In T. H. White’s rightfully-famous The Once and Future King, Arthur is represented most often as a frightfully and tragically ambitious dude, slightly misguided but with intentions of pure gold. The second act of the novel is more or less Arthur’s noble but ultimately frustrating attempt to form "The Round Table," a collection of knights that fight against the notion that Might Makes Right. And spoiler alert: he forms The Round Table. For a while, the kingdom experiences a sense of peace, because the enormity of the knight’s vim and vigor is directed at righteously punishing those who are still operating in the old, barbaric ways. In other words, they have something moral to fight for.
Then, of course, morality is instilled. "We have achieved what we were fighting for, and now we still have the fighters on our hands" (White, 435). Arthur and his knights succeeded, but now his knights — people who did nothing but fight for a cause for years — have nothing left to fight for. No enemy remains.
The people started playing games.
Not the vidja kind, but more the sort where they ride on horses and poke each other. Nasty stuff.
Arthur laments that "we have run out of things to fight for . . . the first sign of the fester was when our chivalry turned into Games-Mania — all that nonsense about who had the best tilting average and so forth." (White, 435). I’m not here to say that stat-crunching is altogether evil or even that it is bad, but rather that I think there’s a distinct possibility it’s a response to some sort of human need to conquer, to overcome, to achieve. Some need that, well, probably isn’t being met by cubicles and subway rides.
Since I live in America, I’ll talk about America. Thanks to my privilege, I’m able to enjoy an incredibly peaceful existence — I’m not fighting for my life on a daily basis. I’m experiencing the sort of world that Arthur maintained. We have relative peace, at least on the home front. But, within me — and many others — is still a drive to strive, to fight, and come out on top.
We started playing games.
Basketball. League of Legends. Scrabble. Collosal Cave. Tag. We create conflict where none exists. Why? Well, because conflict is all sorts of rewarding. That’s what the knights did — they held tournaments and got obsessed with stats — and that’s what we’re doing. We’re entertaining ourselves by creating ghosts that we can overcome. I don’t know if needing to be victorious on a semi-regular basis is a thing that most humans share, but it’s definitely a thing that validates me pretty intensely.
Arthur called a preoccupation with make-believe and tournaments "Games-Mania," and wasn’t exactly happy that all his noble knights were just "going to rot." So he redirected the impulse.
Trying to just extend his reach wasn’t going to help. Killing more people wasn’t going to help. Arthur needed a way to deal with this impulse, this desire for victory that apparently lurked in the hearts of all his men. He took a turn for the spiritual.
Now, I’m not saying we should all start making games about Muhammad — although please do, if the subject matter is one of any personal importance, because seriously I want to play games that are made by you — but I am saying that redirecting this need for victory towards a more moral end is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea. It’s Three Brilliants good.
If even a decent chunk of humanity experiences this same unquenchable thirst for competition in some form, I’m guessing that a large portion of that chunk ends up becoming involved in sports or games of some fashion. Noncompetitive people just don’t want to play DOTA2. Gamers are at least a marginally challenge-oriented bunch, merely because of the nature of our hobby. We "beat" games. We take on unnecessary tasks. That’s what we do for fun.
If we have such a drive, a drive that festered in the hearts of White’s Arthurian Knights, why not pull a King Arthur and redirect it? Let’s take this inescapable desire to win that I know we experience, combine it with our love for exploration, and sprinkle in a bit of that imagination stuff I’m pretty sure at least some of us have.
Could we have an Arthurian game jam? Sure.
Could we just focus on making games that have more of a moral significance? Heck yep.
Could we stick to improving ourselves in online arenas, for the betterment of our minds? Also, absolutely.
We could do a lot of things. Perhaps those ideas are for another post, when this David is not such a Tired David. Either way, I’d love to hear your ideas for ways to redirect competitive impulses that aren’t just insulated or hostility-inducing. Or, perhaps, tell me why nothing needs to change about the way we play. Tell me why we aren't experiencing Games-Mania in the least.
Let’s talk. How can we make positive change in the world by playing games?