The Human Condition and Playing Games

Posted on November 18, 2016 By

The playing of games is pretty fundamental to the human condition, whichever way you look at it. Children naturally and spontaneously design games when they are left to their own devices. It is fascinating how they develop quite complex rule-systems for a given game, which generally take in all aspects of their playing environment. These rule-systems are completely fluid, particularly as the game is starting up, with each person declaring their wants and needs from the game based on the character they will be playing for the course of the game. Once the rules are in place, play begins. Anyone who has seen children doing this kind of thing, or remembers it from childhood, knows that hours can pass quite quickly, with hunger and tiredness easily ignored whilst the game lasts.

Another quite remarkable thing about these spontaneous outbreaks of what adults might term LARP (Live Action Role Play), is that once the game is over with those rule systems are completely forgotten. I have on particular memory of playing a made up game loosely based on “Deathtrap Dungeon” by Ian Livingstone. We played for hours – a group of about five or six of us. This must have been nearly thirty years ago, but every one of those people I’ve spoken to years later still remembers the game. Well, should I say, we all remember playing it, and that it was amazing, but none of us has any clue as to what the content of the game actually was.

Games utilise what is arguably humanity’s greatest gift, the imagination. There are multiple levels to this imagining, from the character you are playing to the things that the elements of your environment come to represent. When a group of people get it, and really get into it, the experience is really like no other. The closest literal representation of the process would be like the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or the Imaginarium of Community. Actually, now I come to think of it, jamming with excellent musicians who are on a similar wavelength can achieve the same kind of effect.

The fact that there is a group of you somehow strengthens the fantasy of the game, as if our brains are somehow designed to work together in series like this, so that everybody feels the benefit of an experience where multiple imaginations are all focussed on the same thing. Micky Hart from the Grateful Dead calls it “sacred dimension territory” and there are echoes here of something Jesus says about more than one person gathering together in his name – he is there. As if Jesus was hoping to somehow represent or personify whatever it is that happens when several people start using their brains for a common goal.

Those who have played role-playing games into adulthood, including the game of being in a band, will know that there are things that happen in jams or games that defy logical explanation. For example, in RPGs people often report that they ‘see’ what another character is going to do before they actually vocalise the intent. I know that there have been times when I have been playing music when I have made what felt like an unexpected change, sometime in a way that feels like an accident to me, only to be amazed, truly amazed, when the whole band seems to make the change simultaneously. It’s magic, pure and simple.

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