Episode 81: You Think This Is a Game?

In a few days I will be submitting something to an upcoming literary magazine (I keep it anonymous only so that I can avoid extra competition from people and optimizing my possibilities of being accepted). The following post is somethin of a free writing ramble to get something down on the digital canvas with hopes of editing it into something cohesive and understandable. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get it into a weird format that may not even be possible/accepted but it would make it look cool. Details will remain hidden because I want it to be a surprise.  Off I go. 

The above title is often perceived as a derisive comment that insinuates that for reasons that arre not immediately clear, you are not taking something seriously. It’s a strange world where the word that is used to denote a fun activity can just as easily be an insult. It is part of this odd rhetorical confusion that comes when we talk about things that are very like but a proper terminology needs to be used to avoid being grouped with a certain “Other”. This dichotomy between playing/competing, players/athletes, casual/serious, and perhaps most markedly game/sports is one that as children we do not distinguish but it is one where intricacies become more nuanced and complex as we grow up.

As long as we are discussing the specificities of words, perhaps we should have a decent definition of “game” as a starting point. While we often see it as a synonym for “sport” we know that these words are not interchangeable. Consider/choose any of the following examples depending on your skill level/preference of activity. If you would rather not choose then use your favorite form of generating random numbers to determine the example to follow. My apologies if your preferred form of entertainment is not presented here. If you want, make up one of your own and ignore all the other options.

1) you and your friends decide to go for a quick game of basketball at the local gym

2) you go by the neighborhood cardshop/comic book store with an old deck of Magic cards and start a game with another patron whom you have seen but out only know as “dude with hat”.

3) during a family reunion, someone decides that to make a huge game of football with pretty much everyone present.

4) your boss has recruited you for the office softball team that plays on a makeshift league against other departments

Each of the above scenarios are quite different but they have a general consensus. First off, you are playing a game with rules that have been in existence long before you even knew that the game existed. Secondly, other people are there (yes, I consider “dude with hat” people) because unless you are playing some variation of solitaire having someone to play against is an integral part of the process. Third, each of these takes place at a specified location designed for this type of activity (basketball court, baseball field) or one that has been appropiated to suit that purpose (a big enough yard for football or any sort of flat surface for card games). These elements are fairly stable and uniform for almost every type of game; however, there are many parts of games that are implied and are worth discussing as well. [Then again, if you feel that they are not worth discussing then skip the following paragraph entirely.]

In each of the above games there are rules, but these are far more dynamic and lenient than if you were undertaking any of the “serious” versions of any of them. You can play basketball at only half court and can choose whether to play unitl a certain point value has been reached or until a predetermined amount of time has elapsed. There are a lot of cards that are not allowed under certain formats but you can just play with whatever you currently have, even if it is a deck full of proxies. Unless your family is really competitive, you probably don’t have regulation football helmets and pads for everyone so you are probably playing the touch version. Even in the strictest of softball leagues you probably have some leeway as to decide whether base stealing is legal or to have a mercy rule of some sort. These rules can be molded because they are accorded and accepted by all participating players. It is in that mutual consent that the game is considered “fair” and thus has the potential for new rules to be decided upon at future points. Those who do not wish to accept these standard or variant rules can choose to not play or do so under protest (much like a D&D player who begrudingly keeps playing after he finds out the DM house ruled that the alter person spell doesn’t exist in this particular setting).

Since the rules are no longer written in stone, the game itself can change in very dramatic ways each time. My favorite example to show just how crazy and awesome this can become is in Bill Watterson’s incredible Calvin and Hobbes and the game played by the titular characters: Calvinball. The freeform and downright chaotic play style of this game is due it having only two rules. 1: You can never play the same game of Calvinball twice and 2: Do not question the masks. Beyond that the game becomes one where objectives, tactics, penalties, and other elements of games are constantly mutating amongst the current players. The lack of structure would quickly make this an unplayable sport in pretty much every place on the planet. And yet, because it is a game where the players amongst themselves decide which rules to follow and how; that a game like Calvinball can (at least theoretically) exist.

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One thought on “Episode 81: You Think This Is a Game?

  1. Good luck with your submission, Gabe!

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