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:
- The Nature of Life: The person usually does not understand their own life. (ouch, sorry)
- The Wonder of Games: The person vastly underestimates the beauty, complexity, depth and awesome potential of games.
- 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:
- 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?