“Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes” – Meaning and Origin

Have you ever been in a situation where you do something you shouldn’t have done, and the person talking to you tells you “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes”?

This phrase has been around for a while now, even before the days of the internet.

What does “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” mean?

“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” means that if you do something stupid, you take to take responsibility and accept the consequences for your actions. 

Today, we’ll be looking at some of the situations where you might hear this, where it comes from, and what some of the alternatives you could use are.

And after reading this, you should know not to play any stupid games.

What does “stupid” mean?

Firstly, I think we should try and define what a “stupid means”. I believe it can either mean daft, illegal or doing wrong in a relationship.


Sometimes we do things that are neither illegal nor evil. But they are nonetheless stupid, and when we do them, we need to accept whatever consequences come about as a result of our actions.

For example, if you decide to stay up late, you will need to accept that you might be late for work the next day. If you choose to drink heavily, you need to accept you will be hungover. And if you decide to snack during the day, you may not be hungry enough for dinner the following evening.


There are also times when stupid can mean either evil or illegal (or both).

For example, if you choose to steal something, you need to understand that you will likely be sent to prison.

If you choose to graffiti, then you will need to do community service so that you can clean up the mess you made.

Also, if you run a famous company and you commit tax fraud, you will need to accept that you will have ruined your reputation.


And finally, when you’re in a relationship, doing something stupid means hurting the other person. For example, if you cheat, then you need to accept that you will likely be left and have to spend some time being lonely.

Also, when it comes to sex, you need to accept the consequences of your actions. If you get a girl pregnant, then you need to be aware that you will be a dad and have new responsibilities.

If you want to do anything other than stay faithful to one person, you need to accept that things might not go as planned.

Origin of the word “stupid”

Stupid is one of the most common insults in the world. It’s even been used by the president of the USA.

Stupid started off in Proto-Indo-European when it was “stupe”. Back then, it just meant to push or beat. When it came into Latin, it was turned into “Stupidus”, which means to strike senseless. And finally, when it came into middle French, it became “stupide”.

When they came over during the Norman invasion, they put it into our language. Ever since them, stupid has been a popular way of letting people know what you think.

Nicer interpretation

There is another, slightly nicer interpretation of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. And that is when you play an actual game, and your prize is a bit rubbish.

For example, if you play a bottle shooting game at a funfair, and complain that you only got a mug, somebody could say “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”.

However, this interpretation of the phrase is one that’s very rarely used.

Most of the time a “stupid” game is one that’s either self-destructive or immoral. Or sometimes, both. Stupidity can mean either daft or evil.

Alternatives to “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”

Within the English language, several phrases mean the same thing as “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. Many of which you have probably heard already.

“You’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it”. If you make a decision about something, you need to accept whatever consequences come about from your choice.

“You reap what you sow” is based on a Bible Quote. If you do the right thing, you’ll end up being happy, but if you do the wrong thing, you’ll end up being miserable.

“What goes around comes around” and “Karma’s a bitch” both play on the idea of “Karma”. A religious notion that the universe has a way of paying people back for the evil they do.

Origin of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”

The phrase “play stupid games win stupid prizes” has been around even before the internet. And nobody is really too sure how it started.

The earliest written examples that can be found are from some of the Tom Clancy Novels from the 80s and 90s. But the question as to where he got the phrase from remains a mystery. Unless of course, he was the one who thought them up.

What kind of word is “stupid”?

Usually when we say “stupid”, we’re using it as an adjective. An adjective is a word used to describe another word.

Let’s use one of the president’s quotes, for example, “What a stupid question”.

Here, the president is using the adjective stupid to describe an abstract noun (a question).

However, whilst “stupid” is usually an adjective, it can be used as a noun when being used as a name. For example, if you put a pizza in your oven and then turn it on, your housemate might say “you need to preheat the oven, stupid”.

Stupid would be used as a noun, as your housemate is saying that you are stupid. Not that stupidity is a characteristic you possess, but rather what you are.


“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” means that if you do something you shouldn’t, you need to accept whatever consequences come about as a result of your actions.

In this context, “stupid” can mean three things.

It can mean daft, such as when you drink too much.

Evil or illegal, such as when you steal or graffiti.

Or it can mean doing wrong within the context of a relationship.

Stupid is one of the most effective and impactful insults that anyone could use.