Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

July 8, 2023

First published July 8, 2023

 in Economic Times

Which Game Are You Playing Today?

Nowadays, children are being encouraged to play sophisticated, highly addictive video games. They are referred to as strategy games. But effectively, the purpose of this game is to defeat your opponent, maybe even kill them, and grab their land. This enemy could be a demon, an alien, or a zombie. They are highly predatorial. They make the player a victim, which justifies their violence. Or the player becomes the great conqueror who crushes the weaklings around him and establishes dominion over others. Children are encouraged to play these games, so that they become great warriors, who must, like alphas, strive to be on top of a pecking order, through violence. Through such conflict-based competition games like these we give ‘values’ to children. We call it gamification.

A century ago, a different game emerged that became quite popular. It was called Monopoly. The purpose was to learn about business. It was about using wealth to buy land, build property, and charge rent, preferably in premium lands. The whole point of the game was to be a monopolist and dominate others by extracting rent. Some versions of this game had a tax component, which was eventually removed. This indicated that the game served the interests of Capitalism. It told children that wealth has to be generated for one’s own sake and not for the larger good of society.

Contrast these games from Europe and America with an ancient game called Snakes & Ladders. It was designed by Indian monks. It teaches people the principles of karma. Here your luck is determined by the throw of dice. Chance determines whether you will be prosperous and rise up a ladder, or you will have bad luck and misfortune and go down a snake. You keep hoping to go up the ladder, but if you keep going up, you will eventually be out of the game and not enjoy the pleasure of the game. If you keep going down, you stay within the game and can keep enjoying the game. So one has the choice to get out of the game. That would declare you a winner and end your participation. The other choice is to continue to play the game. Enjoy the participation and hope that at regular intervals the snake bites you. You are not quite sure if the luck you get through dice has your best interest at heart. Participation, enjoyment or victory and escape. Thus the dual nature of luck is revealed while playing this game. Winning is not a function of skill, you’re killing no one. Your input is your throw of dice. This game impacts you very differently.

Now let’s look at sports. You can have sports which are competitive. In them, you win the gold medal because you run faster, jump higher or crush your opponent in a wrestling or fencing match. Then there are sports where you can collaborate with your team, as in football or volleyball, but the purpose of collaboration is to win against another team. All these are competitive games.

But there are games of collaboration, like creating a human pyramid to break a pot. This game was played by Krishna, we are told, to include everyone. You depend on everyone to get to the butter pot. Everyone enjoys it. Those who try to stop you from getting to the butter, also cheer you to try harder. But modern politicians have made it competitive.They incite different groups of people to climb higher and thus encourage rivalry

Vishnu Purana says that when the gods and the demons were churning the ocean of milk, they created a churn by winding a serpent around a mountain that was kept afloat in the middle of the ocean by a turtle. But being rivals, they began pulling the two ends of the serpent as if it was tug-of-war. This caused the release of a poison called Halahal. Vishnu came along and told them that to churn, they have to collaborate, not compete. Instead of pulling simultaneously, they have to pull and pause sequentially, in coordination. This caused the ocean of milk to release many fortunes. The point of a game is not to create the poison of rivalry but the nectar of friendship.

Increasingly, modern society is trying to turn every game into a competitive game, where someone has to be defeated to win. The dopamine rush comes only when you triumph over others. This is the value that we are giving people. The only way to be successful is if you do better than others. You must be smarter and bigger than others. Trillion-dollar companies are being built to create a world full of dopamine addicts. Ironically, we respect these drug cartels created by the best engineers in the world because they have more finesse than Columbian Drug Lords.

Through gamification, we are creating a society where you take, grab, hoard and raid, rather than a society where you’re rewarded for being kind, generous and nice. Little wonder, then, that the world which aspired to be a global village is today reduced to a confederacy of warring tribes, suffering toxic nationalism.

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