The Lesson of Nihilism Taught by Shark Attack!

[Please note: Satire.]

Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless. And there is no children’s game that justifies nihilistic tendencies more quickly than Shark Attack!.

image from boardgamegeek.com

Shark Attack! was a board game created by Hasbro subsidiary Milton Bradley, and first released in 1988. It got a big marketing push in the mid-1990s, and that was during that time that the game found its way into my house. My brother received this philosophical nightmare as a birthday or Christmas gift when the upbeat commercial featuring a cartoony shark and a catchy jingle was in heavy rotation on TV. And playing this game irrevocably changed my life.

The game features a battery-operated, motorized shark that chases fish around a board, chomping as it moves along. If the any of the fish are too slow, they will be “eaten” by the shark. To win the game, players strive to be the last surviving fish.

While many games feature win conditions based on being the final survivor, most of those win conditions are more competitive in nature — A player is eliminated based upon the actions of another player. For example, Monopoly ends when all other players are bankrupted, generally achieved by the winning player having superior business acumen (or just really lucky rolls). Candy Land ends when one player is able to reach the end of the trail before the others. Mortal Kombat ends when one player depletes another players’ life bar in simulated martial arts action, and then maybe also the winning player murders their opponents’ avatar in the most violent ways possible.

image from boardgamegeek.com

Those other games require the winning player to DO something.

But not Shark Attack!. In Shark Attack!, you “win” when all of your friends are dead. You don’t win by DOING anything to the other players. You win because a force of nature has eroded your community, until there was but one survivor. Players can do their best to continue their meaningless lives, but, as stated in The Highlander, “There can be only one.”

Clearly, this game is intended a metaphor for the futility of life. I think it was Nietzsche who said “Life sucks, and then you get eaten by a battery-powered shark.” What does it matter which color fish you are? You have practically no control over the outcome of the dice roll. Death is always just a few steps away. And, if you manage to get TOO far ahead and overtake the shark, you’ve actually just made yourself an even easier target for the inevitable deep-sea fate that awaits you and everyone you love.

Nothing you do matters. Eventually, we’re all just chum.

image from amazon.com

In more recent years, after discontinuing the Milton Bradley brand, Hasbro has re-released the game as the friendlier-sounding Shark Chase!. This is probably to cut back on the existential crises found in children who did everything they could, yet still got ATTACKED by a giant shark. But, to paraphrase The Bard, “A shark by any other name smells just as much blood in the water.” You can CALL this game something different, but it doesn’t matter, Hasbro.

It doesn’t matter, because that shark is coming.

It’s coming.

It’s coming to get you!