A game is any relational mode structured by a set or sets of rules, where people are divided in factions or opposite sides and where there is some clear purpose. Someone who is in a games condition is in a state where he is obsessively or compulsively playing a game (he is not in a state of “I could take it or leave it” or “I’m just doing this as long as I need”: he needs to keep going regardless of what it does to him, unless there is a dramatic break).
The game condition is based on controlling others. All the players are being controlled by the rulers of the game, and the opposing players are trying to control each other. It should therefore be little surprise that there is no place for love in such relational modes.
For [the sociopath] the game is everything, and though he is too shrewd to say so, he thinks the rest of us are naive and stupid for not playing it his way. And this is exactly what happens to the human mind when emotional attachment and conscience are missing. Life is reduced to a contest, and other human beings seem to be nothing more than game pieces, to be moved about, used as shields, or ejected.
A gun-toting uneducated criminal off the streets of Southeast Washington, D.C., and a crooked Georgetown business executive are extremely similar in their view of themselves and the world… [A]ll regard the world as a chessboard over which they have total control, and they perceive people as pawns to be pushed around at will. Trust, love, loyalty, and teamwork are incompatible with their way of life. They scorn and exploit people who are kind, trusting, hardworking, and honest. Toward a few, they are sentimental but rarely considerate. Some of their most altruistic acts have sinister motives.
Stanton E. Samenow
The way Samenow formulates this principle makes it sound like he considers at least some of the players to be dominant types. We think of high-powered crooked executives or gun-toting criminals as being dominant, and as players in general we like to think of ourselves as being dominant within the context of the game. In fact, the players, by virtue of being in the game and taking it seriously, are themselves being manipulated by those in control of the game and its rules (or in the case of a game that runs on automatic, they are being manipulated by automatisms for absolutely no one’s benefit, unless that vacuum of power becomes occupied in some area). The game always “plays you,” unless you simply refuse to play it.
The purpose of the game for its rulers (not the winners or leaders of the game, but the people who make the rules of the game) is to serve both as a way to dispose of one’s enemies, as a divide and conquer mechanism against his own subjects, and as a diversion.
Why do you need a diversion? This is something people don’t seem to understand very well about authority. Authority cannot sustain itself when there’s constant rebellion unless it expands a great deal of energy to counter that rebellion. The energy expanded is a waste that instead could be used to expand the authority’s area of power.
As a ruler, you therefore ask yourself why people are rebelling. If you’re smart, you’ll come to the conclusion that people are rebelling because they see no way to improve their condition, and they have nothing to lose. The obvious solution, therefore, is to give them ways to improve their condition, and give them something to lose, without surrendering any power. The way to do this is with a game condition.
The party system (democracy) and the middle class ideal (capitalism) have filled this role to perfection in our current societies. They are both excellent examples of games.
The party system has factions (political parties), it has rules (the election process), it has rulers (the politicians who benefit from the efforts of their partisans), it has a purpose (winning elections, becoming the ruling party), and it has methods (give money, media actions, put up signs, convert people, spectacular actions or shows of force).
The game for economic ideals has factions (corporations and, ultimately, the individual himself fighting against his fellows), it has rules (corporate rulebooks, economic laws, the stock market, monetary policies), it has rulers (the power elite), it has a purpose (for the individual: making money, owning a house, being married, owning the best toys), and it has methods (for the individual: making connections, getting good jobs, getting promoted, etc, for the corporation: production and selling, marketing, political bribes and deals, use of intellectual property, etc).
Note that the methods I have listed for the examples are all concerned with either using others, controlling others, or amassing the means to use or control others.
You may ask, isn’t there some good to having games? I agree. I do enjoy a game of Monopoly once in a while. But I am not in a game condition about Monopoly, it’s just for fun, it’s not an overly serious matter. Some people may be passionate about Monopoly and play it more seriously than I do. But those people don’t go around killing their fellow man or exploiting his labour for their benefit. So a person who is in a game condition about Monopoly would be classified, at worst, as a harmless kook.
Activism is also a game, with the ultimate objective being to change society so it conforms to one’s cause. In and of itself, it is no more meritorious or desirable than any other game.
You know a game works when it absorbs the individual (such as, in the case of capitalism, the absorption of the individual into the economic organism) and makes him identify with his role in the game, gives him some identities that dump all sorts of “I should”s and “I must”s into his mind and sink him deeper into the mire under the guise of “responsibility.” The reasoning of course is “now that you started, you’re responsible for what you’re doing, you can’t just end it all.” And boy, your values just flew out the window, they are no longer in the picture at all, even if they were still there when you started. At this point, you are strictly a pawn.
Wouldn’t your definition mean that solitaire is not a game?
Solitaire is a game where the player try to beat the game itself, within the rules. Other than the fact that there’s only one real player, I don’t think it’s so different than the other games. This is like an auto-oppression scheme, or like loving to pay taxes ;)
Yeah, maybe François could be more precise here.
Excellent post, though.
Well, this is mostly a point of detail, since I am talking about social games, and they always have more than one “player.”
But yes, I think Solitaire is a game, and my definition is not 100% accurate.
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