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Only a Game

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.


Its_only_a_game_1 Only a Game

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.


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I feel that Discordianism thing, and the highly parameterized pluralism of belief, you're in good company.

I could write a post on my blog about the title, it would go something like this:

"Yeah, so, I was stoned one night and I though 'hey, Ima start a blog' and when I did I put in the name ludosopist, which I though was a good name because I was stoned but for some reason blogger told me that my recently registered blog name wasn't available when I tried to create it a second time. Later I'd find that I had it up there, but at the time I figured some other wacko had already taken the obscure name. While taking a piss I decided to play off the Luddite revolution (Ned Ludd, a local kid, become the mascot of the revolution 'King Ludd') and the latin term for game. So I though 'Hey! Kind Lud the 99th - King Lud IC' and the rest was half baked rambling."

Theres a fun irony in talking about games and transhumanism (which I work in occasionally) while riffing off goal oriented structural play and anti-technology violence. I strongly suspect that, until now, I'm the only person that gets the joke ;)

Wow. Now everything makes sense.

That certainly explains the presence of Key Posts on Philosophy on your blog (not to mention the squirrels!). In fact, I was not always sure how to categorize your blog, and there is the explanation.

It's interesting, even funny, how your story manages to make the expression "only a game" sound like a statement on how *important* some things are (as opposed to its 'regular' interpretation) - even if not to be taken *seriously*. I think we often mix up those two concepts.

So I have my answer. Thank you for satisfying our curiosity and, please, keep up the blogging!

Minor aside/derail: the later Wittgenstein is very close to mystical. A lot of people just can't reconcile that fact to his early work (which he repudiated) or to a lot of the propositions he made in the Notebooks. Man was a deeply thoughtful and troubled Christian. There is a tremendous biography of him by Ray Monk that's non-technical and a great read. Thanks.

Patrick: the risk of a clever joke is that you might be the only one laughing - but if you laugh your ass off, maybe it's worthwhile anyway! :D

Chico: thanks for the kind words! And thanks for asking about the title - I enjoyed spinning this tale. :)

Of course he had to repudiate his early work - he was a philosopher; it's practically in the job description. :) The Tractatus fed into Logical Positivism; it needed to be cut dead.

I'm really looking forward to dipping into his later stuff. I'm trying to find a copy of 'On Certainty' at the moment. I like to look in second hand shops - ordering books is too easy! :)

Thanks for the tip about the Ray Monk biography, too - I'll keep my eyes open for that.

Thanks for the comments!

Sorry for not replying to this one sooner, Chris. Thank you for this honest and telling post, the "origin story" for Only A Game as it were. There's quite a lot to that; seeing life and the universe as a game really does help to put certain things in perspective :) You are an eclectic philosopher, so it's edifying to glimpse at the history that helped promulgate such a view.

Jack, not sure what you're apologising for exactly. I'm happy to take comments at any point in time. :)

I'm not sure how much this post fully explains my background (the story twists and turns according to what details one chooses to leave in or exclude, of course) but it's a neat anecdote at the very least. :)

Thanks for the kind words!


Have you ever read 'The Library of Babel' by Jorge Luis Borges? I think you would like it. Or practically any of his stories, come to that. He does precisely treat the universe, and truth and human thought, as a marvellous game.

Adam and Chris

I know he influenced the Logical Positivists tremendously, but I don't think Witt was ever a card-carrying member of that club. He ended the Tractatus with the ambiguous statement 'Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.' Do the things we cannot speak of exist beyond the grasp of language, or do they simply not exist? Not so far from some of the enigmatic statements of people like Eckhart (or some of the Upanishads, come to that). Also, I think the Tractatus links to his later work in treating philosophical problems as problems of language - if we sort out the problems with our language, philosophical problems will dissolve. Personally, I find the language game stuff a much more useful way of thinking than the Tractatus. It's influenced the way I think a good deal, and probably more than I'm aware of.

Theo: no, I've not read any Jorge Luis Borges; I'll keep my eyes open in the second hand book shelves.

As for Wittgenstein, he was a major influence on the Vienna circle (along with Ernst Mach), but as you say he wasn't a part of it, per se. Having initially believed the Tractatus solved all philosophical problems, he later went on to take his ideas far, far further.

I have skimmed, but not read the Tractatus (although I will surely pick it up at some point). I wonder how much of the desire to further his work was seeing the response the Logical Positivists had to the Tractatus. I note, in particular, their rejection of the final proposition, which you quote above.

Best wishes!

'Labyrinths' has a lot of Borges' best stuff in it - stories, essays, and a section of parabolic pieces, some of his best writing IMO.

Why is everybody's personal info on display (mousing over a poster shows you the email address)? Any way to offer privacy settings?

As far as I can tell, it's the website that is displayed, not the email address. I'll look into this, though, as it definitely shouldn't be showing people's email addresses.

This is a fascinating site; I just discovered it, while browsing for some essays on 'Shadow of the Colossus,' or any material, really, that took video-games seriously. It would appear that I have, in part, found it - although, as you mention in this introduction, this is not a place about video-games (exclusively). Incidentally, I wished to find more information about Wittgenstein, since I have seen his name pop up in discussions. Your 'link' on this page gave me a fairly general picture of his thoughts on language, which was a refreshing read.

Hi Beau! Glad you're enjoying the site. Under the "Philosophy of Language" links in the sidebar, the first two posts are about Wittgenstein. Beyond that, I would suggest looking for a book about his work as a great starting point. I have a book I could suggest, but sadly all my books are in the middle of the Atlantic somewhere.

Best wishes!

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