Saturday, December 4, 2010

Universality of Games

Games have been with us, likely, since humans have been in existence.  Maybe further, depending on what we can take from the play that we perceive in animals and what that could tell us about the nature of proto-beings beyond our abilities to observe in this day and age.  

Games are generally known as a structured activity that we do for fun, and may be educational as well.  We try to distinguish games from work, claiming it not something we do for an exchange of goods, a salary, or any other form of compensation - and yet, we find value in games, and often do seek out a reward or enrichment of some sort for the participation in one.  Thus, there can be confusion with regards to making a distinction between games and work, and often find elements within them that intermingle, such as people in online RPs that employ themselves to fictional jobs, or employees at team meetings where games are employed as team builders, or to give a certain symbolism or metaphor to work with to gain an understanding on the 'real' work.

Games are a universal part of the human experience, and, even in this age where the evolution of a game has come to be a creative force in a 'metaverse', we still find ourselves defining them in on whether they are fun or lighthearted, of a separate time and place, whether the goals are certain or uncertain, even a view that games are non-productive, even while being governed by rules.  We claim that a game is to be fictitious in order to be a 'real' game.

Games can be more than that, can they not?  I'm not saying to throw away the definition we have of games already, but to consider.  Do games have value?  If so, then what makes them rewarding or enriching, and do we really have to distinguish this quality of reward and enrichment from 'real' rewards and enrichment of work?  Or, is this a matter of subjectivity that we put when we consider the element of 'fun' and what is 'not fun'?  And if so, what can we say about the possibility of game becoming 'not fun' and a work becoming 'fun'?  Does the work that employs our livelihood now become a game, and that when supposedly we employ to our entertainment now become a work?

Games, in reality are as much work as what we call 'work' or employment, and both games and work can have an element of fun, they can have reward to them, as well as the opposite effects of being 'not fun' and 'non-rewarding'.  So, something else has to distinguish them than this.

Games are also considered fictitious.  It is something that is different from the 'real world', and therefore does not have real world consequences, etc. and so forth.  But yet, games do have rules and regulations and, therefore, must have penalties, or some sort of consequence.  And, if they did not, then there wouldn't possibly be a way to lose, be disqualified, banned, disbarred, or whatnot.  Some may say it's different because you can't go to jail just for losing a game.  An easy quip would be that, in Monopoly, you can, but, no, in the long run, you likely aren't going to go to jail for losing in most games.  Yet, in work, if you screw up, you may get fired, fined, disbarred, lose your certificates for doing business, and other qualifying factors that mean you 'lose' your work, but you may not still have done something illegal, or illegal enough to be put in jail for.  However, there is work, and there are games that one can be put in jail just for participating in.  If you are a professional cat burglar, you know that your work is not something you can hold any security of a 401 K in, and retirement generally is from getting caught and put in prison.  Gamblers may be put in jail if caught in an illegal casino or other establishment that is not sanctioned by the law for such play.  And certainly, cheating at Poker can get you a black eye or two, to say the least, just as going door to door as a salesman could lead to some roughing up in certain not-so-friendly neighborhoods.  So, fiction or not there can be real life consequences to games, just as there are for work.

Games are not just one sort of thing.  There is variety in games, and our development and growing complexity of gaming and technology used to create them also bring about new developments in defining them.  To say something is 'just a game' anymore is to simply be ignorant. 

Games can now be a part of the changing in consequences perceived, as well of the development thereof in social aspects of our daily lives.  In a sense, they always have been.  The Royal Game of Ur had to have been more than just a matter of 'just a game' for the people that played it, and even still play its modern variation.  And that's among the oldest of games known in recorded history, dating back to 2600 BC.  And people are still playing it, or a modern variation of it, such as Backgammon is claimed to be.  Just think of how many societies and cultures may have come across this game or made its own variants of such a game to play, and maybe even traded and st up tournaments and other ways to gain rewards and the like, just to have an event to participate in.  Considering that, is it any question that humanity's patterns really haven't changed that much in regards to what they decide to do with their games?  Technology has changed, and variety has come with it, but, we still want places to play, events to participate in, and people to play with.  Likewise, we still want places to do business, events to promote businesses and have people participate in particular products and services.  Thus, naturally, where we have a place for games, we also have the 'agora', the shopping center, the place for the market.  And, certainly, we have the industries behind those games and businesses that help manufacture and construct these places for interaction, whether it be physical or virtual.  Moreso, there are places for people to live as well, or to give a place the life of the presence of those people in a virtual setting.

Games in the modern, virtual world, break many of the barriers that have been imposed on work, play, games, and what is 'real'.  Cultures and societies that have physical barriers can now intermingle in the virtual environment, and interact in ways that can bot unite and divide them.  Their ideas and desires are shared.  Collaboration in various teams, committees, groups, and associations become possible in a way that is liberating in comparison to what they may or may not be able to do in the physical world, whether by physical or other forces that would not allow it.  But, even so, are we truly free in a virtual world?

Wikipedia's entry on the concept of games in the online setting helps refine things a bit:

The values that are policed vary from game to game. Many of the values encoded into game cultures reflect offline cultural values, but games also offer a chance to emphasis alternative or subjugated values in the name of fantasy and play. The players of the game at the new century are now apparently expressing their profound self through the game. When they can play with their anonymous status, they are found to be more confident to express and to step out from the position they have never been out from. It offers new experiences and pleasures based in the interactive and immersible possibilities of computer technologies.


Games, I would argue, have provided some of these aspects prior to the technologies now being used, and the innovations that come from them.  But, even so, it is undeniable that online brings to it a different quality and nature that we are still trying to understand.  After all, if things in the online environment can just be considered as 'just a game', then why do we get worked up over them?  Why do we care what happens in thise games we play? If we can flippantly throw them off as something trivial, then what is all the 'OOC drama' all about?  Why get pissed about the loss of something virtual?  If there isn't something the care about in the metaverse, then why do we?

Just some thoughts....

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