ROBERT J. LEWIS
Men are born for games.
Every child knows that play is nobler than work.
are we haplessly hooked on our favourite games, and take them
so seriously when winning or losing at whist or Monopoly counts
for nothing (gambling is a separate issue) in real life?
soberly note there isn’t a culture in the world that doesn’t
have its games. If going-game is not mapped out in our DNA,
there is a preponderance of empirical evidence suggesting that
while we choose the games we play, there is very little choice
in the species inclination to set aside a significant percentage
of its leisure time for games.
to its indivisibles, every ‘formal’ game institutes
a highly particularized, patent-protected culture with a fixed
set of rules and delimited range of negative and positive outcomes
which produce every game’s winners and losers.
Lapham, in Money and Class in America, synonymizes
the environment of the game with the prelapsarian world, especially
in sports that feature fields of dreams, which are in fact perfectly
ordered, tableau-like, edenic spaces. "But inside the park
the world is as it was in the beginning. The grass is as green
as it was in everybody's lost childhood; nobody grows old.”
Seduction, Jean Baudrillard introduces the notion of
the rules of the game taking irrational precedence over the
laws that surround it, as if the diversion, however irreal and
inconsequential, is no less deserving of the respect and deference
accorded to the real world.
uncanny and incurable attraction to game culture and the often
outrageous import we attach to winning and losing is further
proof, where proof is not wanting, that we are, at best, a
part-time rational species.
us go then, you and I,
Where the card table is spread out beneath the pie in the
And no human voices shall wake us, until we disqualify
its materials are tangible – the board, the deck of cards,
the dice, the computer screen – the game functions more
as an alternative world than fantasy. Unlike the latter, all
games engage the physical body: from the spirited manipulation
of joysticks or pinball flippers to the more sedate positioning
of chess pieces.
laws are to the real world, rules are to the game. Laws can be
ignored, finessed or interpreted, but rules are meant to be obeyed.
Disobey the rules (introduce a fifth ace in a bridge hand, move
your bishop like a rook) and the game ends. So why do we happily,
if not with quasi-giddy anticipation, look forward to submitting
to the fixed rules and absolutes of whatever game we fancy? What
is it about games that convince us to surrender our freedom for
a restricted range of pre-determined outcomes that, win or lose,
have no practical bearing in the real world? And how do we rationalize
that for the sake of winning, a certain percentage of gamers will
be tempted by unauthorized means to gain the upper hand, risking
their real-world self-respect and friendships?
game, however contrived and removed from the real world of real
consequences, creates an equal playing field among unequals.
Rich and poor, high class low class, literate illiterate, provided
they submit to the rules, find themselves contemplating the
same bingo card, Clue board or computer screen. And while the
better player usually emerges victorious in games such as Scrabble
and bridge, the element of luck in most games predicts that
the loser one day will be the winner the next. Real life’s
losers, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, are predictably
attracted to games that offer good odds at winning.
game, the concentration it focuses, the passion it generates,
shrinks time to the present indicative. Our fears and anxieties
disappear as we submit to the rules and operations of the game,
or as spectators to its unfolding. Temporarily relieved of regrets
over the past and worries about the future, especially the angst
over that future singularizing event no one escapes (decease),
every game is a means to the same end – getting out of
the black and into the blue. In bio-chemical speak, game culture
provides a similar high to that experienced through drugs: serotonin
and dopamine levels shoot up when playing our favourite games.
the heat of the game at the exclusion of everything else, we
don’t age, we experience time passing like our
beloved pets that dwell in the eternal present
and for whom time does not exist -- but without forsaking our
faculties of judgment, which, depending on the game, are engaged
to a greater or lesser degree. When the outside world intrudes,
the gamer’s displeasure or anger is not directed at the
intruder or intrusion, per se; his upset is a direct
effect of being yanked back into existential time, which undermines
the raison d'être of the game.
which came into its own in the late 1940s, was a game changer:
it was the first game that required of the player absolute concentration
for the entire duration of the game. It raised the game’s
intensity like Charlie Parker in jazz and James Brown in funk
turned up the heat in their respective genres.
games require waiting in between turns, or moves or bids. For
some, these waiting periods reduce the intensity and gratification
of the escape/diversion. In response to the growing demand for
a more unadulterated product, newer, more fully engaging games
have been developed, especially in our current century in conjunction
with cyber technology.
its sheer intensity and immoderation pinball has not been surpassed.
In its category, every game subsequent to it is modeled on its
template, like the fizz (carbonation) is the sine qua non
in every soft drink.
games, by their nature easily assembled and commenced, represent
alternative worlds with their very particular grid of time and
space. The wall that separates the world of games from the real
world is invisible but very real, and a decisive indicator of
the innate incompatibility that provides for each world’s
safe and autonomous orbit. Despite its discombobulatingly superior
mass and significance, the outer world is remarkably kept at
bay for as long as any game is being played. The lasting appeal
of any game rests on the quality of escape it provides from
the real world as well as its ability to neutralize the mostly
discomfiting effects of self-consciousness, a species specific
distinction that evokes both awe and extreme anxiety.
for those “passing strange” ones (those unflappable
freaks of nature) – and we have all encountered them
at one time or another -- for whom the gaze of the other does
not exist, who are everlastingly comfortable in their skins,
whose way of being-in-the-world we secretly envy from near
or afar, we must never forget that they are excluded from
a world that can never be explained or revealed, much like
the world of sexual desire cannot be described or demonstrated
to a child.
integrity of the game is threatened when the outside world begins
to take an interest in it, when its contrived but purposeful
irreality begins to take on water (reality) and lose its float.
A chess game is simply a game until two world masters meet representing
the prestige and honour of their respective countries, and millions
of very real dollars are at stake.
many, the ideal game combines its irreality and inconsequentiality
with the added real consequence of winning or losing money.
Huge complexes (hotel-casinos) have been constructed around
this particular combination in which the play-and-pay binary
represents the pinnacle of gaming, where the losers, having
waived the ‘no consequence’ option, consent to deal
with losses that range from the trifling to the catastrophic.
every culture treasures its games, gaming, along with sex, drugs
and rock’n’roll, ranks as one of the world’s
most cherished and dependable modes of recreation and escape.
And while its psychological high cannot compete with the physical
high of drugs, games are sanctioned by the law and even fanatical
gamers are exempt from the negative health outcomes associated
with incontinent drug and alcohol consumption.
to say that games are much more than merely games, if not windows
into the subconscious of a species not yet fully adjusted to
the implications of being self-aware. Whether it be through
mind altering substances, the all night rave party, the Mardi
Gras or playing your favourite game, they all reduce to a deep
seated desire to escape into the present, the eternal now, which
Freud contends is tantamount to a subconscious
death wish, or “return to the inanimate.”
Games both cater to and mask that primordial longing of wanting
to be relieved of being the object of the gaze (the judgment)
of the other.
an ironic twist of DNA, children spontaneously invent and play
games in order to develop the competencies required to navigate
the real world while the adult plays them in order to escape
that same world.