Life's a Game
March 26, 2003 3:22 AM   Subscribe

If life's a game, how do you win? We've been mapping our paths through life for centuries, but it took an American Civil War-era publisher to turn it into a boardgame (after Lincoln's new beard killed demand for his line of clean-shaven presidential portraits). In the age of the PC we can find the answer to life in games, live parallel lives in games, simulate the evolution of life in games, and search for everlasting life in games - but can they beat the dusty old box and dice? And what life lessons are all these games teaching us?
posted by rory (14 comments total)
And what life lessons are all these games teaching us?

That, when I die on the battlefield in Iraq, I can just hit Reset, and I'll get another life.
posted by thanotopsis at 4:25 AM on March 26, 2003

can't let this topic slide without namechecking ian banks' player of games and hesse's magister ludi.

both links are just on the fly googles, but the magister ludi link is interesting in that it seems there's been no small amount of theorizing put into (the idea of) designing an actual glass bead game...weird.
posted by juv3nal at 4:49 AM on March 26, 2003

Lots more downloadable game rules available, by the way. And that Banks novel looks like a good read, juv3nal - thanks.
posted by rory at 5:03 AM on March 26, 2003

Both in Banks' and Hesse's works you have the concept of the actual game just being the materialization of a larger, philosophical dispute, with more subtlety in Hesse andf more spaceships in Banks.
Both great reads, by the way.
posted by signal at 5:26 AM on March 26, 2003

Games have taught me that absolutely anything abstract or virtual is better than reality.
posted by Ryvar at 6:08 AM on March 26, 2003

Bank's book is a pretty good read. As opposed to the Game of Life, which is one of the most meaningless waste of time that exists. A good game actually has the players making a decision or two, unlike Life.

At least the current rules don't give you extra money for each child you have. That was just plain wrong...

And has anyone else been having big problems connecting to mefi? Or is it just me?
posted by Windopaene at 9:03 AM on March 26, 2003

At least the current rules don't give you extra money for each child you have. That was just plain wrong...

Whereas in the new rules, you Just Say No.
posted by rory at 9:34 AM on March 26, 2003

Game as life? you can't do better than Nomic. You play the game by changing the rules of the game. Its complete mutability makes it universal.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:48 AM on March 26, 2003

what life lessons are all these games teaching us?
Game theory is the study of the ways in which strategic interactions among rational players produce outcomes with respect to the preferences (or utilities) of those players, none of which might have been intended by any of them."
We play the game of life as "self-interested rational calculators" faced with well-defined choices and forming Machiavellian alliances to achieve them. Think "Survivor." When the game gets really complicated, we agree to enter into the social contract as a way of minimizing of our chances of getting the short end of the stick [a kindergarten summary of Rawls' theory of justice] ... or making sure that the short of the stick gets outsourced to another poker table. Hence the neoliberal idea that "greed is good": Social justice is an unintended consequence of an antagonistic game in which tit-for-tat is the only workable strategy.

Some dissident points of view, such as the Post-Autistic Economics movement, are beginning to work slow change in the field of economics.
posted by hairyeyeball at 10:03 AM on March 26, 2003

Risk and Monopoly have confirmed in my mind that rational human beings are capable of turning into ruthless Machiavellian monsters in a few mere hours. In fact, barring the entirely random roll of the dice, being a penurious son of a bitch seems to be the only way to win. I've seen friendly gatherings of friends and family turn into disasters because someone controls several continents (for some damn reason, I always end up getting Australia -- don't ask me why) or owns all the color groups on one side of the board. The PC game equivalent to this would probably be the first Civilization, which rewarded you for being a tyrannical leader.

Jenga, by contrast, allows for a certain cooperative spirit in removing blocks. Pictionary is a very good way to find out how you communicate with other people. (And it is often the strangest illustrative associations that we share.)

Poker, the good kind with friends that extends into the sunrise, seems to combine the best of both worlds. On one hand, everyone is betting with nickels and dimes and very much concerned with their own modest financial interests. (And in keeping the ante low, the game becomes fairly innocuous.) On the other hand, people are huddled around a circle with this common goal and take the opportunity to both play the role of opportunist and chat about recent events.

Scrabble can be both competitive and pleasantly divertive, depending on the crowd. The latter is generally better.

The UnGame, that spineless offering in which "everybody wins" and often used in group therapy, is nightmarishly dull and prevents anyone from exerting so much as a smidgen of identity. You almost feel as if you're being forced to fill out one of those tedious questionnaires that Scientologists hand out.
posted by ed at 10:16 AM on March 26, 2003

A: I'll let you attack west towards the Ukraine if you keep your forces from crossing to America.

B: Okay, so Europe's open to me?

C: You guys suck!

A: Yes. Truce for 20 turns?

B: 15.

A: 15, then.

C: Bastards!

D: I got Australia, what do I care.
posted by linux at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2003

Ah, nothing quite lets you know who your real friends are like a truce in RISK...
posted by Cyrano at 1:00 PM on March 26, 2003

How do you win? Easy - the person who dies with the most toys wins.
posted by dg at 2:19 PM on March 26, 2003

hee-hee...this is reminding me of when my high school buddies and I rewrote the game of life and turned it into "Real Life." We added occupations like Network Anchorman, Government Employee, and Welfare Mother. Byzantine rules were written and changed mid-game. The person playing the Lawyer got 10% of every financial transaction...but the Network Anchorman still won, because his salary was SO obscenely huge. We were cynical bastards, but it was a lotta fun.
posted by Vidiot at 7:28 PM on March 26, 2003

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