Different Games

So one of my passionate interests is awakening, waking up from the sleep induced by the cultural held and transmitted beliefs about what I am, to directly face experience and stand as I actually am. To proceed through life from that point, rather than from some assumed point based on the words of others.

This sort of consideration is usually called spiritual. So, my interest has lead me to explore the spiritual cultural landscape.

One of the seemingly widespread beliefs in the modern spiritual realm casts life and reality as a vast game with no actual players. The (not exclusively) Buddhist teachings of no self get conflated with Cartesian/mechanistic world views to produce this image of a vast game board with pieces moving according to set rules with no one directing the movement beyond the rules.

I can’t ascribe to that model. My long career as a gamer puts forth another image. I imagine it more like a table with players moving their pieces according to the rules, but that the players tend to be hyper-focused. Generally, they get so engrossed by the game and the apparent rules that they get stuck into the grooves of that system. They lose the capacity to try something new. Get up and stretch. Try a different game. Create their own house rules. Take a break for a moment. Go to the kitchen and grab a Mountain Dew.*

The other concept that comes along with this vision for me is a distinction that a co-worker taught me once. (Thanks, Dan!) It’s the difference between convergent and emergent games.

In a convergent game, you are headed to a known conclusion. Like solitaire. At some point, you win by getting all your cards stacked in neat suite piles. Or, you lose by getting stuck with no moves to make. There is a feeling of relief at the end of a convergent game, regardless of the outcome. The tension of playing the game is released by its conclusion. You may immediately decide to play again, but part of the tension created by playing the game is released.

In contrary, emergent games have no end. Playing leads to more playing. It’s an exercise that may have goals along the way, but has no real end in sight.

What’s interesting to me here is how convergent games can get morphed into emergent games quite easily. Take chess for example. For an individual game, there are three possible outcomes. One of the two players wins. The game comes to a draw. However, the game space of chess is mathematically nearly limitless. There are always new strategies and tactics to explore. Also, there are always new opponents to face. Tournaments to win. Rankings to achieve.

*NOTE: I don’t like Mountain Dew.  I would be more likely to grab a beer.  But, mentioning Mountain Dew was too good of an inside joke to pass up.  ;

What do you think? Do you have any models of gaming you apply to life? Did you like the post? Let me know in the comments below, and if you think your community would enjoy it, please spread the post around. Cheers!

Hat tip to Plato and his Cave. 😉

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.