Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Misappropriating the Word "Game"

I remember recently hearing about some butcher's association whose members were tired of the way that the word "butcher" had been so thoroughly misappropriated to mean "killer".

It's not that the misappropriation is not sometimes justified. Calling a reckless murderer a "butcher" can be a graphic means of describing a killer's acts as so barbarous that s/he treated his/her victims as no more than pieces of meat to be slaughtered. However, this constant usage, especially when not allegorically appropriate, was having a detrimental effect on the canonical usage of the word "butcher", such that many in the profession were seeking for an alternative name to what they do.

And no, please don't pipe up with how killing and dissecting animals is actually just like killing people, anyway.

I feel the same way about the misuse of the word "game". The word seems to have been misappropriated to mean ruthless war and heartless politics. Everyone is playing the "blame game". This or that side did such-and-such, which changes the "rules of the game". Someone is playing a "dangerous game" of cat and mouse. What's the "end-game" scenario, and which targets are "fair game"?


OK, I get the point. War is stupid, everyone is acting like children, and people are dying because instigators and leaders don't consider their actions any more carefully than they would if they were playing a board game.

My own opinions on that aside, and to make an extremely unimportant point amidst all of the important ones that I choose to ignore on this blog, I'm tired of seeing the good word "game" brought down to this level.

When I tell people I'm a gamer, I have to explain "really, I play board games", and not that I'm a secret military strategist or a terrorist monkey.

The "blame game" sounds like a dumb Hasbro party game which I would never play unless I was drunk.

The "rules of the game" have to be agreed by everyone before the game starts, and if someone tries to change them in the middle of the game, you tell them to wait for the game to be over. If you can't agree, fire off an email off to the publisher or designer of the game, or just agree to play something else.

I don't know what the "dangerous game" is, but if it's anything like Truth or Dare, I'm out. The "end-game" just means that the game is over and whomever has the most money or victory points wins, and "fair game" is a game that gives everyone an opportunity to win, or is played fairly by all players.

Leave games to the gamers; they know how to play without hurting each other.

Instead, you can "spend precious amounts of futile time accusing each other of having acted precipitously and being intransigent", agree to "adhere to signed agreements and standards of combat and non-deception, so as to minimize misunderstandings and casualties for non-combatants", stop "acting in a hostile and aggressive manner such that a militant response is likely", "find a way out of this mess", and "only damage as much as is appropriate to protect yourselves and your citizens".

Works for me.



MaksimSmelchak said...

Hi Yehuda,

If I didn't know better, I'd think that you were playing a "game," with us, your readers... LOL :)

Kol Ha'Kavod, Chaver!


Yehuda Berlinger said...

I don't know what you're talking about.



Anonymous said...

I think you might be being too restrictive and trying to reserve a word for your own usage. If someone would have even implied, never mind said outright, that only video games count as games and not euro games, you would have justly taken umbrage. It is perfectly reasonable to define a game somewhat along the lines of: "A competitive activity in which participants contend with each other according to a set of rules" (cf. American Heritage Dictionary). Indeed this is very much in the spirit of how "game" is used in the world of mathematics. You can rightfully claim that "there are no rules in love and war" but the fact is that things one can impose some very general types of rules and still get meaningful results (e.g. Prof. Aumann's recent nobel prize in economics).

In any case "end game" at least has a very respectable place even in classic board games, specifically chess and go, and is nothing as simple as "counting up points"

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Point taken. I knew I was mistranslating end-game when I did it; poetic license.


Gerald McD said...

Very clever, with tongue in cheek. I always am intrigued by words, by how words assume new meanings and lose old ones, and how one word can sometimes have different, apparently unrelated, meanings. Words must always be evaluated within context, to understand what they are meant to convey. I'm no linguist, but I believe words in the English language are the most problematic, when it comes to changes in meaning and usage. Your clever writing certainly contains some nuggets of truth.