By Michael C Lohr
I have no idea who you are but I know that I would like to play a game with you. Play removes us from our modern and often polarized world of friends and enemies; ultimately our prejudices. As social animals we have an inherent understanding that while in play we are safe. Once we’ve played a game, preferably a game that one of us had to teach the other and maybe considered a slightly higher difficulty than either of us were expecting, we can begin to know each other as people instead of by the preloaded limitations of our political, religious, and social classes- often self-stamped labels.
Playing a game with a new friend is a great way to touch on all of the basics of friendship. The game doesn’t have to be cooperative in order for us to work together. If we’re both new to the title we will have to cooperate just to noodle out the rules and start playing. In games we compete on a more level playing field than that of the real world. The strong can push a pyramid no farther than the weak in the game of Giza, the pretty and the ugly are at even odds when choosing the most beautiful dress for the ball in Ladies and Gentlemen.
Now that we’ve taken a few turns, seen a bad roll or draw befall our new friend, we can watch one another display the most important aspect of long term friendship; problem solving. Most games allow the players to make choices of one kind or another that help to mitigate their bad luck. In essence, we’re not stuck playing with the hands we’re dealt, much like we’re not stuck being friends with all of the people we know (like whoever it is who lets their leftovers in the office refrigerator become its own ecosystem).
A game, even as one as simple a concept as Connect Four, creates a tangible universe that only exists within gameplay. The rules of the game that the players unwittingly enforce, and the choices they make through the course of implementing those rules create this universe. This universe is the roadmap of our impending friendship. Yes, I’ve just placed three black in a vertical row- the rules state that I win if the other doesn’t top my three with one of their reds. It’s not a personal attack; it’s not a jab that makes me not want to spend any more time with the other- It’s a fair play that symbolizes the natural tug of war that exists in any relationship. The other’s reaction will begin to fill the mold that is our existing notion of friendship.
Friendship is the ebb and flow of give and take, and games are the perfect model to condition us for how we will behave as tough situations in our lives occur. Yes, the other blocked my four in a row for the win as was expected. A different end to the situation might illustrate what kind of player the other will be in the real world. Let’s look at the instance of the other seeing the three vertical for the win but choosing to let the game end by not blocking the win. Now I’m of the mind that my new friend is not willing to put forth the mutual effort for us to have fun. Our game universe hasn’t collapsed but I might infer that it houses apathetic inhabitants who might just let their solar systems entropy to dust rather than put forth any energy to prevent it.
Let’s look at the extreme situation in our friendship universe Connect Four game: the other has placed three horizontal pieces in a row with open spaces on either side; the dead man’s split. No matter which slot I let my black piece fall into, I’ll lose the game as their next turn will inevitably lead to four in a row on the other side. I do have options though- and this is the pivotal point in the existence of our new friendship. I can place a piece and lose the game graciously or I drop a few F-bombs and flip the table. Both of these options exist within the boundaries of this universe, but they have very different outcomes as to how we view one another.
Games are a model of play we can use as a tool in cultivating our friendships and even deeper relations such as marriage. These models exist in play as a way that we can protect ourselves from people who make choices akin to flipping the table. It gives us time to make our own mistakes in a safe environment, to learn, and to grow; much of the reasons why we see that play is prevalent across the entire animal kingdom. Our experiences in play can teach us how to survive adulthood, giving us a safe haven to make the mistake of a rage quit, to see the adverse effects it has on our relationships, without that bad choice being the marriage itself.
Michael C Lohr is a Timewalker from a dystopian future. He has gone rogue against the big mean computer of this far future; returning to the present as a catalyst for what history will dub The Great Global Tabletop Renaissance. His quest is chronicled in the webcomic ‘Somewhere Across Reverof” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Somewhere-Across-Reverof/170983739679133
Somewhere Across Reverof