|Posted by Chris Crooks on October 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM|
To clarify the rather general-sounding title, I mean civilization, the word denoting the concept describing the thing we appear to be living in, to various degrees depending on where and how one chooses or is forced to live. In this entry, I am attempting here to blend together games and philosophy, which isn’t too hard to do given how much time and money legions of people now invest in this electronic pastime. Regardless of whether this is the road to hell, or whether there may be some pavingstones to be salvaged enroute, or whether it will yet provide a means to “save” us (in the broadest possible sense) is immaterial from a philosophical standpoint. It clearly means a great deal to a great many people, and hence is worthy of examination.
I recently reread His Master’s Voice by Stanislaw Lem. I grasp so much more of it now when I read it like ten years ago, but I only mention it because the main character claims that philosophy is necessarily representing only the personal viewpoint of the philosopher, and the idea that one can take oneself as the standard measure of the thought processes of all humanity is ludicrous on its face. His argument gives me fantastic cover to blather on about my own personal thought processes and yet be performing philosophy as well as it can be. Lovely.
As a male human, I have been subject and witness to the aggressive impulses characteristic of my gender specifically and male primates generally. Some of these impulses are channeled in a healthy way - despite some major issues with sports cultures worldwide, I think we can all agree that channeling competitive impulses towards entertainment is at least more neutral than towards outright warfare, brutal though that entertainment might be. Nevertheless, given the neverending wars waged between men who, though apparently acting at the behest or on behalf of a supposed populace or nation, are mostly just trying to smash each other with clubs and take the resources from that place and bring it to this place. Aggression is rarely subtle. Anger is rarely subtle.
It’s a truism to say that one who lashes out at others is really lashing out at oneself, but this can sometimes be so obvious as to be absurd. Considering how little good can come of war, it seems strange that these wars just keep coming.
I point, as I always do in this situation, to the Iroquois peoples (I hesitate to use the word nation because it’s terribly loaded and it was our concept) who settled tribal territory differences with games of lacrosse, because, they reasoned, no one ought to get killed over such a thing as which parcel of land could be used by which tribe. The land was really the Earth’s anyway. They were just borrowing it. Did I mention this society was run in large part by women?
Instead, at this point, endless bloodshed is justified in pursuit of the right to say that some chunk of land belongs to them all nice and legal in triplicate on special paper, proving it to God and the Universe that really they do OWN it, regardless of the fact that such a thing is prima facie absurd in the face of cosmic eternity. But apparently, such a thing matters enough that people ought, in great quantity, to be killed over it.
I submit to you that we are already capable of sublimating these reptilian impulses into games. Witness every person who has gotten angrier at a stupid game than at virtually anything else in their life. I sure have. In my case, its because I’ve compressed the control freak aspect of my personality entirely within the area of “gaming.” But it also channels some of my desire for confrontation and competition, but without any bones being broken or good clean exercise. The latter is certainly to its detriment. As soon as virtual reality takes off, I submit to you that gamers will be the most fit people on the planet. At least, some of them. Running around your block and waving to Mr. Johnson and his little Schnauzer is about as fun as poking yourself in the eye with a plastic straw. Running from zombies or alien hordes or screaming ninja pirates? That’s guaranteed to push you to new levels of physical performance with sheer adrenalin.
I guess as long as people believe that violence is justified there will always be Very Serious People sitting around and crossing out and re editing the Rules of War, nodding gravely as if they aren’t really just playing the most grotesque game of all with real people as the playing pieces.
It may be impossible to completely appease our animal natures with semi-frivolous entertainments. On the other hand, I recall from anthropology class in college that the Trobriander island tribes play an incredibly complex ocean-crossing necklace customizing game/ritual called Kuhlau, or something like that. It could take a person’s entire life, and probably provides a level of satisfaction the likes of which few of us can fathom, because we have never engineered culture through gaming or attempted to harness its benefits on a social level, because the Very Serious People believe that all such activities are frivolous, mostly there to keep the Plebes in line. All of us in the gaming community, though, know very differently. Imagination is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, and if we could actually take games seriously - really seriously - it might be possible to achieve social results the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Have you ever played the game Assassin? I only managed to organize and play it once. All participants except a possible game master have a randomly chosen target. Each person knows who they are after, but does not know who is after them. Assassination can be performed with toy guns, “contact poisons”, and other fake weapons. When you kill a person, their target becomes yours and the game continues until but one assassin is left standing: the winner. The honor system is required for such a game, but in truth this is true of virtually any live in-person game, even sports. With video games, someone has to go to the trouble of hacking in order to break the rules. In-person games definitely enhance people skills and fair-mindedness, because you are not some anonymous twerp online but subject to the admittedly sometimes useful forces of socialization.
While under the influence of the game of Assassin, my normal perceptions of the world had an additional depth of narrative flavor and intrigue. After all, if you were an assassin and your target could not recognize you, you would just walk around acting normally until an opportune moment to strike, and then you scarper. As such, simply going about living my normal life (we were on a school trip at the time) was at the same time in perfect keeping with my Assassin persona! Playing the game throughout the trip did not distract me overly much during the trip (frankly it was the most fun thing we did) and provided a delightful relief from boredom, since one always had to be on the lookout for kill opportunities and potential assassins.
Perhaps a game this intense is too distracting to use a cultural overlay. But let’s go with it and imagine an extraordinary high school, for example, where one of your classes is simply this game. Your whole class will be layering this on top of all of their normal activities; in the game class, they learn all the rules, how to be do things safely, and all the necessaries to play, and then every week between classes you play a new game. For all those easily distractible kids for whom sitting quietly in neat lines and book reading is tiresome and uninteresting, they can focus their energies on the game element that is constantly overlayed, like a meta-level, and it’ll still be for a grade ultimately. The scope for inventiveness, cleverness, athleticism, and the ability to bring virtually any skill to use in such a game guarantees that it could be a catchment for kids that don’t fit the usual stodgy criteria at school, and could even be used as a way to identify them. Furthermore, it should, ideally promote classwide social bonding and fair mediation of conflicts - since everyone who witnesses an assassination attempt is also playing the game, everyone is invested in seeing the rules enforced. In theory, at least.
Those that would argue that such a class would merely distract the children from serious studies have, unsurprisingly, missed the point of my article completely.
I’m not sure if I’m talking about something truly amazing or just really fun propaganda, but I’d like to see game coders take a crack at social coding, and game players take a crack at social play. The Old Guard are such insufferable bores. Don’t you agree?