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Thinking with Games

For discussion and debate about anything. (Not a roleplay related forum; out-of-character commentary only.)

My Preferred Metaphor for Life is

the sports metaphor
2
20%
a mixed metaphor
1
10%
a cliche
3
30%
an ice cream koan
1
10%
an actual koan
0
No votes
meet the new boss, same as the old boss
2
20%
Myrrh
1
10%
 
Total votes : 10

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Forsher
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Thinking with Games

Postby Forsher » Wed Apr 07, 2021 2:33 am

What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience? Does it vary depending on what society's concept of the human experience you look to?

Chess is probably the most famous example of this kind of thinking. You might be familiar with The Wire, i.e. the show about Baltimore's problems? Well, that uses chess in the context of drug dealing. Direct parallels are drawn between the king and the queen and the organisation's leadership, for example. It's a 3 and half minute scene, just watch it and you'll get it.

Person of Interest does something much more interesting with chess. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the programme, POI was about a dude who was contracted to make a superintelligent AI (The Machine) to fight terrorism but had a moral crisis. During various flashbacks we see Finch teach the Machine how to play chess... we're clearly being set up to imagine something like The Wire's use of chess (which, if you didn't watch the video, might be described as "all the world's a chess board and we merely pieces"). The first lesson is about the number of possible games and therefore the seizure of possibility leading to the moral conclusion "simply relax and play". In the second lesson, I wouldn't say there's any obvious message but it's obliquely talking about sacrifice and The Machine's fallibility. And then we get the third lesson where Finch says:

It's a useful mental exercise... through the years many thinkers have been fascinated by it but I don't enjoy playing ... [it's from an era where people believed some people were worth more than others, I disagree]. I don't envy you the decisions you're going to have to make. [...] If you remember nothing else, remember this: chess is just a game, real people aren't pieces and you can't assign more value to some of them to others [...] people are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is: anyone who looks on the world as if it were a game of chess deserves to lose.


WarGames is a film from the 1980s but I like it so I'm not going to spoil it, which is a problem since while there's a really good example of what I mean in the film, it's also how the film ends. If you don't care, read on.

WarGames also features a superintelligent AI that needs to learn and in its climax we have a different critique of games like chess that feature victors... a scene where the world is compared to noughts and crosses. Or, at least, thermonuclear war is. And the lesson is? "The only winning move is not to play. [beat] How about a nice game of chess?"


Of course, if we go to TV Tropes there are some arguments about the sense of WarGames conclusions:

Joshua supposedly doesn't understand futility, but is programmed to play the (unlisted) Tic-Tac-Toe game, and more famously Chess. While it's probable the former game is legacy code that Falken never bothered to play with Joshua, chess is rife with stalemates. We have no direct indication that Falken ever intentionally tried for a stalemate, so either Joshua outsmarted him every time Falken tried, or Falken never attempted it.
  • The difference being chess can end in a stalemate; the goal was to make Joshua understand some games always do.
  • Except tic-tac-toe doesn't always end in a stalemate. Sometimes you win strategically, and sometimes you win by happenstance while acting defensively. There is no way JOSHUA would have run simulations of tic-tac-toe that many times and not won a single game. And there are known strategies to win the game, mostly involving forcing your opponent's hand—they can block one win or another win, but not both, and you choose whichever one they don't take. Which JOSHUA, being a learning AI, would have learned the exact wrong thing from.
  • Chess also relies on acceptable casualties, as it's almost impossible to reach checkmate without losing a few pieces along the way. If anything, chess would impart the opposite lesson of what Falken was trying to teach Joshua - that it's totally okay to lose a lot of pieces along the way as long as you take the king.


What this lot are missing is that in noughts and crosses you can only win if the opponent makes an error, which Joshua doesn't do. In contrast, while chess has draws and stalemates, no one knows what the perfect game of chess ends in (see here, for example).


This is obviously a trope but I'm not sure what the trope is called so I'm actually out of ready examples. But you probably understood what I meant from the off, right? People interpret the world through games or project real world interpretations on to games. It's like sports metaphors but without the baggage. Well, sports are games too so I guess they should count as possibilities.

Anyway, for contemporary Western society at any rate, my gut instinct is that the best game model or symbolic game or metaphorically promising game is President/Scum.

Oh, sure, it's a bad choice in the sense that the rules are not at all standardised but the basic bones are good. The feature I like most is that President is endless. Yes, sure, you can just play a single hand but the whole point of President is that the winner takes two cards of their choice (or the two best cards) from the loser, and the runner up does the same (but gains just the one card) from the n-1 player. This means the game features structural inequality that makes social mobility hard. And, as a card game, the luck of the draw means that starting positions are pretty arbitrary as well. The game even has FOMO/network capture since if you pass, you're usually missing out on huge opportunities to get rid of cards (345 consec can be brutal if you can't participate). And because the winner of the previous trick starts the next one, the inequality occurs between tricks within hands

Of course, I prefer to play President with rules that make the game more competitive but since this is the same as saying "making the game fairer", I also find that instructive. And as a special "treat" Forsher's rules to President.

Set Up: a pack of cards and people to play with; deal all the cards out, left to right; the player with the three of clubs starts the game

Advice: play with two packs of cards with 3-5 players and with three decks with 6+ players because it increases the frequency of fun things. Also "two man" and "three man" Scum are basically different games to 4+ player games. If using multiple decks, the fastest (i.e. first played) three of clubs starts the game.

Object: dispose of your cards as fast as possible, players are ranked in the order that they do so

Play:

President proceeds in tricks with the inviolable rule being "every successive play in a trick must involve the same number of cards that started the trick". In most cases, each successive play must involving placing a higher card (or cards) than the last one/s played. The order runs low to high: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace, 2, Joker. Players may pass to exclude themselves from the entirety of the remainder of the trick at any time (including before the trick has begun, unless they are to initiate the trick). The winner of a trick is the player who played the card/s that every other player passed on.

If the winner of a trick has no remaining cards, the player to their left initiates the next trick, unless only one player has cards left. If so, the cards are shuffled and dealt again to start a new hand. The winner (President) of the prior hand demands two cards of their choice (generally the highest) from the loser (scum). The runner up (Vice President) demands one card of their choice (generally the highest) from the runner up (vice scum). All other players from the previous hand and any additional players are designated as neutrals. If either of the scums leaves the game after the relevant hand, the scums are reallocated to the two lowest ranked players remaining.

Tricks consist of:

  • singles... wherein the initiator places a single card in the middle, which successive players attempt to beat: a card that cannot be beaten ends the trick, as does a card that no-one wants to beat (i.e. passes on).
  • doubles, triples, quads and so on... as with singles, but with more cards
  • consec... any run of 3 consecutive card values requires all subsequent cards played in the trick to be played consecutively. Example 1: (3), (4), (5) => (6) alone. Example 2: (6, 6), (7, 7), (8, 8) => (9, 9) alone. Play does not loop back around and so the longest possible sequence of values is, in order, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace, 2, Joker.
  • eight below... if a single, double etc 8 is played, the immediately following card must take a value less than eight unless placing the eight/s created the consec rule. Once a valid play under eight below has been made, play continues as normal. Example 1: (5, 5, 5), (8, 8, 8), (3, 3, 3), (2, 2, 2). If no other player can play on the eight below, the trick ends as normal.
  • sixty-nine... if a nine (or group of nines) is placed on a six (or a group of sixes), all subsequent cards must be played as a group of face cards, the number of which is determined by the number of sixes and nines invoking the sixty-nine rule: if (6), (9) then two face cards; if (6,6), (9, 9) then four face cards; if (6, 6, 6), (9, 9, 9) then six face cards; and so on. The face cards are played without respect to value, e.g. (King, King), (Jack, Queen), (Jack, Jack) is a valid sequence. Play continues to exhaustion, i.e. until everyone has passed on the most recent group of face cards.
  • KKK... if three kings are played, all subsequent cards must be played as arbitrary groups of three red cards. As with sixty nine, play continues to exhaustion. Six Kings does not invoke KKK twice over.
  • 666... interrupts the game such that all players count their cards and the player with the fewest cards gives their highest (or, in extremes, only) card to the player with the most cards, while the player with the most cards gives their lowest card to the player with the fewest cards. These cards are exchanged face down. Then, all players choose a card and pass that card face down to the player on their left. All exchanged cards are picked up and the trick resumes. Example 1: (6, 6, 6) (exchange of cards) (9, 9, 9), i.e. triple sixty nine. Example 2: (4, 4, 4), (5, 5, 5), (6, 6, 6), (exchange of cards), (7, 7, 7).

Players have free choice over how they wish to initiate a trick unless it is the initial move of the hand/game. In that case, the three or the fastest three of clubs must feature, whether that is as a single, double, triple, quadruple or so on.

Final Thoughts:

I confess we didn't do much playtesting of that version of 666 because several of my friends didn't like it. But a friend and I were very enthusiastic about it and I think it worked as intended the few times we used it.


So, what say ye, NSG? Are there (real world, not game theory) games that are good models of human life or behaviour?
Last edited by Forsher on Wed Apr 07, 2021 2:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Drongonia
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Postby Drongonia » Wed Apr 07, 2021 2:37 am

Forsher wrote:What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience?


The Game of Life, obviously.

/s
Last edited by Drongonia on Wed Apr 07, 2021 2:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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New Jacobland
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Postby New Jacobland » Wed Apr 07, 2021 2:58 am

Drongonia wrote:
Forsher wrote:What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience?


The Game of Life, obviously.

/s


Damn, beat me to that joke.
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Postby The New California Republic » Wed Apr 07, 2021 3:05 am

Forsher wrote:What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience?


Image
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Forsher
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Postby Forsher » Wed Apr 07, 2021 3:39 am

The New California Republic wrote:
Forsher wrote:What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience?


Image


A logical contradiction. If they're all equally bad, then they're all the best... just best is bad.
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Bombadil
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Postby Bombadil » Thu Apr 22, 2021 10:50 pm

All I know is that Diplomacy brings out the very worst in people.

I love it.
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Tsaivao
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Postby Tsaivao » Thu Apr 22, 2021 10:53 pm

The game closest to life is clearly Nationstates, guys!
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Postby Nanatsu no Tsuki » Thu Apr 22, 2021 10:56 pm

I’m going for Risk. I’ve seen two friendships end over that game and over what to me, in the outside, looks like one party’s greed and the other’s inability to adjust to loss. Brings out some competitiveness in some people too.
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An Alan Smithee Nation
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Postby An Alan Smithee Nation » Thu Apr 22, 2021 11:47 pm

Ability doesn't necessarily make you a winner at life, sometimes less skilled people just get lucky. Backgammon is a pretty good metaphor for that.
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Risottia
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Postby Risottia » Fri Apr 23, 2021 12:22 am

Forsher wrote:[b]What game (e.g. chess, poker, pool, Monopoly) is the best metaphor for/symbolic representation of/model for the human experience?

Paper-and-pen roleplaying game.

You think you have vast choices, while you're being railroaded. Eventually people just abandon.
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Page
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Postby Page » Fri Apr 23, 2021 12:30 am

Chess is a zero-sum game, life is not. I would say humans thinking life is a zero-sum game is a cause of a great deal of our problems, especially economic.
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Chan Island
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Postby Chan Island » Fri Apr 23, 2021 2:01 am

Chess, fun as it is, is actually a terrible metaphor for life that falls apart over and over again. Chess is zero sum, life is not. Chess is black and white, life is an infinite variety of shades of grey. In theory, there is no luck in chess but life itself is all about luck. Continual sacrifices of pawns for your preservation is a psychopath's way of living life and is not any metaphor for any reasonable person's life. Chess has rigid rules in a way that life definitely doesn't have. It is only 2 players in the normal version, life meanwhile is far more dynamic.

I'd say that some kind of roleplay game is the most accurate, like Dungeons and Dragons. Everyone has a wide variety of choices, but those choices are railroaded through scenarios and are prone to failure. Sheer luck plays a huge role. Friendships are built and destroyed in equal measure over time. And it never ends, players just tap out and sometimes are replaced.
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