Does everyone win if everyone loses?

“The point of playing games is to confront and accept our inadequacies, a comforting boilerplate that makes it easier to rationalize the cruelty of the way we are slotted into value-based roles in the world. You’re not as good as this person so you get less than them. You’re better so you get more. When playing against other people, this makes direct sense, but when play is computerized, this emotional mandate becomes masochism, a perverse mewling for the rack to be tightened to the point where it becomes intolerable, and once released, one lubricates one’s emotions with the shame of not having been able to tolerate more. When Milton’s Satan wonders if Adam and Eve’s happiness is ‘Proof of their obedience and their faith,’ he is critiquing the logic of game satisfaction and our expectation that accepting punishment should signify a player’s faith and obedience to the rules. But what differentiates players from slaves? Induced by the seductions and security of the game, the player accepts that their present conditions can be improved in some way by their own actions, and if there are inadequacies in their present, they must come from their own personal flaws. Slaves recognize that they are trapped in conditions that have little to do with their personal virtue, that under such conditions, play is a deeper form of servitude, a relieving pantomime that, rather than challenging authority structures, makes them more bearable. Games torture players by regularly affirming their inadequacy, yet their structural values are reassuring, sparing us the anxiety of having to create new values out of nothing at all. The fear of failure is always comforting in that it at least dispels that ambiguity over what the distinction between good and bad should be in the first place. Being met with the resistance of punishment reminds the player there is some godlike meaning we are capable of discovering, it depends only on the player doing well enough to prove worthy of it. Before we can go in search of it, we have to accept there is something inadequate in us, which in turn depends on belief in some ideal state to which we could compare ourselves. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Yes, this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Don’t screw it up. I’ll try.” — Michael Thomsen, “Reign in Drool” (emphasis in original)

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