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Some Gatekeeping

Life is not a game.

Governance is not a game.

Education is not a game, and Love is definitely not a game.

These are just a few of the things that are not games, and if you want a productive discourse with me about games, then you kind of need to be on the same page with me here. We need to have some common conception of boundaries.

Here's the thing.

I know that in some game design, analysis, and play communities, life and a lot of other parts of life (that are not games) are talked about in gameful terms. When this is done considerately by empathetic thoughtful people, you can get really cool analysis of other phenomena through the lens of games. At the other end of the spectrum, when this type of analysis is performed by narcissistic thoughtless people, you basically get the worst side of gamification (for those who believe it has a positive side).

That gets really ugly.

That's how people get hurt.

The thing is, people mostly play games where there are winners and losers, and when the part of life you're thinking about doesn't need anyone to lose...while, you see where this is going. I mean, we can actually see it on display in contemporary American politics, because the governance of our country is being treated more like a game than like, while...governance.

An aside: @raphkoster tweeted about this relatively recently. I was unable to find it in my stream and this note used to say "Did I dream this? I did deactivate my account for a week in there...Raph, if you read this, please let me know." While, Raph responded almost immediately. It did in fact happen. I have no idea why I fail at searching Twitter, but apparently I do. Here's the thread:

Of course games don't have to have to be competitive.

Games don't have to be quantified.

Games don't have to be any of the things that are common across most of the games that people play.

But at the moment they are. At the moment, these aspects of games that work in games because the consequences are diminished, are in ascendancy in many parts of life where they are doing a great deal of damage. Talking about life through the lens of games right now has to be done with a clear understanding that life is not actually a game.

After all, games are games. They are essentially a type of performed artifact, and life is very definitely much bigger than that since it's the container in which we find them. Games are little models, with each one having some germ of a simulation representing something else in existence and/or the heads of the developers.

The only reason to have models in the first place is to describe the world to meet scientific or aesthetic needs. At best, with pure simulations, we can get fairly accurate descriptions of fairly specific things, but even then there are limitations. More importantly, all these parts of life I keep mentioning, the most important parts of them are resistant or impervious to quantitative modeling. Attempts to reduce all of the deeply relational and emotional parts of life to numbers not only misses the point, but invariably does damage to things like learning and leadership.

Anyway, this is simply where I stand.

I know I'm putting it out there a bit confrontationally, but I feel really strongly about this for a wide variety of reasons.

I also know that I'm putting a border around "games" here, but I just want to be clear that I'm not trying to police the potential of games. I'm simply responding to what games largely are now, because I don't see that changing rapidly, and I do feel a desire to change the discourse. I'm starting small of course, because I know people don't read this blog, but I felt I needed to start somewhere.

Let games be games. Play them, make them, watch them, and enjoy them.

But when you're talking about life, remember that a game is but a small thing, a poor model just like every human artifact. No matter how complex the rule structure, or how high the poly count, games are on some level just crude reflections of the world that we make to play with, in spaces that we try very hard to make safe.

Above all, don't let the lens of games allow you to fall down the rabbit hole of gaming life, or love, or learning, or leadership. We simply can't afford to engage in all of those other parts of life without compassion and a willingness to give. Winning and losing simply don't apply there.

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