The Importance of THE GAME

The vlogbrothers recently did a really great video about The Game. You should go watch it by clicking this link. I love the vlogbrothers’ videos, but this post isn’t about the vlogbrothers or even about The Game. It’s not even about our respective responses to The Game, though that’s where it’s going to start.

(That video explains what The Game is, but if you don’t feel like watching it you can read about it at Wikipedia.)

The vlogbrothers’ conclusion was that The Game is an analogue for pretty much everything in life. You can’t really win at anything, not in any permanent sense, so the important thing is not whether you win but what games you choose to play. Which is a pretty dour outlook on things, but not surprising considering it spouted from the mindset of the guys at the head of a community centered around internet activism. That outlook boils down to “do good works for their own sake, not because they help you ‘win'”.

What intrigued me about this video wasn’t their message or what they took away from The Game, but how much their response to it differed from my own. When I first learned about The Game I thought it was stupid, but at the same time it kind of pissed me off, because I like winning games and this was one I 1) couldn’t win and 2) couldn’t quit playing. It’s the ultimate internet troll, and I was falling for it, over and over.

But The Game doesn’t really exist. Not really. It’s an abstract concept. It’s not a game, in the sense of the Monopoly set in your closet. It’s not even a game in the sense of an instance of that Monopoly set, after you’ve dug it out and set it up and roped a few people into playing with you. You can’t play The Game any more than you can not play The Game. You can weasel out of The Game by simply redefining its attributes.

For example, let’s invent a new game. Let’s call it The Better Game. The rules of The Better Game are: 1) You are always playing The Better Game. 2) When you think about The Better Game, you win. And 3) The Better Game is the most important game in the entire universe. Now that I’ve done that, I’m playing two games: The Game and The Better Game. And I’m still losing The Game — but who cares? I’m winning The Better Game, which is way more important.

Another example: One of the rules of The Game is “you have to tell someone when you lose.” Obviously not everyone who is playing The Game (which, remember, is everyone) follows this rule all the time. So it’s obviously possible to break the rules of The Game with no ill consequences. Well, the first rule of The Game is that you must play it. And if you can break one rule, why not another? You can just decide to break that first rule, and not play The Game. You’ve opted out. You’re free!

Now there’s a more interesting dialogue here, if we were to explore this further, about the concept of abstract thought and the freedom one experiences in his own head, and how that applies to The Game and to internet memes in general. But, again, that’s not this post.

This post is about the broader idea of internet culture, and why I love it. See, you can have something as abominably stupid as The Game, an you can analyze it. You can apply it to everyday life. You can come away from it with a deeper understanding of things. It can spark philosophical debate. It can do all these things, even though it’s just a dumb internet meme.

I very strongly believe that modern internet culture is every bit as valid and important as any other culture that has existed. That it doesn’t have a storied 4000-year history, or that it’s not tied to a single geographic region or a specific breed of people, does not diminish it in my eyes. In fact, these things make it more interesting to me. It is a culture based around silliness and amusement rather than religion or tradition. It’s a culture that you share, not one that you are born into. Even if all you do with webcomics and lolcats is complain endlessly about how stupid they are and how intellectually superior you are for understanding their stupidness, you are participating.

You are playing The Game.

The ability for strange ideas to have a certain poignancy to them is fascinating to me, and it makes all these dumb 4chan things worthwhile. The internet is caught up in a huge, mindless spiral of unfocused creative energy, constantly building things up only to tear them down. Every once in a while though something amazing is produced from the chaos, or something tickles you in just the right way that you gain some small flash of understanding.

And unlike any culture to ever exist in the history of the world, if you want out, you can leave. Just unplug yourself, and the twitters and facebooks and cheezburgerz all go away forever. If you’re reading this post you’re playing The Game, but you can quit just by clicking the little X in the corner. You really can opt out.

The conclusion is, yes, I really am in it for the lulz. I’m here to be amused and to amuse others, but I’m also here to learn and to experience the wonderful and horrible things that people develop when they aren’t limited by censors, funding, peer review or good taste. I like playing The Game.

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