||[Mar. 3rd, 2008|09:35 pm]
So, in reading today's XKCD, I came across the comic which proclaims "You just won The Game! You are free now!"
Now, clearly, this is a piece of delicious trollery: since The Game is unwinnable, declaring victory can only result in a roundabout defeat.
Amused, I moved on to the XKCD forum, where I found a fascinating discussion taking place. There appeared to be three main sides, when all was reduced to its essentials. The first, betraying the least understanding of the rules of the mental construct that is The Game, consisted of posts something along the lines of "Thank you! I win! Now I can stop playing!" The second was the obvious "You can't win the game, so all this comic did is make us all lose." And the third was the rather obnoxious "I have never been playing the game (With a variation "I always win the game"/I made my own game which you win instead of losing"), and you are all mindless sheep for succumbing to this meme."
It is necessary to the discussion at this point to include the rules of the game in their simplest form.
1. You are always playing the game. Whether or not you believe you are playing, and regardless even if you are aware of the game's existence, you are in a perpetual state of playing the Game.
2. Whenever you think of the game, you lose. It is not possible to win the game.
3. Whenever you lose, you must announce your loss to those around you.
An interesting analogy for rule two is that of tetris: tertris is a game which it is not possible to win, only to beat one's high score (By avoiding losing for as long as possible). Similarly, it is possible to do well at The Game by avoiding loss for a long time, but it is not possible to actually win.
There are a few more things which are inherent to The Game that might not appear so at first glance:
- The Game is an arbitrary construct, like the rules of mathematics or the measurement of time. Thus, saying you don't play The Game is like saying that seconds do not apply to you. You may not measure time in seconds, but that doesn't mean that they aren't passing anyways.
- The Game is not, in fact, a game. For something to be a game, it has to use a voluntary rule-set. Since the game in its definition includes that the rule-set is not voluntary, it is better described as a philosophical or logical construct than as a game.
One of the more fascinating things about The Game is the amount of anger it generates when people are informed that they have lost. The following post from the thread puts it better than I could, I believe:
"What [The Game] shows me is that there are a lot of people who experience a reflexive hatred towards any [per]ceived failure. From a young age, people will take their ability to win or lose at any number of trivial contests or challenges far too seriously. It is impressed upon us that games aren't for playing, but for winning. So, when presented with any situation where loss is inevitable, they become enraged and will do everything in their power to convince themselves that they simply did not lose.
They'll accuse their opponents (if any) or cheating, say the rules are broken and need to be changed, that the field of play is imbalanced, or the referees are blind. And when things reach their worst, they'll break down and start screaming about how this game is stupid and they were never playing anyway. We've all done it at some point, and we've all seen others do it too.
This whole chain of thought is easily stirred up [by] something like The Game, which is ultimately little more than saying "You lose" to someone over and over again. Losing doesn't cost you anything, and not-losing doesn't gain you anything, so there's not reason to react to this at all. But it still gets people. They either try to impose a way to win, or take their ball and go home. But whatever they may try they'll still know it's there, that they're still losing this arbitrary and trivial game, and it gnaws at their souls."
In fact, it seems to me that those who claim to "win" the game are the ones who are losing the most definitively. By becoming irate at being told that they have lost, they have fallen for the trap of the game as a philosophical construct: an experiment in reaction to loss. To play the game "correctly," by following the rules, still results in loss, but it is at least a loss which can be treated with equanimity. Of course, by becoming annoyed at those who are unable to deal with losing a game with no penalties, those who insist over and over again that they *must* play The Game are equally guilty of poor sportsmanship. Where the "I am not playing" people are demonstrating an inability to handle losing, the "Yes you are" people are demonstrating an inability to lose if anyone else doesn't. Which, of course, is the same thing. If everyone loses, no one really loses, they reason, but as long as one person isn't playing, they feel that they are somehow inferior. After all, they're *losing.*
Aside from its uses as an experiment in thought association and suppression, and as a metaphor for self-defeating mental patterns (Both of which are discussions that took place in the thread which I will not develop here), The Game is an incredibly interesting social commentary. It demonstrated just how deeply the need to win is into our culture, to the point that people become incredibly vehement and argumentative over something which is, by its very definition, meaningless.