Only Playing


Daughter: Daddy, are these conversations serious?

Father: Certainly they are.

D: They're not a sort of game that you play with me?

F: God forbid ... but they are a sort of game that we play together.

D: Then they're not serious!

--

F: Suppose you tell me what you would understand by the words "serious" and a "game."

D: Well ... if you're ... I don't know.

F: If I am what?

D: I mean ... the conversations are serious for me, but if you are only playing a game ...

F: Steady now. Let's look at what is good and what is bad about "playing" and "games." First of all, I don't mind - not much - about winning or losing. When your questions put me in a tight spot, sure, I try a little harder to think straight and to say clearly what I mean. But I don't bluff and I don't set traps. There is no temptation to cheat.

D: That's just it. It's not serious to you. It's a game. People who cheat just don't know how to play. They treat a game as though it were serious.

F: But it is serious.

D: No, it isn't - not for you it isn't.

F: Because I don't even want to cheat?

D: Yes - partly that.

F: But do you want to cheat and bluff all the time?

D: No - of course not.

F: Well then?

D: Oh - Daddy - you'll never understand.

F: I guess I never will.

F: Look, I scored a sort of debating point just now by forcing you to admit that you don't want to cheat - and then I tied onto that admission the conclusion that therefore the conversations are not "serious" for you either. Was that a sort of cheating?

D: Yes - sort of.

F: I agree - I think it was. I'm sorry.

D: You see, Daddy - if I cheated or wanted to cheat, that would mean that I was only playing a game with you.

F: Yes, that makes sense.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious'), p.14-15

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'[...] But there's no reason to be surprised if we can't convince the majority of people. They have never seen our words come true. They are used to carefully matched phrases, not the kind of spontaneous argument we are having now; and as to a man who will live up to our ideal of excellence and do his best to match it both in word and deed, and who rules a state as good as himself - that, surely, is a thing of which they've never seen a single instance.

[...] Nor have they heard enough free and fair discussion, which strains every nerve to discover the truth out of sheer desire for knowledge, and gives a wide berth to subtle tricks of argument whose only object is to make an effect or contest a point, whether in law-court or lecture-room.

[...] I think a lot of people fall under it quite unconsciously, and fail to see the difference between scoring points in a debate and arguing seriously. They are unable to draw the distinctions in kind needed for the discussion of a subject, and so get sidetracked into purely verbal contradiction; they aren't really arguing, but only scoring points.

[Plato]
The Republic (Penguin Classics Edition), p.163, 221-2

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