Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Game: What is it?

As with Socrates' query on Justice, "Game" is a difficult thing to pin down. Wittgenstein uses it to show that all things cannot be defined in an Aristotelian ways, but that games have some resemblances to one another and differences. We have video games, which involve the hands and the eyes but usually not the feet (pretend that the Wii doesn't exist for a minute); we have board games, which are not on a screen, but still involve narrative; We have card games--some that you play with others and some that you play by yourself.  What is the "essence" of game? What is the accident of game? And, most importantly, what is the contrast to game?

Do all games involve competition--either with self or others (or objects?). I suspect that yes, most games do involve competition. Furthermore, all games seem to contain "strategies," or, ways to play the game. We are going to keep the concept of strategy, but how can we modify this sense of strategy? 

Playing the Game

We "play" or "play at" games. "Play" is as difficult as game to define or pin down. In one reading, 'play' is a synonymous with "pretend," "imagine." We imagine play to be a non-serious activity that only has effects within the realm of the game. Kids play at being adults in the familiar "game" (but is it a game? there is no competition) of "house". Thus, play takes on the role of an imitation or representation--an appearance. How does this relate to our notion of "game" as competition--as a binary position between winning and losing (cooperation only tolerated as a means to an end, an exchange--such as in Settlers of Catan or Monopoly). 

In other words, games in game theory's sense do not allow the "freedom" that the notion of "play" gives us in contrast. What is the relationship of these 'rule bound' games and free play? Is there such a thing as "free" play? Poundstone cites anthropologist Gregory Bateson saying, "Von Neumann 'players' differ profoundly from people in that these robots totally lack humor and are totally unable to 'play'" (168). 

This idea that Game Theory lacks humor I think gives us a clue to what we can substitute for the dilemma. As I pointed out in my last post, I think the joke, humor, and irony may be the only way out of dilemmas. Games are not just about winning and losing always, but the playing itself--the going through the motions--the ritual--its pleasureful. There are so many 'accidents' in games that make up the entire meaning (or lack thereof) of the gaming situation. 

Leaving me with this question: How can we regain this sense of pleasure/pain in play and games?

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