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Game and other metaphors

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — chess, billiards, dominoes and roulette — one horse, but no cats ]
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I’m always fascinated by chess and other game metaphors, but they’re generally verbal, so this one is a treat:

That’s from a War on the Rocks / US Institute of Peace piece, Harnessing Iraq’s deadly array of armed groups after ISIL, by Sarhang Hamasaeed — the first in a series.

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War is the continuation of games by other means. Everyone and her donkey has an “x is the continuation of y by other means” formulation, and they’re mostly a bit lame — this is mine.

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Some recent game metaphors I’ve caught while my computer has been in the shop:

Chris Matthews had a rather neat billiards insight: “you always want to place the ball after the shot..

Somewhere — it’s probably a cliche by now — “the first domino to fall”.

“Nasser is playing roulette with the stability of the whole world” — in the TV series, Crown. second season, episode 1.

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Okay, non-game metaphors, of particular interest when they’re religious:

Al Franken was identified as a sacrificial lamb after his fellow Dems turned on him en masse by Kevin Nealon, a metaphor disputed by Stephanie Ruhle.

Scapegoats, sacrificial lambs amd martyrs are about as heady a set of transcendental metaphors as one might hope for — Franken is in heady conceptual company here.

And here’s a newly-minted Franken-word:

There’s a new word which has registered on the media’s radar, and that is “unresign” — or “un-resign,” depending on the news organization.

Aah, aah.

Okay, back to religion. Church MilitantSteve Bannon apparently used the phrase at a Vaticaan conference in 2014:

In his presentation, Mr. Bannon, then the head of the hard-right website Breitbart News and now Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, called on the “church militant” to fight a global war against a “new barbarity” of “Islamic fascism” and international financial elites, with 2,500 years of Western civilization at risk.

Samuel Freedman commented in the NYT:

While most listeners probably overlooked the term “church militant,” knowledgeable Catholics would have recognized it as a concept deeply embedded in the church’s teaching. Moreover, they would have noticed that Mr. Bannon had taken the term out of context, invoking it in a call for cultural and military conflict rather than for spiritual warfare, particularly within one’s soul, its longstanding connotation.

Metaphor? The Church as an army? Salvation Army? Or a direct reference to the Church, factually, actually, Militant?

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Well-turned phrases:

“The cost of doing nothing is not nothing.” John Delaney, (D-MD)

“The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” quoted in The Jerusalem Post, November 2002.

Well, that’s a bit ancient. How about:

This is what hell looks like: a country where people talk about morals and wave bibles, defending someone who’s accused of pedophilia. .. and what we need is redmption.

That’s Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer — founder of L’Abri and the conservative right movement — on JoyAM. Fierce.

And cruel, but decidedly witty — this amazing headline:

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Then there are the ouroboroi — the self-referential phrasings:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA):

You call it the Trump privilege. I call it the privilege privilege.

Also: “To spy on the spies.”

And somewhere: “investigating the investigators..”

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Mercifully, no cute cats nor kitties.

Return to form

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on the East Coast at least, this can pass for a Thanksgiving greeting ]
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I’ve been away sick for a while, with no notes on form, paradox, quincunx etc — but on my return, couldn’t resist this medieval ouroborus of a cat, courtesy Emily Stein

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On the games politics gets compared with, we’ve seen various dimensions of chess, go, and also multi-game mixes such as Alasdair MacIntyre‘s assessment that we’re in a game where “moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net” — or CalvinBall.

At the opposite end of complexity is simplicity, and there’s no simplicity to compare with PacMan, surely. and as WaPo noted a short while back:

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”

That’s pretty cool — but is it as cool as Trump’s own use of Hillary-PacMan from a while ago:

— and note that Trump also used PokemonGO in his campaign.

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And myself? I’m hoping to return to form, too, slowly. It’s great to have a computer after a year without.

I expect David Ronfeldt has noted the increasing usw of “tribal om MSNBC and elsewhere, though I’ve mainly seen it on TV without time to rewind & verify, take notes, etc. It has seemed quite remarkable to me, and I wonder whether Jim Gant or David have seen the same.

Greetings, all, Happy Thanksgiving — let’s talk, let’s stir the pot!

Sunday surprise — Go on

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — zen mind, beginner’s mind, math mind, game mind ]
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Pi:

A Beautiful Mind:

Not Checkers, not Chess, no Go, Gen Perkins — it’s Calvinball time

Friday, July 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on changing our very notions of game and challenge — or unanticipating the unanticipated ]
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Reading David Perkins, Big picture, not details, key when eyeing future from last year, and thinking:

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It’s scary to read Gen. Perkins — the head of TRADOC — disagree with him, sometimes quite sharply along the way and particularly when he talks about games — and then wind up agreeing with the second half of this, his closing sentiment:

So now that we know what game we are playing and assumedly what is required to win it, we can employ these insights to lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond. It is our duty, and our country depends on us to get it right.

We don’t know what game we are playing, nor — love that word “assumedly” — what is required to win it. And if I’m right about this, how can our potentially mistaken insights help us “lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond” — when “getting it right” is liable to be an emergent property, only recognizable as such in retrospect?

Let me cut to my main objection, for which Gen. Perkins’ checkers and chess games are analogies. Of the two games, Perkins said:

Checkers and chess are played on the same style board, but the games are far from similar. For a long time, the Army has designed forces based on a “checkers-based” world outlook. Today, we’re switching to a “chess-based” appreciation of the world.

I’ll come back to this game metaphor in time, but the paragraph I first halted at, for which the games paragraph I just quoted is a metaphor, is this one:

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we lived in a “complicated” world, but one with a single defining enemy for which we could plan against. In today’s “complex” world, there is no single defined future foe with relatively known capabilities, doctrines and intent. This is not a minor point, as designing and building the future Army rests upon what kind of world we expect to see.

I’m not at all sure jointness will mean anything at all like “cross-service cooperation in all stages of the military processes, from research, through procurement and into operations’ — whether the services be Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or also include the National Guard, whether we think in terms of Land, Sea, Air, and Space, or throw in Cyber. What if jointness is better conceived of in terms of heart, mind and soul?

Our command structure isn’t structured along those lines, so we can’t put the Chief of Staff of the Heart, the Commandant of Minds, and the Chief of Soul Operations under the Chairman and Vice-Chairman and call them the Joint Chiefs — the very absurdity of the phrasing makes the whole idea almost ridiculous.

And yet heart, mind and soul — or for that matter, the Buddhist body, mind and speech — are the fundamental building blocks of a full and sane human personhood, and their social equivalents the equivalent bases of a full and sane human society.

Maybe heart, mind and soul are more basic than land, air and sea?

Did we ever think of that?

What I’m suggesting here, in fact, is that the challenges we face may differ from previous challenges in this: that they won’t fall into the expected mold, they won’t look to us like challenges at all, we won’t categorize or react to them as such — in short, that they will be oblique to our assumptions and expectations.

One other point of disagreement, briefly:

by 2005 we confronted a well-understood problem in Afghanistan and Iraq, and began optimizing much of the Army to meet that current threat

Oh really? You could have fooled Zarqawi!

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Getting back to games, we have some very nice comparisons and metamorphoses already “in play” in the strategic literature. Perkins’ “Checkers to Chess” is one, “Ghess to Go” is another and more sophisticated example — Scott Boorman‘s The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy is the classic here — “Chess to Star Trek’s 3-D chess” is another one worth considering, or “Chess to Mjolnir’s Game” for that matter, “Go to Buckminster Fuller‘s World Game” yet another, while “Go to the Glass Bead Game” is clearly one which would fascinate me personally..

But I’m convinced, as I’ve said before, that the game we need to understand is the one known as Calvinball:

Calvinball — Calvin and Hobbes‘ favourite game to play. There is only one main rule in the game — that you can’t play it the same way twice.

Now that game idea is an audacious one, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing Peter Suber‘s awesome game, Nomic:

in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules, usually beginning through a system of democratic voting. Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move.

When I meantion Calvinball, I not infrequently quote the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:

Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.

Now that’s talking!

And Roland Barthes:

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.

Switching games?

We’re blurring game-boards in real time, according to CTC Sentinel editor-in-chief Paul Cruikshank:

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Okay, here’s another mind in the Natsec arena, that switches the playing field from “game as cricket or chess” to “game as zero-sum or non-zero sum” — President Rouhani of Iran, writing an op-ed in the Washington Post — Iran, mark you, in WaPo — who says:

The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

Rouhani is pretty conservative in Iranian terms, though we sometimes consider him a reformer — but very “other” in his thinking, compared to ours. And if we wish to game him, our Red Team must be able to think as ably and otherly as he does.

How would TRADOC suggest we adapt to a shift in games of that sort?

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H/t The Strategy Bridge.

Systems, loops, forms, diagrams, games

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — among other things, a great lecture on complexity / complicity in a complex world ]
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I am always on about form, practicing ways of seeing form, of recognizing pattern in the very structure and logic of events — as though that practice were practical, had some eventual fruitfulness in practice, in the world of worldly affairs. And it may seem strange, erratic, off-course to many of my readers here, especially those who arrive in mid-stream, or with expectations of specifically strategic insight.

The other day I watched a lecture a friend of mine gave a couple of years back, and I wanted to bring it here because — tangentially — with its loops and diagrams it shows underlying form as it in-forms the games we play, the worlds they conjure, the ways we understand and navigate them, and the world around us — in which we find ourselves, and on which they are, however remotely and ingeniously, based.

My friend Mike has been lead designer on Sims 2 and Ultima Online among other games, and is currently a Professor of Practice in game design at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Mike Sellers..

More from Sellers’ bio:

He has a Bacon Number of 2 and hopes someday to have an Erdos Number.

Oh — and he was an extra — lucky dog, sorta — in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now.

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My own analytic approach, my insistence on monitoring form as well as content, and my own HipBone Games all work at the underlying / subconscious level at which Mike pitches his talk. I hope this helps you understand what I’m about — but even if it doesn’t, it’s a fine introduction to game design and the understanding of a complex world by the man who famously reminded his fellow game designers:

An idea isn’t a design. A design is not a program. A program is not a product. A product is not a business. A business is not profit. Profit is not happiness.

Good thinking, from a good friend.


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