Treating the Game As A Game


One of the conventions the Free Play handicapper implements is to set one elder against the other. Here the elders embrace after the contest, and you can’t tell who was on what side of a 20-4 score, can you?

F(ather): Suppose you tell me what you would understand by the words “serious” and a “game.”
D(aughter): Well… if you’re… I don’t know.
F: If I am what?
D: I mean… the conversations are serious for me, but if you are only playing a
game…
F: Steady now. Let’s look at what is good and what is bad about “playing” and
“games.” First of all, I don’t mind —not much—about winning or losing. When your questions put me in a tight spot, sure, I try a little harder to think straight and to say clearly what I mean. But I don’t bluff and I don’t set traps. There is no temptation to cheat.
D: That’s just it. It’s not serious to you. It’s a game. People who cheat just don’t know how to play. They treat a game as though it were serious.
F:But it is serious.
D: No, it isn’t—not for you it isn’t.
F: Because I don’t even want to cheat?
D: Yes—partly that.
F: But do you want to cheat and bluff all the time?
D: No—of course not.
F: Well then?
D: Oh—Daddy—you’ll never understand.
F: I guess I never will.

F: Look, I scored a sort of debating point just now by forcing you to admit that you
don’t want to cheat—and then I tied onto that admission the conclusion that therefore the conversations are not “serious” for you either. Was that a sort of cheating?
D: Yes—sort of.
F: I agree—I think it was. I’m sorry.
D: You see, Daddy—if I cheated or wanted to cheat, that would mean that I was not
serious about the things we talk about. It would mean that I was only playing a
game with you.
F: Yes, that makes sense.

(excerpt; 2.3 Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious | Steps to An Ecology of the Mind; Gregory Bateson)

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