Wittgenstein and games


I haven’t even been lurking in #clmooc this week – I’ve been away on a cruise to the Faroes and some Scottish Islands on a ship called the Marco Polo (I understand there was some game called Marco Polo played this week – not something that has made it across the channel to the UK, so I am unsure what this is).  Anyway, I think that the idea this week was to make a game, or something like that, and as I skimmed the end of week newsletter I read that there had been some discussion about how to define “game”.

Now you have my attention, #CLMoocers! I know this one!

As Wittgenstein shows us in Philosophical Investigations, although it is tempting to assume that all games must have something in common, that’s not the case:

For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! (Section 66)

Quite. There is no essence of gaminess that all games share. You can give a narrow definition of certain type of games, but this definition will likely not apply to other games.

Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ballgames, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.—Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear. (Section 66 cont.)

So, by my reckoning, if you think it’s a game, it’s a game. Apply the Duck Test and, as Douglas Adams said:

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.

Simples. Unless anyone can persuade me otherwise.

Image by 玄史生 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org /copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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5 Responses to Wittgenstein and games

  1. scottx5 says:

    Contrary to Douglas Adams our mid-sized dog has learned to chase ducks on the swim by holding her ears in a wing-like manner and her head at a particular angle. Even her whistling sinuses seem duck-like, though more like the rubber species with a squeaking arse. In fact, on dry land she resembles a plausible rendition of two ducks in a dog suit.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      That’s a new twist. Wittgenstein has a duck rabbit, seems that you have a dog duck 😉

      • scottx5 says:

        On end she could pass for a pair of rabbits hinged for plucking theories from thin air. Or appropriate to your recent travels, sardines from the frothy brine of the North Atlantic.

        Reading a book on Caring in nursing and the authors reference Heidegger on phenomenology. Any related thinkers on this?

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