Tuesday, January 17, 2006

games? not for me

(Warning: This blog entry is long, a bit complicate, and difficult to read at times but ultimately makes my point, which is not an easy point to make. For something a little easier, check out some of my other entries)

I love playing. I love telling jokes and laughing. I splash in the water when I swim with my friends. I sing and I dance. Sometimes on a nice day, I play Frisbee catch with my friends and we do stupid tricks. I light firecrackers on the fourth of July and I am always up for going on an adventure. I tease my niece and nephew, tickle them and make them laugh. All of these things and many more are play to me. I can hardly get enough of play. I love it but I do not play games because games are a different kind of play than all these I just mentioned.

First of all in all the play I just mentioned, I play with other people (okay, sometimes I sing and dance when people aren’t looking and I am by myself). We all might have different roles in the different kinds of playing above but none of the roles is really anymore important than any of the other ones because all the different roles are needed for play. For instance if someone tells a joke, there needs to be another person to laugh. If a person throws a Frisbee, another person needs to be there to catch it. The roles are different but they are all important.

In the world of games like football, cards, tennis, Monopoly, and chess, the people play against each other. Sure they are also playing with each other in some ways because it is not exactly full blown war, is it? And even the people playing on teams are especially playing together but to some extent at some point there is always a “me versus you” thing going on and that is what I can’t stand.

Why? It seems so harmless and maybe it is but I try to work on absolutes most of the time. For instance, I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat and that means all the time. Being a vegetarian does not mean not eating all meat except bacon bits on salads or Turkey on Thanksgiving; it means never eating meat. Some people think it would be okay to eat a little meat every once and a while and still be considered a vegetarian. If they think that, it is fine by me if it works for them, but it does not work for me. I am a person who likes absolutes. Another case would be of stealing. Many people know it is not okay to steal a million dollars but it is also still not okay to steal a dollar. This is how I am. Eating meat, even if it is a little, is still eating meat. Stealing, even if it is only a little, is still stealing. And, participating in the division that games encourage, is still being competitive.

Let me explain more why I don’t like competition in a different way. A perfect example of a good type of play would be a band of musicians. Each is different and each has his or her own part and instrument. Each plays but not against the other. Each not only plays but tries to play as well as possible with the other. By playing with each other their music becomes beautiful. Imagine if you would what the music would sound like if two people were set on playing against each other. It would be a disaster. Diversity in this case is good. The differences in tempo, tone, and sound of the different instruments blend and add to each other. So is the case with many other types of play but not play of games.

In play of games the different players actually set out to destroy, smash, defeat, and ruin the other. Ideologically, the two different types of play are very different. One values harmony, unity, and support while the other values dominance, power, and immobilization of the other.

I am a peaceful person. I take the tacky old saying of “I am a lover not a fighter” to heart and really mean it. I do not engage in activities that seek dominance, power, and immobilization of the other, even if it is only play. I say this because I realize that on some level games are based on something more than the play that they are billed as.

Let me give an example. The more harmless games for instance, say, checkers or UNO are really pretty simple. They don’t really do a lot of harm, I don’t think. A step up from this can be card games like poker. Maybe no money is used but then sometimes money is used. A little bit of money lost might not be that bad, only a little bit bad, but a lot of money lost can cause a lot of damage. Even a step up would be full contact sports. I know these are fun to watch on TV and fun to play. I have even played them all on teams when I was younger: basketball, baseball, football, soccer and many more. But take football for instance. In this game people spend a good deal of their time trying to physically stop a person. Usually they try to do this by hitting the other person as hard as possible. This makes good highlights for replays and late night news but in reality people get hurt. Sometimes people that play games that are competitive get hurt really bad. Some, on rare occasions even die. A card game might be innocent but the line is vague between a card game and a game that permanently injures another person.

The examples could go on and get more serious but my argument is not as strong but is more intense. The same dominant type of thinking, the same willingness to go to any lengths for oneself at the expense of the other is demonstrated more seriously in business in America and even more so in cutthroat business. Such businesses when in competition with each other might see it as a game, not to score the most points, but to sell the cheapest products. These businesses cut costs, ignore safety and people get hurt. Some businesses hire undocumented immigrants and overwork them for too little pay. Some businesses that involve things like gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, and anything with the mafia really can abuse people. They often die or are treated very inhumanely. Lastly, if someone steps up competition one more level from the level of mafia or street gangs, one can reach the state of war where people plainly set out to kill each other.

Now I know what I am trying to do here is make a comparison to playing checkers to the permanent injuries of football to all out war. This comparison and connection might seem far fetched to some, especially how we are raised, but I really think there is a connection and there is no clear line to stop at and that is why I don’t play at all. Not with anything.

Another thing about games, actually a small issue compared to the one above is that games are not real. They are, in a way, make believe. I know that is why people play them sometimes but there are some pretty serious aspects that a person needs to understand when playing games. Games are pretty solid binaries most of the times. By this, I mean to make the point that one and only one person is completely and totally opposed to another. They are a closed off system. In games there is often only two players and that is why they are closed off. But nothing in the real world is actually closed off. The real game of life is a very open and fluid system. Life has no real set beginning or ending for the different acts and plays. Different players in life leave and or comeback and new players also come in. In games a person starts off in and ends up out, it is over, and that is it. The different games of life can be very infinite in many ways while competitive games have very narrowly defined starting points, ends, and rules that apply. Life is just simply not like that. People come in and out of jobs, friendships, marriages, and many other roles at their own will, at not at surely defined times. In all these relationships, we play. Sometimes we play and others play with us but sometimes we play and others don’t want to play, so we play by ourselves. Sometimes we might think we are playing but the other person is not (people get hurt like this sometimes). In a competitive game though a person has to play or forfeit. It is so much different. If a person plays a lot of games and then they think they can live out life the same way their games have played out, they might very well be in for an upset. I say this and many people might not take me seriously but it is very easy for a person, especially one that is young, to confuse the realities of games to the reality of life and not even know it is happening. This is kind of like a person watching family sitcoms all day and then not being able to figure out why in real life all their problems aren’t solved at the end of thirty minutes. It is just too easy to blur the reality between fantasy and real life.

A more dangerous psychological result of playing games in my opinion is the false sense of superiority that is instilled in the winners. One has to only have played any kind of competitive game or watch one to know how good winning feels. People scream in joy, soccer players rip off their jerseys, and Olympians even cry. Why does it feel so good? Because we worked hard, we struggled, and we overcame against the other. We were the best.

This is a fine feeling for many and if people like to feel like that I don’t have a problem with it. In American culture, we are taught doing this-feeling like this-is not only normal but good. But I don’t like to feel like I am the best. I don’t want to feel better than anyone else because I know that deep down inside I am not better than another other person. So when I play a game and I win, I am lying to myself, telling myself I am really the best one around. To beat down another, to put them aside and declare myself better through a metaphorical reenactment is a way of deceiving myself into grandness and falsely building my ego (And I surely know how I can’t help but have my ego stroked).

Worse though is the case when I lose. Now, I feel worse than the other. I feel like I am not sufficient and some how defective. I really don’t like feeling like this.

Actually, I can’t stand felling like this. Like I said, I feel like everyone is equal. We might all have our differences and these differences can be shown to be proficiencies or deficiencies in others or ourselves that boost or harm our ego. But these differences can also be used to help each other, and if we do this in harmony and unity, we can make ourselves better. I believe in working for peace, harmony, and unity and this is why I don’t engage in war, I don’t engage in the mafia, I don’t engage in highly competitive sports that could injure myself or others and yes, I don’t play games. I do this because like stealing even a little bit is still stealing, playing competitive games even modest games still causes division.


Blogger Darlene said...

I'm taking your advice and checking out the last post. But I will scan over this one too to see what I glean from it!

7:18 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

Ok, I tried to scan it, but I was far too caught up, I had to read it through. I am exactly the opposite, and have quite a reputation for being competitive. It was very sobering to read your thoughts and wonder why I love to rule the world in a game of Monopoly. I will consider my oponents next time I sit down for a game. Great thoughts!

7:27 PM  
Blogger Jack P Toerson said...

I think the problem with the idea of non-competitiveness is that while there are others that are competative you may have no choice but to be competative, or remain at the bottom of the pile.

However there is a world of difference between what I would classify as 'pro-active competition'; e.g. seeking to dominate, and 'reactive competition'; e.g. seeking not to be dominated. It was a point I tried to make in a post on my blog here. It's quite glib. In that case competition is defined by a worse alternative.

It is also touched upon somewhat, in the sense of existential-angst, in continental existentialism. Whether competition represents choice or bad faith. I would like to think we can chose not to compete without being too adversely affected, but on the other-hand, there are people willing to exploit those who do not compete.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff McDonald said...

Thanks for the comments Darlene. I love to hear what other people have to say and think.

Jack , I am not really sure what "existential-angst, in continental existentialism" is and it would be better if you would give a one line explanation of it as I am sure few other people know what this is either. No point in using fancy words if other's don't know what you are saying.

As for pro-active competition and or reative competition. I am mainly just speaking specifically towards playing games. My examples draw on other things but these are used as figurative examples to make a point. But if you want games might be considered a type of "pro-active competition" as you say, as people usually under little or nocoercion decide to play them.

3:43 PM  

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