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Life As A Game: Key Philosophical Concepts

Here are a couple of terms that I have found really useful when thinking about creating my Life As A Game Manual:

Games as voluntary obstacles:

Bernard Suits’ theory of games as voluntary obstacles illuminates a paradoxical human desire – to intentionally introduce hardship into activities for the sake of greater fulfillment. Why do we gravitate toward unnecessary challenges, rules, and limitations?

Philosophically, we can understand this through concepts like self-actualization. By stretching our capacities and gaining mastery within arbitrary difficulties, we feel more alive. A rock climber scaling a cliff with only their hands touches excellence. A chess player conquering a mental obstacle course likewise fulfills potential. We have a need to exercise agency against resistance.

Games also provide structure and focus for our agency. Much of life lacks defined objectives and measures of progress. Games concentrate and distill motivation into a compressed space rich with quantifiable decision points, clear milestones, and incremental betterment. This provides satisfaction missing from diffuse real-world activities. Obstacles give shape and bite to the exercise of agency.

Finally, voluntarily confronting unnecessary obstacles allows us to practice coping skills in low-stakes environments. Real life imposes plenty of involuntary difficulties. Games let us willingly take on challenges for the sake of growth, enjoying relative freedom from harsh consequences. They grant safe spaces to fail, experiment, and steel our agency against uncertainty. We thus cultivate resilience off the field of play.

Striving play vs achievement play:

Bernard Suits’ concepts of striving play versus achievement play capture two distinct motivational orientations. Their contrasts shed light on the subjective value and rewards we pursue through games.

Achievement-oriented players are extrinsically driven – they play to win according to defined metrics of success. Victory itself is the objective. The game becomes instrumental, a means to the glory of measurable victory. Beating opponents provides an ego payoff. Achievement-seeking players often thrive on competition and hierarchical ranking.

Striving-focused players are intrinsically motivated. The game world and its challenges provide their own psychic rewards, irrespective of defined outcomes. One engages fully with each moment of the game for the activity’s own sake. Striving players relish the game rituals themselves, savoring execution.

We can further connect this to notions of personal development. Achievement-seekers play to triumph over others and progress themselves. Strivers play to immerse themselves completely in an activity and actualize their potentials moment-to-moment therein. We contain both orientations in varying degrees. But a striving mindset may correlate with long-term growth and fulfillment.

The Paradox of Tragedy:

The question of why we willingly expose ourselves to artistic tragedy connects deeply to philosophical debates about human nature. Perhaps we crave tragedy as a form of emotional and psychological catharsis, purging pent-up feelings. But then why not seek direct catharsis rather than diluted fictional events?

Alternatively, perhaps artificial suffering provides a space of empathetic exploration – a chance to expanded our moral imagination by inhabiting difficult scenarios. But then why choose scenarios of loss over inspiration? Why not sympathize with more uplifting material?

There may simply be aesthetic pleasure in complex emotional textures themselves. But this fails to address why unpleasant emotions would provide aesthetic enrichment. Tragedy does not universally delight us.

No single theory fully resolves the paradox. Fundamentally, our allure towards the tragic in art may stem from unconscious drives beyond tidy explanation. We contain multitudes, including an inscrutable attraction towards darkness. Tragic art offers a fertile ground for philosophizing about the contradictory landscapes of the human psyche. It highlights the limits of reason in plumbing our aesthetic and emotional depths.

The magic circle:

The “magic circle” concept powerfully captures the sense in which games transport us to spaces apart, where normal rules are suspended. Games promise liberation – temporary escape from customs, consequences, and social contracts into a realm permitting otherwise unthinkable thoughts and deeds.

This touches philosophically on notions of the carnivalesque, a trope of inversion, chaos, and unrestrained freedom. Through occults games, we ritualistically dispense with norms and tap into deviant potentials. We get to experimentally unleash disowned portions of identity and psychology.

Of course, as the theory notes, this overturns social reality, not inner morality. Unthinkable acts in games retain their meaning externally. But we thirst for spaces permitting transgression without accountability. And so the magic circle fulfills a deep human longing present since antiquity – permission to invert, resist, and subvert the status quo without repercussion.

Games thus provide vital pressure valves for slackening the chokeholds of socialization and convention. They allow us to be more than our prescribed roles. In the absence of genuine social transformation, the magic circles carved out in rarified play spaces quench profound desires for liberation. Their enchanted and transformative nature helps explain games’ power over human behavior and experience.

There are always more layers and perspectives to explore on these rich philosophical issues. Please let me know if you would like me to expand my analysis further on any concept specifically!