The Ethicist and the Gamer   3 comments


Culture and Games

Culture and Games

I ‘m a ludologist and game theorist.  No, that is not the same as a Luddite.  In fact I principally work with computer or digital games, so being a Luddite is quite out of the question.

People ask and they even ask me from time to time, “What can we do about these violent video games?”  Or traveling on the plane or train,when finding out what I do for a living they become angry  at me and suggest that I not try to censor their freedom of speech.  Which I’m not, by the way, trying to censor anyone that is.  When confronted with comments such as what are the impacts of computer games, we need to step back and take a detached, holistic view.  We need to first ask what is the relationship of games to society, to culture and to the rest of us.

The most perfect concept of a game is from Johan Huizinga, the author of Homo Ludens, (Man the Player).

“…culture arises in the form of play, that it is played from the very beginning…”

When we were children, regardless of your age, play was the primary component of your life.  Whether you lived in the depression of the late 30’s or years of Pac-Man and now even more sophisticated gaming devices,  the transport of games have changed.

Whereas a game of “kick the can” with your old friends could entertain you with challenges and leave everyone laughing, and hopefully being “good sports”, Pac-Man was a more solitary game, with perhaps a friend or two cheering you on.

Games though, embrace stories, or mythologies.  The ancient Greek games replicated the games of the gods and the games were thought to appease those same gods.

Here we have the human-god-game connection.  Did the belief of playing games to appease the gods come out of Greek culture, or did the playing of games so make the ancient Greeks happy and healthy that of course it must appease the gods?

What is the story here?  Does the story affect the play or the play affect the story?

In that light, let us try a thought experiment.

Have a cup of tea, sit down in a comfortable place, cozy up with your blanket and listen to a story.

Now, relax and listen/read.

A long long time ago, there were two people.  Different they were but of the same species.  They lived happily, gathering food, enjoying the sunshine, living in bliss.  One day, a tiku bird alighted upon a tree in the center of the garden.  It crowed about how the two did not really know what life was about and that they lived in ignorance of the Ultimate Life.

They stopped, being polite as they were, and listened to the tiku bird.  They asked about the Ultimate Life and how it would be different from the one they now lead.  The tiku bird laughed and said that they would understand everything and have so much power that they would enjoy themselves immensely.

One asked, “But weren’t they enjoying themselves immensely now?”

The tiku laughed again and said:  “How would you know if you didn’t experience the Ultimate Life?”

The other one of the species said:  “We will have to think about it.  Thank you honored one and we will go now.”

The one who had asked the first question became curious in a way that was different from other curiosities; like watching a flower bloom, or a turtle swim back into the sea after hatching.  This one worried that they might be missing something, they also worried about this new feeling and they were frightened to mention this to the other-one.  So instead of mentioning this feeling and their concern about it, they kept asking other questions.

“My love” they said “What if we never know what the Ultimate Life is?  What if we live this life, but lack something.  What if we could love each other in a way that is better from the way we do now?”

Finally, the other-one gave in.  “My beloved, if you so want to experience the Ultimate Life, I will think about it.  But like the thunder in the sky before the rain comes to quench our thirst, I wonder if this thunder is warning us instead of a large wind which causes damage.  That is what my heart says.  Yet, if this causes you so much distress we can try the Ultimate Life.”

Next morning they walked back to the tree where they found the tiku bird perching.  The tiku bird was nervously walking back and forth and when the tiku saw the two it quickly alighted on the lower branch.

“So”, it said.  “You have made up your minds.  You want to live the Ultimate Life?”

The other-one, answered. “No, we just want to try the Ultimate Life.”

The tiku bird paced and paced and finally said.  “All right you can just try the Ultimate Life.  Take the mango from the tree and each of you take a bite.”

The one carefully took the mango from the tree and took one bite and offered it to the other-one.  The other-one hesitated, then bit into the sweet fruit and then they suddenly dropped it.  The both looked around and noticed that instead of the sweet sunshine and sometimes rain, the sun looked harsh upon the land and the thunder rumbled deeply in the distance.

The tiku bird laughed.  “Now there is no going back.  Everyday you will have to work to see the world in the way that you once did, that you will have to work to care for each other, but you will notice that there is now harshness in the world.”

“Why?!”  Said the other-one, “Did you do this to us?”

He swooped and laughed, crying out:  “Because someone did this to me!  Now I will not be alone in pain.”

Devastated, the one and the other-one looked at each other and they noticed they were different, the one was male and the other-one was female.  Before their hearts were in harmony and nothing else mattered. Now everything mattered.

“You!  You did this!”  The other-one female yelled.  “I will never forgive you.”

The one-male was hurt and frightened.  “I didn’t mean to.  I felt concerned and worried that we could have more.”

“I will make certain that you will pay for this.  From this day forward you are less than me.  You will be my slave.”

And so it was in some way, forever and ever.

Sound familiar?

Except for the gender switch at the end, this myth like many others, explains a certain culture but also reinforces it.

“Culture arises in and out of play”.  Johan Huizinga.

Now, think about the story above and others like them and how they have impacted society.
Think about how you felt when you didn’t know the genders.

Think about the different societies and about the roles of  men and women.

Think about how different societies embrace their religion.

Does each society have a different story or set of stories attached to it?

To be Continued…


3 responses to “The Ethicist and the Gamer

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  1. Well, right away the story was Adam and Eve all over again.
    Except in the end…man was to blame.

    The book, The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell discusses how indeed the men/male gender are slaves to the culture of helping women survive.
    One of the quotes: “Today, violence against women is rightly abhorred. But we call violence against men entertainment. Think of football.”…or gladiators.
    So we play games and we go to war. Men are seen to be perpetrators; women usually always the victim. This seems to be the games we play socially.

  2. Interesting post. Question: can there be competition without aggression? Also I don’t truly believe that violence is unavoidable. We are human, therefore aggressive or violent to one extent or the other. Simply having one voice being louder than the other can be aggression and the beginning of an aggressive exchange. I don’t think it is quite as simple as you present it here.

    Some games are meant to be an intellectual exercise and others are meant to compete physically. When it becomes physical it always has the potential to escalate…. to what I am unsure but in some cases the results are unavoidable. Also I think it would be quite boring if people had absolutely no aggression. How would they even get out of bed in the morning.

    The way I see it, life is a struggle, a fight, and it is at many levels quite violent. My children being born was about as violent as it gets…. but at the end of the struggle they lay peacefully in my arms. After that all bets are off. They are rebellious, contrary beings. All the “fights” we have are further proof of their violent tendencies.

    The social structure keeps those tendencies under rule and doctrine but being aggressive/violent is inevitable.

  3. Pingback: Fruit from the Mango Tree

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