Games People Play

See if you can play the hero
it is the game of dropping
off the skyrocket of courage
and landing
with you head between your knees

– Lou Hammer, “28” The Book of Games (1986)

Way back in my scholarship Grottie days, a mild blue-eyed blond boy vouchsafed me with the wisdom of the German-born Swiss novelist Herman Hesse in the form of his Prize-winning novel, Magister Ludi — Master of the Game — aka, The Glass Bead Game. He must have seen something in me. At the time I was wont to lay on the Circle (a lawn at the center of the campus of Groton School) and look up at the stars, even in the daytime, and listen to old man Gammons (retired ESPN sportswriter Peter Gammons’ dad) play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the Chapel organ.

Or I would amuse myself watching a pal in the smoking room light his farts on fire with a Bic lighter, eschewing his dares to do said same, one of the other boys (it was an all-boys school then) comically warned people were known to blow themselves up with this activity. I thought of Charles Fort, who a friend had told me about days previously, and the notion of spontaneous combustion. After I dropped out of the school, my pal would turn me on to a “signed copy” of the I Ching. Wouldn’t you know it, I drew hexagram 56, The Wanderer. I’ve been getting it up the ole yinyang ever since in my travels. Sometimes I feel I should have risked everything with that Bic.

Anyway, I was thinking about Magister Ludi recently. Got to thinking tThese wise guys get together once a year and play a game with beads that reveals, as they play, esoteric patterns of the world that they themselves are stoicially disinclined to engage in. Know it all think-tankers back at a time when the Canon was still extant, and so they were imbued with the mystical powers that sympathetic magic brings. (You remember Christmas morn as a starry-eyed kid, the radio playing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” Dad snarking that Rudolph the Red Nosed Lush should be driving, getting DIBS: In Search of Self from “Santa”). Postmodernism has dealt such wise guys a vicious backhand blow, and, frankly, nobody really reads Herman Hesse anymore, except me, as far as I know.

Got a notion to produce a screenplay out of the book; update it. Saw Silicon Valley faces — Musk, Bezos, Brin and Zuck — their gatherings on football field-length yachts to discuss the future of all of us, without our input, of course, as they know best, it’s not a democratic process, and, consequently, it’s none of our business. One of the assholes is putting implants in pigs’s brains with a view to controlling behavior — making you think, inevitably, of what might have happened in Orwell’s Animal Farm had Napoleon and Mr. Smith got hold of Snowball before he managed to trotsky away. Another quack wants to build gated neighborhoods in outer space. Zuck’s in charge of the hivemind. Brin’s bringing quantum to the table.

I thought for sure my kids would be keen to join me in writing The Glass Bead Game. But I was wrong. They just looked at me. So, to hell with it. But it did get me further thinking about the games people play. Or, rather, should play, to negotiate our understanding of global doings, to hone our defensive skills, and to beat the snot out of these fools when the shit hits the fan for realz and they try to weasel off to New Zealand. If they sneak out, we can arrange for some Maoris to meet them, at their private airport, with the haka and show them what a rugby scrum is when the ball is made of silicon. Try and try their noses into the ground.

While we’re waiting for the Great Demise as if it were the Great Godot, it may behoove us to be ready for the rolling pearlharbors ahead. That’s what RAND does, what all think tanks do; you’re a think tank, if you wanna be. Or you could just let them think for you. Have representative thinkers giving us the poop the way representative government looks after our interests. It’s up to you, demo. Me, I hooked up with some “mates” on Zoom (natch) and we played games, bored games (Monopoly and Risk), mind games (Tony was insufferable with his “You’re Made!” – a variation of tag – every 15 minutes), and generally talked turkey, finally drawing the conclusion that the following games were worth pursuing as the World Ends (“and a new one begins,” yelled Teddy, cup half full), and we passed a virtual bong around from zoomroom to zoomroom until our minds went badaboom and our mouths were non-stop — really fucking with the Zoom shifter..

Tony, Teddy, Rhonda, Joy, Carla, and Richard Head all checked in and we got going. I explained the rules (none) and how we were to review together some games each of us had come up in preparation for the world’s end, and to play a round or two to get the gist. Wouldn’t you know it, Dick just had to tell us about the time he played a survival game with 6 others at summer camp. They had to choose which one would have to stay behind while the others were saved. Dick told us for the upteenth time (he’d relate it before) how he immediately shot his hand up and said, “I’ll stay.” Someone called him a dickhead. One of the women said, “Well, in this survival game, you get to be the only one who leaves. Hoof it.”

Then we watched a training video together. In a separate survey, we’d all agreed there would be violence and blood — especially between coppers and people protesting the end of the world. There were training tapes left over from the 60s. Here, children choose roles — protester or cop. A surprising number of the youngsters wanted to be cops. I guess, because of the allure of batons. Here it is. Dig it.

After we checked in with each other, to make sure no one was triggered by childhood bashings by cops or parents or other Twinkie-thieving bullies who to diediedie, Rhonda kicked us off with her review of Six Fucking Hats, literally, a lateral thinking game so lame that the Zoomsters took turns making obscene gestures as she explained. Except for Teddy, who said, “I suspect it’s useful still. I certainly wouldn’t discount its value.”

Six Thinking Hats (Rhonda)

Rhonda:

Let’s go with good old fashioned Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. (Tony groans.) I think Bono’s Hats has passed the test of time.

Richard:

More than we can say for you Rhonda. (snarky laughter)

Rhonda:

Fuck you, Dick Head. (snarky laughter) Anyway, as I was saying the lateral thinking exercises that de Bono brings to the table are great enablers of critical thinking masses. I have an app attached by prior arrangement — so surprise — that allows us all to wear the six colored hats that de Bono delineates in his text. (we all have hats now, I’m white)

Tony:

Who the fuck gave me the pink cap?

Rhonda:

It’s the updated edition. This is not the 70s anymore. We’re gonna change hats. That’s a good sign, Tony, that you’re uncomfortable with that hat. You have to think like a pink person now. All of you have to think like the color of the hat you’re wearing — matched to the chart of meaning. So Pink is in charge of eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.

Tony:

Eliminate, huh? Okay, I can handle that.

Rhonda:

So the idea is to create a situation and you respond not according to your own whims and fancies but according to the hat you were dealt.

Tony:

What’re we fuckin commies.

Rhonda:

If the hat fits, wear it. (Rhonda screws around with her gizmo to show how easy it is to change hats.

Me:

Interesting. That reminds of a Marx Brothers skit from Horse Feathers. (he shares the scene)

Rhonda:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s how it works!

Tony:

Marxists? Pink hats? Fuck lateral thinking. Give me badabing badaboom any day.

Beautiful People: A Tool Box for Revolution (Teddy)

Teddy:

Well, I really liked that clip of the kids getting ready for the show. Cops and protesters. That’s about it. I’m surprised Stanford didn;t have some kind of horror experiment with it. Anyway, I’m bringing to the table Occupy Time. It’s a book and card set that, like the deBono theory, has players getting ready to Occupy a space controlled by government or corporate interests — could be Wall Street or Pentagon or the Flint Water Management Corporation headquarters in Detroit. (he shares the book and cards) I really like this stuff. Instant mobilization against anything oppressive. Taxes. Corporate excesses. Mind Control. Fake News. The best of the 60s and 70s — the seriousness of play, as Nietzsche put it — revolution for the hell of it plus social media and stuff. The way OR Books describes it, Beautiful People has “The best ideas of the front lines of creative activism, and puts them in your hands.”

Tony:

More commies. When do I get to wear the black hat?

Teddy:

Think the song “Beautiful Dreamer,” with the dreamer waking suddenly with a fist in the air and ready to go. Suddenly, she’s an artist and she don’t look back.

Joy:

I had a dream. I had a dream like that. I had a dream like that other night where I woke up in my candlelit room in triumph and SANG! (a Melanie lick from Candles in the Rain is heard)

Teddy:

Anyway, The book is highly organized and has many wonderful contributors who’ve been there, done that and tell the next generation how to do it and succeed. It’s a real useful staging manual.

Carla:

How come I never heard of it?

Tony:

Coz you buy all your books from Amazon. OR’s independent. You wouldn’t know.

Carla:

Fuck you, Tony. (she flicks him a goombah chin gesture)

Teddy:

Anyway, there are six parts: Tactics, Principles, Theories, Case Studies and Practitioners.

Richard:

That’s only five parts.

Teddy:

For fuck’s sake, Dick. The reader. The reader. That’s part Six. (Tony’s fussing over his background; it switches at high speeds, like he’s suddenly in the wormhole from 2001) So Beautiful People is great because it gives you specific things you can do — tactics — to fight the Man in a given situation. For instance, you can start a flash mob, get cheeky, kind of a bun swarmer. (shows Brave Heart image) like Trump said antifas did on Jan 6 to incite sedition. And principles. There are reasons we do things. Moral compassings. And some of us are interested in the theoretical grounding to our forays into practical politics. Marx. Hegel’s triads.

Tony:

My left gonad. (Carla titters)

Teddy:

The Case Studies section is amazing. You learn where some of this stuff has been enacted and what the outcome was — what worked, what didn’t and why. Sometimes people need to know what worked and where. You know, a lot of people know about the Gay Bomb now, because it was the military was working on making an enemy division into pansies by dropping some afro-deesiac on them, but, you know, the hippies invented it. I think Abbie came up with that.

Tony:

I would have iced Abbie.

Joy:

I heard he slept with Abe Maslow’s daughter.

Rhonda:

Timothy Leary said Abe never had a peak experience. Another hypocrite. Do as I say. But he was always down in the dumps.

Joy:

I’ll bet she has some peak experiences with Abbie. I would’ve.

Tony:

Another one I’d have to ice. I gotcha Belonging. (he grabs his shlonging)

Carla:

You’re so crude.

Teddy:

Wow, I feel like I’m in a gauntlet. Well, anyway. It’s really useful. OR has put out a pocket edition. There’s also a great strategy card deck that comes with it and is hip-ly inspiring. The cards contain mini-debates — kinds like the de Bono. In one section, titled “The Problem in the World Around Us,” an argument is proposed: A corrupt society produces corrupt

people; we must fi x the world first. The card answers:

Lots of assholes and hypocrites have done wonders for the world. Personal change does not equal political change. No matter how many meditation retreats we go on (or how much we recycle), polluters will keep poisoning poor communities unless they are stopped by concerted political action. As individuals, we’re all in some ways flawed, but that’s no reason not to work together to change the world. Let’s start now, assholes!

Funny too!

Joy:

Oscar Wilde said: Tell the Truth, make people laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

Richard:

He died in some Parisian gutter.

Tony:

He’s another one.

Me:

Thanks, Teddy. Next we have:

Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices (Carla)

Carla:

Okay, who here’s ever wanted to be Daniel Ellsberg? (Me and Richard raise our hands)

Tony:

What the fuck, Carla?

Carla:

Tony (repeats her previous chin gesture). Hedgemony is a game of strategic choices. The first decision you have to make is how you can afford the game at $250 a pop. But we got people who know how to follow a truck. But seriously, the Player’s Guide describes the games as:

a global, multi-sided, turn-based, facilitated, adjudicated wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how different strategy and policy priorities could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force management, force posture, and force employment. In the game, players make difficult choices by managing the allocation of their resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within resource and time constraints.

So…It’s a game of the US influencing everybody else in the world and the best strategist wins.

Tony:

I’ve got a force posture. (Carla rolls her eyes noisily) But, come on, Carla, what are we talking here the mafia or the US government?

Richard:

No real diff.

Tony:

Dick, you’re another one.

Carla:

You know, so maybe you read Wikileaks State Department Logs to draw a bead or an angle and push it. Mortadella, mangia, badabing. So you wanna play the Chinese off against the Russians, like Nixon did with his Beijing visit, to get the russkies to ”cooperate” on START.

Joy:

That’s it?

Carla:

No. You tell the Chinese that when we hit the Russkies we;re taking them out too. Badabing.

Me:

That a conspiracy theory? Be careful. Let’s keep to evidence.

Teddy:

No, Ellsberg says it right in his new book, Doomsday. It’s like the War on Terror. We’re fighting Communism. They all get nuked. Italy did an about face when they heard that.

Joy:

Sounds kind of boring. In my class I teach the kids to play Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory. It’s “an asymmetric politico-economic card-driven board game.” You belong to a class, be it Working Class, Middle Class, Capitalist or the State itself.

Carla:

No, it’s not like that. America wins. It’s just which strategy wins the day?

Joy:

Who decides?

Carla:

Oh, there’s a meateater.

Joy:

You mean, mediator?

Carla:

That’s what I just said. You fuckin with me, Joy.

Me:

Thanks, Carla. Joy, you wanna tell us about the Pandemic board game?

Pandemic (Joy)

Joy:

Well, it’s basically about what happens when a pandemic strikes and folks are put into play to find a cure as fast as possible. So player roles are: dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher, operations expert, contingency planner, or quarantine specialist.

Rhonda:

So it’s like now.

Joy:

Wow, look who’s woke up. Anyway, there’s countries. People hard at work looking for a vaccine. Monoclonal.

Teddy:

I read an article last year that said DARPA was involved in these kinds of ward games. P3, I think the writer called it. There was some Candian company that got one of the first cell samples of an American Covid survivor and they had on their website — wait, wait, here it is

(shows a link to Abcellera) — and said they could have a therapeutic monoclonal solution to Covid-19 in 60 days. They held war games — simulated a pandemic just a year before we had one!!! (tears his shirt) Oh –oh– oh, it means Pearl Harbor was a gimme….(pulls hair)

Me:

Ah, Teddy, calm down. Let us not cross into conspiracy theory. Take a long toke on your e-bong. We have a couple more games to consider. So, Carla, what do you draw from this game, Pandemic. What should we be doing?

Carla:

Well, I didn’t know that. But it does show that you can make a buck off just about anything. But my game puts you in the middle of a solution; you feel like you’re serving mankind. (I had a flash) My cousin Vinny was contact tracer for awhile. But he had to give it up.

Tony:

And why’s that Carla?

Carla:

He was hitting on some of the women. One of them called the cops. She’s disappeared, can’t be, ahem, contacted.

Tony:

I gotta pal, a real goombah, did contact tracing for six weeks before he realized it wasn’t skip tracing. He got Covid-19 trying to bring someone into custody. That was his reward.

Me:

That leaves just you, Tony. You want to tell us about your game.

Tony:

Yeah, sure, sure, Me. Well, I looked into the government’s games, and I gotta tell ya I was none too happy. I member back in the 60 s they were stockpiling anthrax and all kinds of nerve agents all over the country. People would see these pyramids and think, Whatta we got pharaohs buried here?

Me:

Er, Tony. Think we can keep it from conspiracy theory?

Tony:

You callin me a liar?

Me:

No, not exactly, but I’ve got a word count problem. My inner engineer is tapping on my imaginary glass, doing that hurry up thing with hand.

Tony:

Probably choking his chicken. Poultry in motion.

Me:

Uh-huh. Can we keep it to your presentation? And not ham it up?

Tony:

I’ll ham you up. You’re another one. (sighs heavily through his nose) Anyway. So, American scientists are getting together to fuck with Nature in a thing called Biodefense In The Age Of Synthetic Biology.

Teddy:

Yeah. I read about that, too. Same author. It’s a framework, Tony, isn’t it?

Tony:

That’s right, Tony. The government’s scientists are gonna be creating viruses and bacteria — the meanest, ugliest, most vile satan bugs of all time with the aid of supercomputers. For instance, if they’d wanted to, they could’ve created Covid-19 through gain-of-function “research.”

Me:

(shaking his head) Tony…

Tony:

You calling me a liar? (watches Me gulp in panic) Okay. Listen. This is a quote from them — the scientists not me — draw your own conclusions if you still remember how to:

synthetic biology makes it possible to synthesize genomes and use those to generate, or “boot,” copies of naturally occurring organisms in the laboratory, opening new opportunities for the acquisition of existing, regulated pathogens” and “synthetic biology tools could be used to synthesize and boot entirely new organisms, potentially incorporating genetic material from multiple existing organisms.

Badabing. Badaboom.

Me:

So you’re saying…

Tony:

Hey you, don’t tell me what I’m saying, kapeesh? (everybody is swallowing, like a Gulp War) It’s the government. They are using gain-of-function to create super viruses, saying they’re doing it to be ahead of the curve if the enemy develops it first. They’ll have vaccines ready.

Carla:

Tony.

Tony:

Carla. Shut up. Anybody else was president but Trump in October 2020 they’d been rolling our vaccines in November. The New York Times noted while Trump was president that he was lying again when he said a vaccine was coming — because the vaccine for a virus had ever been discovered in less than four years. Trump’s out, and we got vaccines for Covid-19 coming out the yinyang. Less than one year. Come on. Grow up. (various groans and sighs make the voice-activated screens shuffle wildly)

Due to technical problems the Zoom session was suddenly curtailed. So we’ll have to pick where we left off with Richard Head and his presentation on the games Silicon Valley plays next time. I myself will be soon reviewing The Book of Gametes. Stay tuned.

And watch your back. It’s a dangerous world.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.

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