Culture Means the Game We Play Together

Our language, our etiquette, our songs and ceremonies, all constitute the game we play together. As many players do, like children trying to fit in at a new school, we probably haven’t questioned the rules of the game, but rather perservered to make them second-nature as quickly as possible so that we can fit in and master the game. As so often in the modern world, we agreed to unexamined things, without even realizing that someone had offered us the contract to sign.

Sometimes, if the game doesn’t truly satisfy, one of the players questions the quality of play, the general mood that the game creates. Maybe someone even successfully changes part of a rule a little bit, creating a “house rule” to (however imperfectly) address the problem. This road of “changing the game from within” often remains fraught with heartache and wasted effort.

Even more rarely, one of the players does something that creates real and powerful transformation, by simply choosing to play a different game.

How do we judge the play of our game, the life our culture creates? I believe we use exactly that measure: does our culture affirm life, and to what extent? Some would propose judging new rules based on whether they seem “Right” or “Wrong”. Unfortunately this usually means we’ve judged the rules of our game, by the rules of our game. An impossible situation (and does this perhaps explain the notions of “sustainable growth” and “voting for the lesser of two evils”?).

As time goes on, we understand that the measure “does it affirm Life?” biases us towards affirming other-than-human life first, because without clean air, clean water, and rich wildlands, we cannot live. Our Land comes first.

So how do we create a new game to play together? How do we pick the rules?

Well, exactly.

Fortunately, we have many games still in play, whose players quite enjoy themselves, and that have affirmed and nurtured life and land for millenia. So we have a place to start.

And now we can sniff around the world, asking these questions; if we play the game of language together, what rules will create play that affirms Life? The game of Marriage (or lack thereof)? The game of Ownership? The game of Family? Growing food?

At any time we can choose to play another game. I won’t claim that you will never have interference from others who despise the game you’ve chosen to play (and see it as overlapping into the space of their game, perhaps like a soccer game and a baseball game who have reserved the same field unwittingly).

I won’t even claim that leaving the old game will feel easy, in fact it will probably feel like you failed at it, rather than having left it as a sober and conscious adult choosing Life over Death.

But the game will never change until the players choose another. It will never change until we stop pretending that the rules of our games have innate justification. It will never change until we redream what it means to play games together, and to live lives worth living.

Written by Willem