Life is a Game

I actually like the expression “Life is a Game”.  However, many folks find this expression objectionable or even repugnant.  However, I find that most of their aversions  are simply due to one or more of these reasons:

  1. The Nature of Life: The person usually does not understand their own life. (ouch, sorry)
  2. The Wonder of Games: The person vastly underestimates the beauty, complexity, depth and awesome potential of games.
  3. The Spirit of Play: The person does not have enough “play” in their life. (ouch, sorry)

I will briefly elaborate these points below so that perhaps if you weren’t comfortable with thinking of life as a game before reading this post, you will after:

The Nature of Life

Games can be rich, unpredictable, complex and inspiring — much like the fun aspects of life.  They also can be horrible, of course — especially when you are loosing.  Here are two perspectives needed to see games-life metaphor:

Kitani Minoru vs Go Seigen

  • An Algorithmic Perspective:
    Simple algorithms can be deterministic but still unpredictable [see: cellular automatons]. These algorithms have been shown to create incredibly complex beautiful, inspiring patterns similar to those that evolve in the biological world, the quantum world and the cosmos.
    This determinism in games is the felt “fate” aspect of life — the understanding that much more is out of our control then we can even imagine.  Though we often feel in control, there are mechanisms that are predictive — often simpler mechanisms than we can imagine.
  • A Probability Perspective:
    If we understand all the contingencies of our immensely inter-connected world, the “luck” in life (as in a game) becomes apparent.  The world is not controlled by a great virtue-rewarding karma-machine, nor by our ancestors nor by any spirits or gods.

The Wonder of Games

When I say, “life is a game” most folks only imagine a few simple simple games like “Crazy Eights”, “Tic-Tac-Toe” , “Shoots and Ladders” and such.  But if a person has played several sophisticated games with mixtures of skill and strategy (and yes, luck), they may understand the analogy of Life-is-a-Game a little more easily.  And if someone has played the game of WeiQi for any length of time, they would certainly emphatically agree with the analogy. 🙂

Some see the expression “Life is a Game” as debasing life because life is not simple.  But sophisticated games help escape this complaint.

When playing WeiQi, one can see simple rules unfolding in unexpected beauty.  One can see complexity constrained with discipline and reflectiveness.  One can see luck where one expects skill.  One can feel wonder and awe.

The Spirit of Play: Joy and Horror

To a large extent, this is a temperament issue.  Humor, exploration, excitement and such are components of what helps someone enjoy play.  Animals do it too.  But not everyone feels this as deeply as others.  For those people,  discussion on this issue will make no sense.  It is funny how temperaments form our philosophies. For example some people, saying “Life is a Game” can be used negatively:  as summary of their depression, exacerbation, felt-meaninglessness and such — and indeed, a lost game captures this too.  For games can also be as horrifying as life.

Question for Readers:  What do you feel about the expression “Life is a Game“?  Have I altered your opinion?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

9 responses to “Life is a Game

  1. i’m a fan of it. i think how you play it matters however, some play it as a zero-sum game; for me to win you must lose. however, i’m trying to shed this and live like i only win if you do. i also like the Van Wilder quote “don’t take life too seriously, no one gets out alive.” that helps.

    while i agree that love isn’t dispensed and life is not controlled by a third-party so to speak, i do think that there is a vision to how the game should be played and that there is a guiding factor. thus i’m a deluded theist. yet we find many things we agree on before we get to this metaphysic, and for me the practical implications resound louder than questions of origin, design, or supposed destination. in fact, living alongside those who see and play the game much differently than you do is one of the big joys of life for me. well, it is as much a joy as it is conundrum.

  2. Like it and don’t.
    Like it — most of life’s “rules” are socially/culturally created and then maintained through mere inertia. Promoted and adopted implicitly. Whereas a true game’s rules are generally explicit. I applaud the desire to make the “rules of life” and rule-following behavior more explicit.
    Don’t — Seems to me the stakes of life are a bit to high, and the expression’s connotations to light, to embrace it fully.

  3. @ 360-Andrew
    I like your analysis

    @ Zero
    I agree that sacrifice is a valuable tool. I also agree that “Zero-Sum” games is not what reality is about.

    Let’s explore something else you said: “I do think that there is a vision of how the game should be played…”

    The only “rules” of the game of life that I really care about are the “Deep Rules”. I understand that people build cultures with superficial rules to which try to use the deep rules — some are successful and others are not.
    I think you and I would agree that there are deep rules independent of anyone’s silly theology or philosophy. Correct? And we would agree that all people can play the game well even if they use vastly different theologies or philosophies — as long as they do it well. Correct?
    If both of those are correct, then the real job for the inclusivist metaphysician is to discover the “deep rules” and to learn to dialogue about those without the dressings.

  4. have you been watching the Chronicles of Narnia again? all this talk about the deep rules remind me of the deep magic. 😉 but yeah, i’m with you and that’s what we are both after. i have a silly notion of a “source” from which this springs from which is active and can be personally related too, while you don’t. other than that, we’re on the same quest.

  5. Life is a game! It’s a board game made by Milton Bradley. 🙂

    Personally, I don’t use the phrase, “life is a game”, because no single game captures all of the most relevant aspects of life. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, “Life is a collection of games with different characteristics”, but that’s not as mellifluous. As for games that are similar to life, I definitely prefer weiqi over chess. Bridge also has good parallels to the real world.

    I don’t know why people would get offended by the phrase, “life is a game”, though.

    Interestingly, people looking for committed relationships often say, “I don’t want anyone who plays games”. So I suppose that those people might react emotionally to “life’s a game” because, in their minds, “game” means “not serious”. They would probably be more accurate to demand someone who was playing a high-stakes game “for keeps”.

  6. @ JS Allen
    I agree about the multiple games. Actually, as you know, that is the cool thing about WeiQi — it has several apparently independent battles which inevitably mix just as happens in “real” life.

  7. I like the expression. However, I really don’t like “Life is just a game.”

    Jordan Peterson does this thing with his students where he picks one and says without any context, “We’re going to play a game, ok? All right. Now you move first.” And the student, not knowing what to do, is stunned.

    He does this to illustrate the importance of knowing the rules, or making up the rules, in order to play.

    (btw — name changed, or I could go back to my site moniker?)

  8. Life is based on pleasure principle of mind or ego. Anybody’s life driving forces depends on his libido to find and seek immediate pleasure satisfaction over his and environment (everything out side self) ostacles. It’s actually a game of winning or lossing, depends on his will power or ego strength. Life is a game of mind over the obstacles of environment with compromising ego and super ego.
    No body owning exact truth but we can reach near to truth by assumtions. Game/Life expects no truth only the dichotomous logical of satisfying the immediate urges of needs and its satisfaction. Postive manifestations (most of them are paradoxical effects of mind) of the ego or mind attracts the positive surroundings, which will reinforce the suitability of living in environment(survival of fittest).

  9. Note: Whenever I am at another blog and linking to one of my posts. I often go back to that post and fix up grammar/spelling mistakes I missed, improve weak ideas and logic and touch up formatting. It is a great way to polish your blog.

    I just came to do that here and noticed these two comments, so, if you are still following:

    @ Andrew G :
    Good example!

    @ anilkumar:
    Wow, a Neo-Freudian-Hindu-Darwinist spin. Sounds like a fun game.

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