Will it ever end?
If a lone, unkempt, person, standing on a soapbox were to say that he should become the Prime Minister, he would have been diagnosed by a passing psychiatrist as suffering from this or that mental disturbance. But were the same psychiatrist to frequent the same spot and see a crowd of millions saluting the same lonely, shabby figure – what would have his diagnosis been? Surely, different (perhaps of a more political hue).
It seems that one thing setting social games apart from madness is quantitative: the amount of the participants involved. Madness is a one-person game, and even mass mental disturbances are limited in scope. Moreover, it has long been demonstrated (for instance, by Karen Horney) that the definition of certain mental disorders is highly dependent upon the context of the prevailing culture. Mental disturbances (including psychoses) are time-dependent and locus-dependent. Religious behaviour and romantic behaviour could be easily construed as psychopathologies when examined out of their social, cultural, historical and political contexts.
Historical figures as diverse as Nietzsche (philosophy), Van Gogh (art), Hitler (politics) and Herzl (political visionary) made this smooth phase transition from the lunatic fringes to centre stage. They succeeded to attract, convince and influence a critical human mass, which provided for this transition. They appeared on history’s stage (or were placed there posthumously) at the right time and in the right place. The biblical prophets and Jesus are similar examples though of a more severe disorder. Hitler and Herzl possibly suffered from personality disorders – the biblical prophets were, almost certainly, psychotic.
We play games because they are reversible and their outcomes are reversible. No game-player expects his involvement, or his particular moves to make a lasting impression on history, fellow humans, a territory, or a business entity. This, indeed, is the major taxonomic difference: the same class of actions can be classified as “game” when it does not intend to exert a lasting (that is, irreversible) influence on the environment. When such intention is evident – the very same actions qualify as something completely different. Games, therefore, are only mildly associated with memory. They are intended to be forgotten, eroded by time and entropy, by quantum events in our brains and macro-events in physical reality.
Games – as opposed to absolutely all other human activities – are entropic. Negentropy – the act of reducing entropy and increasing order – is present in a game, only to be reversed later. Nowhere is this more evident than in video games: destructive acts constitute the very foundation of these contraptions. When children start to play (and adults, for that matter – see Eric Berne’s books on the subject) they commence by dissolution, by being destructively analytic. Playing games is an analytic activity. It is through games that we recognize our temporariness, the looming shadow of death, our forthcoming dissolution, evaporation, annihilation.