(just the one)

Grappling with wrongdoing

June 22nd, 2017

The idea: one of the dichotomies that defines human action is 'action with ignorance' <-> 'ignorance without action'.

We need to act, and we don't know what will happen as a result of our actions. Yet we need to act, or we will remain ignorant, not learning the results of our actions.

This isn't a dichotomy that a person can escape or should try to discard. The goal instead should be to act carefully when danger leers: to act in order to understand the world, to know what will come from the things that you do. Small tests in small domains, with the goal of understanding in what ways these domains extend to the larger ones that we all inhabit.

This is actually a tentative definition of a game. We play games in order to understand the world, each other, and ourselves within safe boundaries. Games are ecosystems of choice held in vitro. Scrawled on all of their margins is a tacit promise that they will each teach us something, something that we can use to steer our way through the wilder world.

But unfortunately this isn't how we use games now.

Consider gamification. When we gamify our work or our life, we're taking the scores, trophies, and awards that act as measures of the skills demonstrated by games' participants, and we're applying them to our work and our lives. This is perhaps most akin to the Scientific Efficiency movement, or Taylorism. Gamification is a redefinition of games. Games cease to be vital playgrounds for learning and practice, and instead become mere competitions - blind striving.

When we change the definitions of games, we lose the games before we've begun to play them. We're then faced with a subtle choice: either make life one big game or forget games entirely. Everything either becomes playful or grave. In the first case we grow reckless, and in the second case we atrophy our ability to safely come to understand the world. Neither of these extremes are useful, and many people flit between them. This is why I'd be cautious of gamification, or at least cautious of understanding games primarily in terms of the metrics we extract from them. We can't gamify our life without damaging the lives of our games.

The goal then would be to use games in order to attain a greater understanding, to practice the skill of understanding. That's how we could quickly bring games back to life. The goal would be to play the right games, with the knowledge that not everything is a game. Because life is, in fact, both playful and grave.