like a game of Calvinball is the best way to spend your time on this spinning rock.

Seeing the world clearly

The creator of Calvinball, Bill Watterson, once said, “People have asked how to play Calvinball. It’s pretty simple: you make up the rules as you go.”

Making up the rules as you go may seem like a naive way to approach your life, and it is. But it’s also the most effective way to build a life that fulfills and evolves with your quirky desires.

When you play Calvinball, you see the world as it is. By breaking the spell of childhood that dupes you into believing that life has fixed rules and correct answers, you see that every person, including you, can play a different game with different rules.

The task then becomes to make up the rules that work for you. As you begin this process and encounter obstacles, continuing to play Calvinball will help you in three ways.

Becoming adaptable

Imagine you’ve spent seven years in an unfulfilling career as a corporate lawyer and realize that facilitating M&A transactions just doesn’t do it for you. You want to follow your real passion: to be a sex therapist who helps married couples keep it spicy in the bedroom.

In a world of fixed rules, you may decide to continue being a lawyer. Maybe you think “it’s too late” to start a new career or that you can’t “waste” the money you spent on law school. Or hell, maybe you’re afraid the new career will let your parents discover that you’ve had sex.

As a Calvinballer (someone who plays Calvinball), you would see what a silly decision that would be.

Is it really ever too late to start a new career? Is the point of life never to waste money? Is it that bad if your parents know that at 32 years old you are no longer a virgin?

No, no, and hell no.

In Calvinball, you can edit the rules whenever you want. And choosing to make up rules that allow you to switch careers is better than spending 30 years doing something you don’t enjoy.

So what do you do when you’re considering a big life change? You play Calvinball!

Staying curious

Living under the illusion that the world has fixed rules, many adults lose their curiosity. They see their lives as static, decaying shells of some carefree past that will never return. They stop exploring, making new friends, or believing that their lives can be different than they are today. It sucks, but it is what it is.

Playing Calvinball helps you avoid this false and depressing mental trap. As a Calvinballer, you know that you can change the context and rules of your life when something is not working. You understand that no matter what has happened in the past, you still have an infinite world of known and unknown possibilities available to you.

Like a two-year-old discovering the beauty of a blooming flower or the pangs of a hot stovetop for the first time, you maintain a curious, exploratory spirit. You know that you’re never too old to make new friends, start skateboarding, or move to South Africa.

So what do you do when you feel that the doors of life have closed? You play Calvinball!

Having fun

When you believe there is a correct way to live, adulthood feels like serious business. You’re an important person with important things to do, and there’s simply no time to take a break from all of this important stuff. Jeez, sorry for wasting your time with small talk, Mr. Important Person.

What a lame way to live. What’s the point of all your goals, achievements, and possessions if you’re not having fun?

As a Calvinballer, you won’t have this problem. When life starts to feel too serious or stressful, you switch it up and start a new game. You know that even if you want to achieve big things in the world, you can still take a few detours and have fun along the way.

So what do you do when life starts to feel too serious? That’s right, you play Calvinball!

Parting Thoughts

Figuring out how to create an enjoyable life is like Calvinball. It’s a game that’s best played by making up the rules as you go.

By giving you the freedom to make up the rules as you go, treating your life like Calvinball opens the door to a more adaptable, curious, and fun existence. And seriously, who doesn’t want that?

As you walk your unique path and stumble upon undesirable roads, remember that you are never stuck. Every day is an opportunity to rewrite the rules.

And if you’re ever in doubt, just play Calvinball!

P.S. I’ll leave you with two things I’ve never included in an article: an AI-generated image and the Calvinball theme song. Very Calvinball of me.

“Other kids’ games are all such a bore!

They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!

Calvinball is better by far!

It’s never the same!

It’s always bizarre!

You don’t need a team or a referee!

You know that it’s great, ’cause it’s named after me!”

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