My name is Chris Bateman, and I am a professional game designer and an amateur philosopher, with particular interests in philosophy of language, mind, science and religion. I am quite taken aback to realise that in just two weeks time I will have been writing this blog for an entire year. A short while back, Chico of Nongames (currently engaged in comparing EA Sports predictions versus World Cup results) asked why I, who clearly feels passionate about videogames, would choose to call my blog ‘Only a Game’, a phrase he suggests is “often used to attribute a lack of relevance and significance to the medium.” For Chico, and the other friends who have welcomed me over the last year, here is the story behind the name.
It may come as a surprise, given the sheer volume of posts here about videogames, game design, game research and the games industry in general, to discover this isn’t a blog about videogames. No, even accounting for my occasional forays into boardgame design isn’t going to cover the matter.
As a child, I was bullied by atheists who picked on my because at the time I was a Christian. This, unsurprisingly, reinforced my faith, although in later years, after the death of my mother, I found myself in a strange netherworld of ambiguous beliefs for some time. I explored all options, theistic, atheistic and agnostic. One of the more influential faiths I came across was that of Discordianism, an agnostic religion which a close friend of mine has shrewdly described as “Zen Buddhism reinterpreted for the West”.
In a section near the end of The Principia Discordia, the Discordian “Holy Book” (often correctly misidentified as a joke), is the following “Golden Secret”:
The human race will begin solving it's problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously. To that end, [we propose] the countergame of NONSENSE AS SALVATION. Salvation from an ugly and barbarous existence that is the result of taking order so seriously and so seriously fearing contrary orders and disorder, that GAMES are taken as more important than LIFE; rather than taking LIFE AS THE ART OF PLAYING GAMES.
Nowadays, my faith has come full circle. My belief system has become expansive, and I can to a certain degree describe myself as a (free range) Christian, a (Sufi) Muslim, a (Zen) Buddhist, a (semblant) Hindu, a (pluralist) Scientist, a (fundamentalist) agnostic and probably a few more labels besides. I’m not sure taking any of those labels in the singular says anything meaningful about my beliefs as a whole.
But looking at just my religious and scientific beliefs doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about my belief system. To really get to the heart of what I believe, you have to dig into my philosophical beliefs.
The philosopher Wittgenstein, who has indirectly exerted a considerable influence upon my life, observed that language is best understood as a kind of game, a language game. When one comes to understand what was meant by this, one gets to appreciate that anything which is encoded in language – and by this, I mean to say, the whole of human thought – is also a game of some kind. Science and religion are games, of a sort, seen through this lens.
Even the process by which this conclusion is reached is a game, because ultimately the reality we experience is shaped and formed by the models we use to view the world – by our words, and hence, by our beliefs. (One could equally take a different path and conclude that everything is a story, but such is another tale).
The miraculously inventive Dutch artist M.C. Escher said: “My work is a game. A very serious game.” I feel similarly about my own work, except I’m not certain how serious it is. Rather I feel that reality is only a game, and that we are free to choose what kind of game we wish to play. Personally, I have chosen to live a game which is fun to play, built on love, and which values the enjoyment of nonsense (and squirrels!) over the “discovery of truth”. There are infinite alternative games you are free to choose.
This is not a blog about videogames, I just write about games often because it is easier than writing about philosophy. This is not even a blog about philosophy, although I would be happy for it to be so. This is a blog about me. That’s why it’s my blog. And like everything else in my life, it’s only a game.
The opening image is It's Only a Game by Christopher Mercier (oil, latex and enamel on wood), which I found here at Fluxco. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended, and I will take the image down if asked.