Games We All Play

In life, we need to make distinctions. It’s how we get by in life. It’s how we survive. The capacity to tell the difference between an apple and a rock is very important when one is hungry. Whenever a distinction is drawn, an individual naturally favors one side. For example: When hungry, an apple is different, and better, than a rock. We, each of us, fall on varying sides of these value judgments depending on the situation: When defending yourself, a rock is better than an apple.

These distinctions then become rules for determining behavior. With the apple vs. rock debate, there are certain rules for the use of each in certain situations. These rules then get built up into games we play without even knowing that we are participating.

From Alan Watts in the book, “The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are”:

Society, as we now have it, pulls this trick on every child from earliest infancy. In the first place, the child is taught that he is responsible, that he is a free agent, an independent origin of thoughts and actions— a sort of miniature First Cause. He accepts this make-believe for the very reason that it is not true. He can’t help accepting it, just as he can’t help accepting membership in the community where he was born. He has no way of resisting this kind of social indoctrination. It is constantly reinforced with rewards and punishments. It is built into the basic structure of the language he is learning. It is rubbed in repeatedly with such remarks as, “It isn’t like you to do a thing like that.” Or, “Don’t be a copy-cat; be yourself!” Or, when one child imitates the mannerisms of another child whom he admires, “Johnny, that’s not you. That’s Peter!” The innocent victim of this indoctrination cannot understand the paradox. He is being told that he must be free. An irresistible pressure is being put on him to make him believe that no such pressure exists. The community of which he is necessarily a dependent member defines him as an independent member.

In the second place, he is there upon commanded, as a free agent, to do things which will be acceptable only if done voluntarily! “You really ought to love us,” say parents, aunts, uncles, brother, and sisters. “All nice children love their families, and do things for them without having to be asked.” In other words. “We demand that you love us because you want to, and not because we say you ought to.” Part of this nonsense is due to the fact that we confuse the “must” expressing a condition (“To be human you must have a head”) with the “must” expressing a command (“You must put away your toys”). No one makes an effort to have a head, and yet parents insist that, to be healthy, a child “must” have regular bowel movements, or that he must try to go to sleep, or that he must make an effort to pay attention —as if these goals were simply to be achieved by muscular exertion.

Children are in no position to see the contradictions in these demands, and even if some prodigy were to point them out, he would be told summarily not to “answer back,” and that he lacked respect for his “elders and betters.” Instead of giving our children clear and explicit explanations of the game-rules of the community, we befuddle them hopelessly because we—as adults —were once so befuddled, and, remaining so, do not understand the game we are playing.

Society, and culture, are machines for perpetuating these distinctions for the purpose of confirming and guaranteeing the survival of the society and it’s members. That’s one of the rules we play by: when danger or hardship is present, more numbers are superior. Hence, we gather into families, tribes, states, and nations in order to have a better shot at winning the game of survival. These distinctions and rules are reinforced by how we think and the language we speak, which further plunges us into unconscious participation in these games. The very way in which we speak, and the emphasis we use, ensures that these rules are passed on generation after generation.

One of the most basic distinction/rules we have as sentient beings is self and not self, or self vs. environment. Operating with this rule, we participate in the game of Top Dog – doing our best to guard against all others (not self/environment) to make sure we win. That is, of course, if our determination of good value falls on the side of self. If it happens to fall on the side of other, then we participate in the game of Subservient Victim – always bowing down to the whims and vicissitudes of life.

The sobering thing is that these distinction/rules predate the formation of language. Long before we communicated in a sophisticated manner, or at all, we made these distinctions. In fact, it seems like these distinctions gave rise to language, which now serves as a transmission tool for the rules themselves. This means that these games have no conscious design. They arose without anyone able to ponder the best way to construct and use them. The games have no designer.

So, here’s my idea: Game designers should re-write cultural programming and language. I’ve been involved in the game design and enjoyment world for quite sometime. Some games are much more enjoyable than others. Some games have a more pleasant outcome for all concerned than others. That’s because of the thought that went into their design. If we decided to consciously acknowledge the games we play, and the unconscious rules/distinctions that drive them, we might be able to find a game where the conditions are win-win rather than win-lose. We might be able to come up with some that is very easy to win. We might even come up with some where those who are not consciously choosing to participate would win as well.

I think that would make quite a world – One designed at the rules/distinctions/value judgment/language level to skew the chances wildly in favor of a solid and easy win-win. It might not be as exciting, but hell we’ll always have chess and poker and boxing for that.

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2 Responses to Games We All Play

  1. Braeden says:

    ty uv reely helpd me & my enemy & teacher who annoys. he is very good, apparently im not good enough! “Love them anyway” Mother Teresa (her undistinction game)

  2. Travis says:

    Glad you liked the post, Braeden. Thanks for taking the time to comment! In what field is this person your teacher, if I may ask?

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