I come from three generations of gamers and have produced another two. Among my own memories as a child were games played in the homes of both the matriarchal and patriarchal grandparents. The first was known as “the fool game” – probably a pretty simple variant of gin rummy with several combinations of hands. The children started by watching and listening and were eventually allowed to play along side the grandparents, great aunts and uncles and parents. The other household probably started with a similar game but graduated to Canasta – and the kids shared in the excitement then as the players assembled when the sun went down and we were allowed to stay up late. I’ve totally forgotten the rules of either card game.
Anyone with a new version of Microsoft has probably succumbed to the add-ons ever since the 90s. Even in the DOS days some early commercial software added a game or two – usually some kind of battle – as a purchase incentive. Anyone with kids has played Monopoly in the summer and tried to trade the best cards. But those same kids are now into a totally different world of gaming that is fascinating to watch but difficult to fathom -except by trial and error. A four year old grandchild did compliment me once when I struggled with the PlayStation controller by saying, “Good, Grandma, you’re almost getting it”.
After reading Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter I did change my attitude of mild hostility to digital games and decided to become acquainted with some tame solo ones so as not to show my lack of skills – some of the attraction to games started to make sense. According to the writer and philosopher, Bernard Suits, I have now acquired a lusory attitude. In his 1978 book, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia and recently reissued, Suits defined a game as follows:
“To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].
And I thought I was either having fun or wasting time or both. Let’s parse this.
- I have a goal in playing the game
- I accept the rules of the game
- The rules present obstacles
- Without the obstacles there would really be no point of the game
Once I have agreed to play the game (fun and/or distraction) my goal is to win – either over my robot opponent or to surpass my previous achievement. I accept the rules with the game envelopes. For Words with Friends, I know I’ll have a maximum of seven letters at a time. (Trying to do a re-write of what I have written thus far with that rule might be a challenge). In Bejeweled I am willing to collect butterflies knowing the I am competing against an insect who will grab any that I let go too high – not exactly a real life activity of a typical day. The seven letters and spidery creature create the challenge or the whole thing would be pointless – but funnily enough, it isn’t.
We need challenges. Sometimes are lives are so bland and predictable that we need to excape from them. Sometimes our work gives us few real challenges and we can’t see the point. Sometimes we just need a change. That’s what McGonigal means when she says that Reality is Broken. But there is much more to it than that. Stay tuned.