Our universe and everything within in it is a game: There is an experience of playing involving yourself and other characters or players. There is an environment in which the game is played and there are rules to follow.
When you really dive into this line of thinking and start to recognize the game(s) around you, it’s easier to understand that not only is our universe a game that we’re playing, but being human is also a game. Exploring this even further; being Canadian or American is a game, being a nurse or a teacher, a carpenter, a truck driver, or a dentist are also games in their own right.
WHAT IS A GAME? Game designer and author Greg Costikyan said “A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources. This is done through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.” According to this definition, some “games” that do not involve choices, such as Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, and War are not technically games any more than slot machines are. So we need to explore this definition a little further to get the full picture. Katie Salen is a game designer, animator, and professor at the University of California. She has an extensive history of designing games and teaching others the art of game design. She describes a game as ”a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” These two definitions, while different, are both right. In fact, Costikyans take on games fits in with the scenario above where the universe is a game. Salens’ definition however can be well understood by people playing a role, such as the nurse, carpenter, or driver mentioned above. Finally, there’s one more definition worth mentioning, from Brian Sutton-Smith. From 1954–1997, Sutton-Smith dedicated his career to studying the cultural significance of “play” in human lives. “At its most elementary level, we can define a game as an exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in order to produce a disequilibrium outcome.” Sutton-Smiths’ research into play has been fundamental in learning about the human experience, including education and psychology. From this research, he’s written 12 books that were popular with teachers looking to better their skills, and psychologists looking to better understand what makes us human.
WHY PLAY GAMES?
Without games, there is chaos. Some games we choose to play — like our professions, our identities, associations, or political affiliations. Other games we don’t choose but are still subscribed to play that game. For example, the game of being alive and being a human on this planet. One can be angry and resentful at the circumstances, but the wise player who chooses to play the game well understands the circumstances. These players strive to study the rules and master the methods of playing the game. These players know who they truly are and are often envied by others.
WE'RE NOT TALKING MIND GAMES!
Before we talk about the games humans play any further, we need to clarify we are not talking about mind games, but they are closely related. “Mind games” is a term describing behavior that causes intentional confusion, usually for a negative purpose. It’s intentional and can be disempowering, demoralizing, and hurtful. You could easily compare mind games to being another game we don’t choose to play but still find ourselves as a player sometimes. This is often because of relationships, both personal and professional. For example, a man may choose the role, and therefore the game of being a “boyfriend” but he didn’t choose the mind games that his girlfriend is playing. The man does have the choice, however, to play the game with someone else; perhaps someone who follows the rules as she does.
WHAT GAMES WILL YOU PLAY?
It is important to become aware of what games each of us plays. Throughout our day-to-day lives, we may play multiple games. Many of these games are ongoing such as the game of being an Accountant. Your office is the setting, your coworkers and clients are the players, and every day you show up — you’re playing the game. Asking yourself questions is a good way to spot the game you’re in. Continuing our example of playing the accountant game, in order to discover you’re a player you can ask yourself:
Am I consumed by finances?
Do I keep up-to-date on the rules? This could be keeping current with taxes, rebates, write-offs, etc.
Does the game move me towards an outcome I’ve been trying to achieve? Example outcomes could be a new job, a prestigious title, or even a raise.
Is there a way to win the game? For some players in the game, their win is a large refund. For other players, such as your coworkers, their win is the client’s joy. Or perhaps their win is a promotion, retirement, etc.
Do this exercise in all facets of your life. Ask these questions about your relationships and hobbies. You can even ask them when you’re running errands to discover if you’re playing the game of “consumer”. Once you start asking and discovering the games you’re playing, they become easier to spot. And you can start choosing your games more wisely. You may still find yourself in games that you don’t want to play, but now you’re better equipped to win.
HOW TO WIN
You know how to spot games. You know how to choose the games you want to play. Now it’s time to WIN! Picking and playing your games requires knowledge and instinct. You want to learn the rules of the game, understand the conditions and tactics available to you. You also want to know the other players and learn about their skills, needs, weaknesses, goals. Another player in your game doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a competitor, they could be an ally or perhaps a mentor. There are characteristics you might want to look for in your games, these can help you decide; firstly if it’s a game you want to play. Secondly, how are you going to play this game? These characteristics vary but could include
The game is one that can sustainably be played for a long time, without burning out.
The game brings positivity and joyous feelings
The game is one that makes tomorrow better than today, for myself and for the environment around me
The game challenges me, inspiring me to continue playing.
A personal example: for me, making content and becoming a content creator in the form of blogs and videos seems like a very positive game to play. I find it fun, it has long-term potential, offers returns in the form of a career and appreciation of a network of people. It does not harm my health and it yields me to explore positive human experiences — being social, gaining knowledge, a creative outlet, etc. So life is a game, just like Monopoly, Super Mario, and Hide n Seek. The only difference is most of us don’t realize we’re playing. How are you supposed to win, if you don’t know you’re even in the game? You need a teammate. Someone you can count on to know the rules. Someone who’s played before, know’s how to win, and how to enjoy themselves while doing so. As an Entrepreneur, Consult, and Speaker, I can be that teammate for you. Helping people and organizations reach their true potential is my game and together you and I can’t lose. Connect with me, to start playing and winning.
ABOUT ME Yan Katcharovski (@yankatch) is a venture capitalist, business strategist, and mindset visionary. Starting his career in non-for-profit, Yan is a leader and influencer of positive change and impact in both organizations and individuals alike. His ventures focus on Edtech, eCommerce, Blockchain, Marketing, and Investing. Yan serves as CEO of Katch Media Group, a Toronto-based full-service marketing agency, which lead to co-founding Schoolio Learning Inc. and the Real Estate Wealth Lab. Yan also serves as the CMO of Meatsmith