Who Am I?
The polarized topic of identity can be very difficult as Mr. Bullin points out in last weeks’ article, but polarization and complication do not necessarily have to imply a difficult question or esoteric answer. Because the video game has always been a core hobby of mine, I take a Functionalist approach to gaming and gamer identity in general. Put simply, anything that behaves as a gamer is a gamer, and anyone that plays is a player. If it behaves as a gamer, e.g. it plays video games, then I count it as a gamer. This is a very reductionist/minimalist approach because it doesn’t just exclude the criteria by which people classify gamers, it rejects the constructs entirely. Pragmatically, yes, I do agree that an identity serves a purpose, but when ideas about identity move beyond pragmatic use only, then you reach all types and manners of conflicts.
For instance, Computer 1 is used solely as a tool to program a game. Computer 2 is designed, programmed, and built solely to play the game C1 was used to produce. Neither is a gamer, not C1 as coder nor C2 as player, because neither computer is engaging in the playing of a game as was defined in the “By Any Other Name” article of Deconstructioncraft. This is reminiscent of comp stomps in StarCraft in which human players played the game against A.I. players. We do not look back fondly on all the great A.I. players that fought valiantly on BGH or FMP maps against insurmountable odds in a 7 on 1 slaughter because people do not actually consider those computer slots in the launch screen to be players or gamers; they are just programmed commands and triggers and cannot operate outside that programming. This distinction does not settle the disputes that arise between the different genres or levels of gamer and so one additional criterion must be added to the Functionalist definition which is the desire to improve. This additional criterion of willing improvement or desire for learning new strategies or skill sets for a game can lead us to unpretentiously define a gamer as a person who has, at least once, thought and/or enacted the idea, “I want to be better at this game.” It isn’t as simple as pushing yes when the “Continue?” screen pops up, but must be a concerted effort to put any level of thought, exertion, planning, and execution into a game to achieve better results. This is something a computer cannot do, at least not yet, and it is the most acceptable distinction because it is the most inclusive and suitable dichotomy. This dichotomy, however, is not Truth, but only acts as a practical tool to facilitate discussion.
This opens up a very unique way to approach video games and those that play them in order to discuss reality. When we take a view on anything that separates or draws a distinction between this and that, here and there, now and then, we play a game with our own organizational systems that is much more indicative of Western culture than we think. We only need to look to Mr. Bullin’s article to see that these distinctions abound even if we only look at one topic, and this is exemplified by the multifarious concepts of identity such as in-group versus out-group, public versus private identity, and socially versus individually constructed identities. This is, of course, useful when trying to connect with like-minded people by identifying with the qualities and characteristics of other gamers who share in your interest, but wherever there is a dichotomy, conflict is sure to follow. By drawing from the Principia Discordia and the modern Discordian movement, it is clear that there is an inherent flaw which leads to conflict simply by using a dichotomy to determine identity. This concept is typified and best encapsulated by the statement,
The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered
which is taken from the Principia Discordia and implies that by using grids, lenses, genres, distinctions, classes, etc., we actually make reality more complicated than it really is. This talk of metaphysical truth in reality as approached by discussion of games and gamers may seem entirely irrelevant, but when we view games and gamers from the perspective of metaphysical truth, it is apparent that games and gamers are just one more instantiation of the nature of conflict caused by the use of a dichotomy. In fact, the dichotomy is necessary for conflict, and conflict, in the broadest sense, is sine qua non for games to exist.
The broadest and least exclusive sense of conflict includes all types of “or” statements involved with defining or establishing identity. This conception of conflict includes obvious examples like war and team competitions in games such as the Battlefield or StarCraft series or League of Legends, but it also includes things so inert or simple that they go unnoticed such as a slight inclination to buy a game from one genre over another, or from one production company rather than another. Also, the formation of clans or guilds is indicative of man’s nature to separate things in an ultimately arbitrary way. While you need separation between people in order to have any conflict at all, when used as criterion for the formation of an identity, it can be deleterious and detrimental to a person when taken to an extreme. Anyone familiar with the Cristal channel from StarCraft knows how the arbitrary separation of one group from all others leads beyond the pragmatic need for teams in order to have competition into an all-out festival of hate, spite, and the epitome of insult slinging BM. This situation is exacerbated when you include the facet of victory in your identity in a sort of “I win, and that is part of my identity”, but it is an unrefined and crude way of viewing conflict because, as Jaysonic from the group Time Machine says in the song Who Cares?, “… and games are lost every single time that they’re played. What can I say? Competition is designed that way.” There can be no competition without a winner and a loser, and if something can be won or lost then it behaves as a competition, but to forge your identity over this distinction is to inappropriately or anthropocentrically attribute a non-human characteristic to how you define yourself. This also does not fit the Functionalist definition, in that, you are not a winner because you behave as a winner, but rather, you are a winner because you played a game and won.
It would seem, then, that the more you desire to define yourself and chisel your identity out of the marble that is your life the murkier your conception of self gets. The more grids you apply to your life, the less the chaos seems ordered, and the more you try to define yourself, the more definitions you need. The more games you play, the more specific your definition of gamer must become and the more genres you must create, and the more genres you create, the more divided people become. Alan Watts perhaps stated it most eloquently in Life when he said, “[t]rying to identify yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth,” in that, the teeth are used for biting in exactly the same way a self is required for an identity. If you define yourself by the dichotomies you create, then the identity itself is arbitrary because you can make of anything the dichotomy you wish. If we are the dichotomies we create and if we must acknowledge the conflict that is concomitant with those dichotomies, then are the conflicts required to define ourselves? Must our identities exist only if they are in some sort of conflict, whether subtle and simple or blatant and extravagant, or can the self exist without dichotomies? I doubt that, framed in this manner, anyone wants to claim that “I am simply the sum of the comedy and tragedy that I create” but after looking into identity as we now have, this seems to be the very essence of trying to define the self.
To conclude, I wanted to try and illustrate the concept of identity and the illusion of identity throughout this article, but I think it best just to include the Zen koan “No Water, No Moon” from the Collection of Stone and Sand which goes:
When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.
At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!
In commemoration, she wrote a poem:
In this way and that I tried to save the old pail (I have struggled to save my conception of self)
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
to break (since my identity was about to shatter)
Until at last the bottom fell out. (until I realized)
No more water in the pail (that when there is no more struggle to identify a self)
No more moon in the water! (then there are no more illusions about who I am)
I have added the parentheses in order to clarify the connection to this article.
Buddhism.Org. Tuesday, November 19, 2013 3:56:07 PM. Digital International Buddhism Organization. Tuesday, November 19, 2013 3:56:07 PM. http://www.buddhism.org/board/read.cgi?board=Seon&y_number=55&nnew=2.
Ravenhurst, Omar Khayyam. Principia Discordia. Seattle: Pacific Publishing Studio, 2011.
Watts, Alan. Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life: Collected Talks 1960-1969. Novato: New World Press, 2006.