Game Theory

Religare: to bind

In hockey, you can't kick the ball. It's not in the rules. Mastering control of the stick makes the game work better, increasing the skill and enjoyment. The discipline grows the player. The game works because of the rules. It makes a hockey match a live reality, taking something out of the Whole around us, making it manageable and livable for an hour or so. The game grows us through friendship and cooperation; it increases health and community.

Soccer has its own rules, and here, you do kick the ball. It's a different game which leads to the same result.

These games are not artificial. They connect to very basic realities. Gravity, for example. We can't play hockey without gravity. The way we hit, the angles at which we aim, and the force of a push are all intimately connected with the interplay of gravity, friction and inertia. A hockey game which tried to ignore these realities would not work. It would be un-real, a denial. A game cannot open a window to more of reality for us by denying the obvious! Hockey that denied gravity and friction, would be like Christianity that denies the text and claims an inerrant scripture- just foolish. A pretence.

Games open us to wonder. The loop and spin of a table tennis ball always entrances me. The spin from the bat causes the ball to float, drop, and kick off the table in delightful ways. Cricket balls seam and swing, and spin back from the rough.

Play extends into work. There is a wonderful scene in Spotswood where Anthony Hopkins watches, bemused, as two process workers dance a little jig while the press cuts out another pair of moccasins.

Everything is a game.

It's a grim workplace where there is no fun and sense of play, and the game has gone. We hear the criticism of the boys in the boardroom, who are playing just one more big game. Whilst their sense of responsibility, and the gravity of what they are playing with, may have deserted them, they are holding on to one important thing. They are playing the game.

There is a sense in which everything is a game. What counts is the goodness of the game. Does it divert us from the miseries of life? Does it grow us? Does it enhance the lives of others, or are we in a game of greed, playing hardball with the lives of those around us? Is the game giving us a better grasp of the Whole in which we have found ourselves? Do the rules of the game to which we bind ourselves build up the world, or are they fantasy and denial?

We can't do without the rules. Hockey where one picks up the ball and throws it, is not hockey. Medicine where the rules are not followed, does no good, and may do grave harm. The rules and patterns of religion, refined over the centuries, fail to form us and our world, if we carelessly slip into sectarianism. Philosophers who won't play the game cannot communicate with each other.

We all like to think our game is the best. The one eyed AFL fan despises rugby. Tennis is trivial compared to the patient strategies of cricket. The particle physicist smiles down at the civil engineer, who laughs at the artist. One christian thinks they are better than another, while the atheist knows they are both wrong.

Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:15-20) Does the game the grasp the Whole, shining a light on it? Does it do good to people? And is it a good game to play, or not really much fun?

There are, it seems to me, only two people who are truly wrong. One is the absolute rationalist, devoid of imagination, who cannot play. Someone who is in the thrall of "unleavened reason" as Dean Koontz put it. The other person is relentlessly religious, totally bound by the rules, and unable to let the critique of gravity and friction inform their game. Both of them have forgotten, or never seen, that it's all a game.

Play the game. Have fun. Grow.

Andrew Prior
(Dean Koontz uses the phrase "unleavened reason" in Forever Odd)


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