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[life, philo] Games and Living Preamble: I've felt recently like I'm… - Transience Divine
November 11th, 2006
08:29 am

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[life, philo] Games and Living

Preamble: I've felt recently like I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall, even if I don't know when the first did. Life is good, but it's a bit too easy-- overfull but not overwhelming-- and its joys too short-lived (like they keep grinding to a halt). So I yanked at my subconscious to tell me what was up, and here's what it gave me (plus it promised me something better by Monday).

Behind the cut are some thinks on the nature and usefulness of social games, and how they relate to how one should live. This sort of post feels awfully self-indulgent, since it comes from where I personally am, but I don't mean it to be: I don't care if anyone reads it, but if anyone finds it useful or resonates with it or wants to engage in a little philosophical dialogue on the subject, I'd love to hear.


I try to avoid playing games. Not games like Scrabble. The kind of games guys play with girls (and girls, guys), or play to secure a place in the social world, or to reinforce a story we tell about ourselves. Like the "interested in you" game, where you ask someone questions and express amazement at their answers. Authoritativeness, inside jokes, manliness, domination, and submission are games too. Much of personality is built on games we play with ourselves and others.

Mind you, I still play all kinds of games-- mostly with myself-- but I try to stick to games that are honest about their rules and their rewards (I think).

But now I'm afraid that the baby was in that bathwater.

In no small part, games form the content of most casual friendships. The social world moves at the pace of games, and people don't like to be around others who aren't participating in their games. And games are *fun*-- the games may be inauthentic, but the joy they provide isn't. They're a way to engage with people and the world, even if they introduce a level of superficiality to that interaction. Perhaps the only way.

Today, a friend of mine was miserable and didn't want to say why, so I let loose-- cracking jokes, teasing, making ridiculous suggestions, like I used to before my distaste for those games, and it was great for both of us. I imagined that games were a coping mechanisms designed to protect you from the raw unknowns of life. But they're also a way to engage in life and contribute to other people's lives.

The games I play aren't nearly as much fun. One game I play is "observe and contemplate". And on some level, I hate it. For all the find observations and contemplations it's given me, it's become a radical barrier between me and life. As much fun as being a fly on the wall is, it isn't living, and it doesn't do anyone else much good. I don't want to waste time thinking when I could be enjoying good people’s company. I don't want to judge or analyze anyone-- I want to love people for who they are, not what they are.

Ideally, the game-less life is the deepest, most challenging, and most authentic life. You spend time engaging people on their deepest level. You recognize the radical uniqueness of every situation and who people are in that situation. And you force yourself never to retreat to the drunken safety of games when things aren't as you'd like them or you who you’d like to be.

But most of the time, it doesn't work very well. Without a game to play, there's a lot less to say and do in most of life. Situations are made zestier by everyone's contribution, even if that contribution is pre-packaged.

Games are ways to summon gods, and it's they who make life interesting. Gods look kindly on those who play their games. They can form bridges between people that take years to make by hand. At Rocky parties, I used to prod anastasia1 because she always knew how to summon the gods of partying. In ESG, I'd come up with seminars, because gods will always come when a few similarly intentioned people are brought together.

I admire everyone I meet for the formidable gods they accompany, and am always asking people, "How did you befriend this great being?" The gods I know best are cheap imitations of the gods I want to know. The god of contemplation loves no one but himself, but he charades as Philosophy, who loves everyone. Similarly, Self-Improvement acts like Wisdom for whoever summons him, but Wisdom acts for others sake, not his summoner's.

Sure, gods are capable of as much harm as good. Most gods of the social world expect not only a hefty tribute of time and money, but also a certain amount of devotion. Many gods are pushy and jealous and antagonistic to other gods. But I suspect the best way to balance a god is with another god-- withdrawing can remove the god, but it won't encourage another to take its place.

So I'm going to try to be ready in life to summon more gods that I know people like, even if I don't know which ones are already in the room. More flirting and appreciation, more good food and drink, spontaneous toys, jokes and stories. I've met so many fine gods in my time and rejected them because they weren't good enough, but they're a lot better than nothing.

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From:ah42
Date:November 11th, 2006 08:57 am (UTC)
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Jimmy... I've just got to say that this is a wonderful post, and definitely something I should re-read myself on occasion as a reminder! Thank you.
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From:jrising
Date:November 11th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for saying so.
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From:senor_don_gato
Date:November 11th, 2006 09:49 am (UTC)

maybe long-winded

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I relate to what you're saying. I never fully formed the idea that "people don't like to be around others who aren't participating in their games," although I know very clearly that it takes me a long time to get to know someone or to become part of a group (takes about a year for the latter ... the former depends on a lot of variables). And suddenly, I'm saying to myself, duh, it's because I don't like to invite myself into most social games. Hm. It reads as cheap to put it so simply, but I think it's a good explanation. When faced with a new social situation, I tend to stand back and observe for a [long] while, either until something strong tempts me into the mix, or until "the mix" gets used to me and starts including me, or until I'm sleep-deprived and my inhibitions and better judgment fade and I throw myself into everything : )

This comment is very self-indulgent, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that (for me or for you or for anyone).

I wonder if a good practice is to let yourself "play games" in ordinary situations, as a means of meeting more potential close friends (and you know, just as a means of belonging and being happy). It seems like, with real connections, the games would disappear on their own. And with more potential close friends, you have more potential connections, and ... yeah. Not sure if that would be selling out. (And if so, what's being sold out?)

I'm tired. I'm probably babbling. Anyway, thank you for writing this. I like your god metaphor, I've enjoyed reading the whole thing, and it's always nice to relate to people.
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From:senor_don_gato
Date:November 11th, 2006 09:54 am (UTC)

Re: maybe long-winded

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This comment is very self-indulgent, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that (for me or for you or for anyone).

Where by "that" I mean self-indulgent introspection.

Anyway, thank you for writing this. I like your [...] relate to people."

Also, it's great to be awake at nearly 5am (I fell asleep I-don't-know-how-early and woke up at 2am), feeling like I'm the only person alive, but then to find someone else who is alive and--on top of that--giving me something interesting to ponder.
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From:jrising
Date:November 11th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)

Re: maybe long-winded

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Part of me is still a big fan of watching and waiting (I go to sleep resolved to be a new person and wake up with doubts, but I'm going to try playing more games and see how I like it). Playing games can feel so needy and manipulative, but maybe it's that use of them that's the problem. You can sell your soul to a god in return for fame and fortune and [wo]men (selling out) by letting the game control you, but-- maybe-- as long as we realize it's a game and that we get to make the rules, it doesn't have to be that way.

I don't think that all games disappear on their own-- I've seen the teasing game between two people form great connections, and then end up tearing them apart. At the time, that made me wary of that game/god, but I think there's a way to enjoy that drink without getting drunk off it (to mix metaphors).

It's nice to know that you enjoyed my self-indulgence.
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From:senor_don_gato
Date:November 11th, 2006 09:55 am (UTC)
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P.S. How did the interview go?
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From:jrising
Date:November 11th, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC)
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Good, I think. I was their first interview, but one of many. I was nervous, and I stumbled and said things that I didn't need to, but I think they liked what I said and I liked what they said. And they showed interest in my independent projects, which was important. I think they'll ask me to come in for another interview.
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From:richenza
Date:November 13th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure I agree with where you have gone with the notion of "games". Do you mean insincire behavior? Certainly there is some level of insincerity in rather a lot of human interactions, even when we believe we are being most genuine.

Amanda once told me about being at the dinner table with her family. The rule of the house was: at dinner everyone had five minutes to talk about their day, and they took turns. Five-year-old Amanda told her mother "I don't want to hear about Daddy's day - it's always boring." Her mother told her that whne you love someone you will pretend to be interested.

It's a vast oversimplification, I guess, but there is some truth to that.

Humans are narcissistic animals, and what is deeply interesting and relevant is also pretty subjective. Don't get me wrong; I don't think all interactions should be frivolous, but we do need that social lubricant.
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From:jrising
Date:November 17th, 2006 07:13 pm (UTC)
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I wasn't thinking of games as being insincere behavior, but that's certainly a common piece, and I totally agree with what you said. I think the more relevant piece of games, the way I'm thinking about them, is that they're artificial and superficial, but I don't think that's necessarily at odds with them being genuine.

Most social games-- whether it's pretending to be interested in Daddy's day or flirting at SCA dance practice-- come from something genuine, like the sincere desire to brighten someone's day. The social games I like best are just mechanisms to help people be genuine in certain ways.

But the mechanisms themselves can be pretty artificial. Like having a rule that everyone takes five minutes to talk about their day. Or pretending to be interested in something when you're not.

And those mechanisms-- the games themselves-- can get out of control, until the original purpose of the games (genuine social enjoyment) gets lost. We are to others what we present ourselves to be, and if we interact through games, then who we are and what we do can be vastly different.
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