If Life Is a Game, How Come I'm Not Having Fun?

A Guide to Life's Challenges

By Paul Brenner

Subjects: Communication, Social Psychology, Social Change
Series: SUNY series in Communication Studies
Paperback : 9780791449646, 189 pages, April 2001
Hardcover : 9780791449639, 189 pages, April 2001

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Foreword, Carl Hosticka



Part 1: Life by the Rules

1 What Life Is in the Modern Era

The Elks of Sporthaven
The World as a Stage
Bob Hope and the Knights of St. Gregory the Great with Star
Mirna, the Queen of Azaleas
Daily Living through Role-Play
A Vitamin Called "Viewing Life as a Game"
Childhood Memories

2 The Parallel Worlds We Live In

Private Dominions
The Religion Game
The Social Aspect of Religion
The Line between Belief and Make-Believe

3 Persona and Performance

The Meaning of Life for War Prisoners
Robert Landy's Role Categories in Everyday Life
Our Analog "I"

4 The Theatres of Society

Rules of Games
Play Smart—Choose the Right Theatre
Twenty Political and Two Business Roles

5 Think, Don't Believe

A Game Called "Advertising"
The Game Alcoholics Play
The Drama of Suffering
Play in Sickness

Part 2: Success Redefined

6 Can Work Be Playful?

Games of Strategy
The Multimillion-Dollar Executive Games of Virtual Reality
Vacationing on the Austrian Alps
Let's Play Sisters
A Historical Snapshot of Our Paradigm
Four Chords of Mental Health

7 A Journey's Aim

A Conversation with Nisragadatta
The Inmates' Revolt
In the Royal Gardens of Innsbruck
The Competitive Edge
Kohn's Case against Competition
The Meaning of Anxiety

8 Happiness and Bargains

Successful Executives Pay the Price
Kant and the Morality of Unhappiness
How "Success in Life" May Be Redefined
How It Came to Be That We Have Ten Commandments
Stretching Up Hands into the Mist

Part 3: Joyous Minds

9 The War Games Nations Play
A Game Bigger than Life
Elements of Adventure
In the Armed Forces
On the Theory That We Are Genetically Evil
On the Theory That We Are Born Tabula Rasa
On the Theory That We Are Genetically Both Good and Evil
Lessons from the Holocaust
The Elephant and the Fly
Riding the Roller Coaster

10 Peace Dance in the Moonlight

Alexander's Ideal: A World United in Peace
The Game of a City of Happy People
The Inside of a Cup

11 Theories of Play and Healing: Reviewing Research

Five Classical Theories of Play
J. C. Friedrich von Schiller
Five Contemporary Theories of Play
Pleasure versus Utility
Prof. Lewis Terman and the Famous "Termites"
Play Therapy and Healing
Role-Play and Creativity
The Perils of Illusion in Play
Animals at Play

12 Life Is Tough, Tough But Fun




Advocates applying a spirit of play to everyday life.


In this lively and enlightening book, Paul Brenner suggests that treating life's events and everyday activities as a game would lead to a more socially functional and effective society. Through compelling suggestions and dynamic anecdotes, he conceptualizes all our economic, political, social, and spiritual pursuits in terms of role-play, and demonstrates the contribution this perspective can make to the happiness of individuals and to the systemic welfare of an increasingly complex social order.

Paul Brenner is an analyst at the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. An economist, he holds a BA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an MBA from Rutgers University, and an MS in Policy and Management from the University of Oregon. He is the author of the novel Dear Brotherhood: A Fantasy under the pseudonym Alex Voyd.


"For most of us, trying to make sense out of the incessant onslaught of daily life is a bewildering task. . ..Paul Brenner offers an interesting perspective that can help us navigate our way through this dilemma. In this well-written book, he explores the notion of games and play as metaphors for life. Rather than provide answers, Brenner allows his readers to think for themselves, to complete an idea, or to respond to a provocation. Although each of us must find our own path, Brenner helps us survey the landscape and identify the signs we meet along the way. " — Carl Hosticka, from the Foreword

"Paul Brenner has written a very hopeful and compelling book that points to the power of play, which has been so undervalued in our culture. " —Robert J. Landy, Professor, New York University, and author of Persona and Performance: The Meaning of Role in Drama, Therapy, and Everyday Life