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.
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 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.