Editorial: Gamers, Games, and The Game

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is famous for, among other things, denying that there is any common feature to games.

Another, perhaps wiser, philosopher named Bernard Suits defies Wittgenstein on this point. The basic feature of games, he argues, is the fact that players in games place self-imposed limits upon themselves to intentionally make reaching their goals more difficult.

Consider a simple ball game, where the goal is to move the ball past a certain arbitrary mark upon a defined field. If one may use her hands, feet, or tools to accomplish this, with no opposition, it is not much of a game. The only limitations upon the player’s ability to accomplish the goal are the basic physical laws of the universe.

But what if she can only use her feet? Now she must acquire a certain skill, a proficiency at moving the ball with her feet, to accomplish the goal. This is an entirely arbitrary limitation, yet it provides something that is nevertheless stimulating and fun, even though one might be said to be engaging in an activity with no point beyond itself that involves placing artificial and somewhat frustrating limitations upon oneself.

Bernard Suits
Bernard Suits
Suits argued that games defy logic: they ought not to be fun, but invariably all societies turn toward games for leisure.

Those that play games as a main or even primary form of leisure are known as gamers, a definable and therefore quantifiable social group.

A recent topic of conversation across the blogosphere, and even among gamer-blogger Illuminati Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade! fame, has been “the Game,” a somewhat sickening exercise in seduction, manipulation, humiliation and domination practiced by players called “pick-up artists.” This movement grabbed headlines in the wake of a tragic mass murder perpetrated by a woman-hater that patronized many of the marketers in the “seduction community,” or the people that play “the Game.”

How then does one reconcile the utopian vision of Suits, where people engage in leisure activities (games) during all phases of their life to enhance their enjoyment of life, with the shallow, hurtful and sexist view of human relationships?

The answer reveals itself in a common feature many gamers themselves understand: the seduction community is analogous to cheaters, exploiters and hackers.

The pick-up artists are no different than the script kiddie running a cheat program in an FPS or a botter in an MMO. They view human relationships (or more accurately, a small sliver of human relationships since these are invariably heteronormative and targeted only at men) as the wrong kind of game, the kind where the goal is not a successful and healthy human relationship, but the domination and humiliation of the other players. The players of this game are taught that the best way to win and have fun winning is to cheat, manipulate, misdirect and hurt.

Gabe & Tycho
Gabe & Tycho
Gabe and Tycho make a somewhat startling, if stereotypical, argument: many of those targeted by the pick-up artist community are also “gamers.” The stereotype of the gamer as socially awkward, romantically feckless loner is alive and well. As much as this unfair stereotype is contradicted by the personal experiences of gamers everywhere, the perception of its accuracy persists.

The problem with the psychology of the Game-players is that they see the goal of the “Game” not as fulfillment of a condition they have set for themselves (a relationship) but rather the humiliation and domination of the “other team.” Their psychology is analogous to the cheater, the exploiter, the camper, the griefer, the rule-lawyer, and all that is wrong with the shared space of gaming.

Suits’ analogy still stands. Life can be one big game. Romantic relationships can be mutually fulfilling, interesting ways of interacting with others. As long as everyone plays fair and above-board, with respect for the other players and the shared space of the game.


  1. After the post on this topic at PA, Gabe and Tycho had a rather heated exchange in posts on the main page of the site. I was rather surprised at this, as I had never seen anything quite as lengthy (or stern) there before.

    The upshot is that Gabe maintained that ‘women have been finding ways to rope men in for thousands of years, and its perfectly all right for men to come up with their own method.’ Tycho asserted (generally) that the purpose wasn’t relationships at all but casual encounters and meaningless dominations by a bunch of sick people.

    The reason Gabe felt this was justified is because, as he put it, ‘men have nothing to offer to women. We have nothing they want.’ No doubt this helps him to arrive at his conclusion, but that statement is clearly untrue. I don’t think I’m being the least bit chauvinistic in saying that men have as much to offer to women as women do to men: companionship/friendship, the chance to raise a family, shared opportunities, &c. These are not trivial things, but they were dispensed with by Gabe because he was focused primarily upon the sexual content of a ‘relationship’–much as the participants in these ‘groups’ are.

    That in itself is the root of the problem. When human relationships are trivialised and reduced to a purely sexual level, all sorts of problems are going to come out of it, mainfested in ways such as the Seduction Club. The sexual part of a relationship is just that–a part–and the larger whole is what the goal should be. A myopic focus on any single aspect can only lead to neglect of the other facets of the relationship, and the result will be dysfunction and potentially damaging.

  2. I wouldn’t call pick up artists cheaters or hackers, they’re just playing a different game to everyone else, sort of the social equivalent to tea bagging.

  3. @SN: At the very least they are griefers, whose goal is not a romantic relationship, but rather the domination and subjugation of others. To draw a paralell to MMOs, they are like the people who spend two hours ganking the same L.5 noob with their own L.80 elite character.

    Anything but gross contempt for such creatures is occasion for moral outrage.

  4. They just sort of remind me of the typical Halo jerkoff cussing eachother out and immortalising themselves through the art of tea bagging, contemptable to be sure, but still playing a game of sorts. And much like with gaming you need to be able to recognise the sorts of players that you’re not interested in playing with.

  5. @SN: The problem is that when you come across such people, it is not immediately apparent who they are–and what they are playing at. In a game, when one is being ganked repeatedly (or in Halo when people are tea bagging), it is obvious what is going on and what those cretins are at. In real life, these people operate through very convincing lies, cons, and deceptions which are capable of bedeviling even the cautious. The entire situation is a lie, all the apparent emotions nothing but pretense, all the professions only a ruse; the ultimate goal is entirely selfish and is damaging to the person so abused–indeed, we might go so far as to call them a victim, in the way that elderly people are victims when cheated out of their money by con artists.

    As I said before, these people are contemptible; they are destructive and predatory. One cannot sympathise with them except by disaffecting oneself from any morality worth the name.

  6. I should add, lest my comment above misleads, that both Tycho and Gabe eventually settled on agreeing that Seduction systems, and their ilk, are not the way to go and are often pretty sleazy. I mention this because I want to make it clear that neither of them are steadfastly defending this bilge.

    The comments and discussion referenced can be found here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2009/8/10/

  7. The Game “works”, but it attracts the kind of girls I don’t like, and attracts the kind of relationship I’m not interested in.

  8. I’d agree with Ethos on this one. Like (at least it seems) most everybody here, it’s just not what I’m looking for.

    I don’t, however, feel contempt for those who want to use that method. Like SN said, they’re just playing a different game. It’s a game I, personally, want no part in, but that’s their choice to make.

  9. Philosophers, you say? Allow me to tell you what you NEED to know…


  10. Not really looking to defend these people or anything, but what they do looks an awful lot like pwning noobs. All I’m really saying is that their conduct would seem to fit the technical definition of a game, complete with its own instructions, rules and conditions for sucess and failure. This doesn’t mean I’m in favour of turning sexual interactions into a game, I just don’t see online cheaters as the right analogy for them.