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Playing a double game

[ by Charles Cameron — a chess variant exploring the twinned human drives for competition and collaboration ]
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I posted a neat piece of math the other day, showing how dogs might respond to conditions of combined fear and rage in terms of a catastrophe theory diagram, and Larry Dunbar pointed out in a comment that humans might respond differently in equivalent circumstances depending on whether they had a strategy going into the situation or not…


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The idea that humans can have an override on such instinctive drives as fear and rage is obviously an important one, and Larry’s comment reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to make about another “dualism” we humans are subject to…

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Humans are not IBM machines: they have dual drives, responding to a greater or lesser extent at all times to competitive and collaborative motivations.

I was attempting to capture something of that essential dualism in the simplest possible game format when I devised my story-telling chess variant for Ruth Catlow‘s Rethinking Wargames blog:

My own chess variant, which would require two fairly accomplished story-tellers of roughly equal chess strength to play it, is one in which the game is played as in any chess game, following the usual rules, with the added proviso that at each move, the player should write a fictionalized account of the move, such that the combined narratives of the two players taken together in sequence of moves constitutes a story for publication.

The point is that each player then has two motives in making each move — a chess-winning-motive, and a storytelling-collaborative-motive — and the way they play will thus reflect something that parallels human motivation, with its characteristic mix of survival drive and quest for selfactualization / spirituality.

I’m neither a decent chess-player not a decent writer of fiction, but I believe I’m a first rate conceptual game designer, and that this game concept captures something essential about the human condition in simple form. I offer it as a thought-experiment with “live” game potential.

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One last thought:

I suspect that this game is in effect a game for exploring the intersection of zero-sum with non-zero-sum games, so playing with the interactions of collaboration and competition should also offer us insight into the interactions of quality and quantity.

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For more on Ruth Catlow’s work, see her book Artists Re: thinking Games.

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One Response to “Playing a double game”

  1. larrydunbar Says:

    “Humans are not IBM machines: they have dual drives,”

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    But IBM machines now also have ‘dual drives”, they just haven’t been taken advantage of yet.

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    In computers these “dual drives” are called dual cores, but I think it must be structured similar, there just isn’t the culture between the two cores that the human brain has. I think the culture between the dual cores in the human brain have two Ends (Ends as in End, Ways, and Means of strategy).

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    One End feels good–the other End is satisfying. In the context of collaboration and competition, because collaboration builds up a force, hopefully bigger than the either of the single forces, collaboration is satisfying. As there is velocity, either mental or physical, in competition, competition feels good.

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    So ultimately, I am thinking that the dualism in humans, more or less, depends on Energy. When the environment Observed has Potential Energy (mass in acceleration but at zero velocity) it is somehow satisfying–when the environment Observed has mostly Kinetic Energy (velocity greater than zero) it likewise somehow feels good. It could have something to do with what happens as mass reaches the speed of light.

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    If you add the energy that it takes for mass to reach the speed of light, to the mass, because the energy is all used up, the equation zeros-out. While I can’t believe this feels good, it could be satisfying, because a moment of inertia forms and there is a distribution of energy into another dimension.

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    I suppose at that point, life becomes the tipping point between the two dimensions, and, because a choice was made, it is somehow satisfying, if not a choice that feels good. 

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    As I am not much of a wordsmith, I am sure the terms “feels good” or “satisfying” could be better represented by other words, if not deeds. 

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    I wonder if there is a running score on how many times the Arabs beat the Christians in chess. I see there is a rook in the picture, so its not too old, relatively speaking :) Just guessing, sometime after Alexander the Great?


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