A Journey to Understand Game B

For the past few months, I’ve been intrigued by a concept I first heard of at an online community: “Game B” (see https://futurethinkers.org/jim-rutt-game-b-fifth-attractor/ for instance). One of the main reasons for why the concept seemed attractive was (and remains) an intuition that the “game” that most people in Western civilizations are playing collectively (capitalism) has some serious issues–or at least, if the issues are not with the game, then there are issues with the way we play it.

And over the course of these past months, I started on a journey of trying to understand what those issues are, and why some people are extremely enthusiastic about “switching” from the current system (Game A = capitalism as we know it) to a new game, what would make that new game different, whether that difference could actually “work” (in the real world) or not, and why it then also is that quite a few people I talked with seemed very reluctant (to say the least) about changing anything about the current system, lest we damage it and our means of (relative) cooperative survival.

As I said, I started on this journey, and have not reached any definitive end–and if I understand the underlying assumptions of “Game B” I will also never reach any such end point. It might be worth, however, to describe a few relatively concrete aspects that I (at this point in time) would consider strong candidates for answers to some of the questions above.

What’s the source of enthusiasm about “Game B”? I assume that for most people who are proponents of (or at least seekers for) an alternative game, there are a few key elements that seem to be “off” when it comes to capitalism (again, as it is usually played): first and foremost, it appears to be a game that must be played, and that must be played by relatively fixed rules. As such, it is roughly the difference between the two scenarios A and B described below, and I’ll start with B (for a reason that’ll become clear afterwards):

Scenario B feels roughly like walking into a small casino and deciding to play a couple rounds of poker, and if after a few rounds you don’t like the game–in exactly the form it is being played–you have not only the liberty to leave the game, but you can also suggest a slightly different game, in other words, you are neither bound by a (meta) rule that the game must be continued, nor are you bound by any specific rules–assuming that the casino is small enough and the player who is the bank is willing to consider an adaptation of the game that is.

Scenario A feels like being deposited in a casino, and receiving a short set of instructions, and part of the instructions sounds like this: “In a few minutes, a dude with a gun will pick you up and show you to the poker table, and once you start playing the game, make sure not to lose too much money! If you win, you’ll have a great time, and the ladies will bring you great drinks, and you’ll get to enjoy the amenities during the breaks, but if you lose, damn, your experience in the casino sucks man, so pay attention now, while we show you the demonstration video on how the game works, OK?!” In other words, people are told (roughly at age 6 or 7) there is ONE game to be played (employment), and they need to pay attention to learn how to play the game (get smart and cram your brain with all the stuff being shown in school), and when you start playing, you have to earn as much money as you can. If you earn enough, life is great, if you don’t, well, you’re a loser. Importantly, part of the instruction is an often repeated and frequently only implicit suggestion that you have no control over whether you want to play the game or not–at least, trying to rebel against the system leaves you “in trouble”, like with bad grades, and the consequences of those–, and that you have no control over the game itself: that’s the invisible hand of the market, and we cannot interfere with that!

As you can see, I’ve folded into the description of scenario (game) A the parallel experiences in how many people grew up. And if you believe in that kind of description–that you have no choice but to play the game “as it is presented to you”, an inevitable reality–your enthusiasm for Game B will be limited. For one, you will not believe it can exist “realistically”. If on the other hand you grew up with little restrictions on your fantasy as it imagines new rules, new games, or even new meta rules (for the game of games), and you see a lot of people struggling under the current game (A), then you probably will have a high motivation to try and come up with a new game that could replace Game (scenario) A, no?

So, what would make Game B different? Well, from the description of the two scenarios, the main differences (as I see them today) can be described as follows: players of the game (human beings in the real world) do not experience their life as a “you must do X to live a decent life”–which is Game A, an extraction of value against one’s sovereignty and autonomy)–but rather as a true game embedded in a meta game with two features: people can choose to not play the game and, more importantly, people have the option to alter the rules according to their needs–that is, if the game being offered, on the playground of the economy so to speak, doesn’t suit them, maybe because they cannot keep up with the speed or some other aspect of the rules, they have the option to transform the game into one that suits them better in cooperation with the other players. This last bit is important, obviously. That is, no player has the right to dictate their rules onto others. In essence, the difference is one of awareness and experience, not of rules–or rather only to the extent to which people believe the rules are fixed rather than flexible, and the beliefs about who makes the rules, and how that rule making works.

Would such a different game actually work? I think this is maybe the most critical question for the average person, and I do not have an answer that holds. The enthusiasts are obviously convinced that such a game can exist–although it hasn’t been developed yet to the point where they could demonstrate it on a scaled up way, such as at least a regional economy if not a national economy. Part of the problem here is that so long as the vast majority of people are “happy enough” (or maybe don’t despair while) playing “Game A”, there seem to be quite some restrictions on how to identify and “vet” the honesty of potential Game B players. Why would such vetting be necessary? Well, the main issue with Game B is its voluntary nature–anyone can choose to leave a game whenever they wish, in order to preserve sovereignty and autonomy. That means that there are, by design, no hard enforcement mechanisms. And that will require a different consciousness of the players. There is a requirement, which cannot be enforced by violent means, that players are aware that the collective’s success depends on all players willingness to cooperate with one another, and to not become “free riders” of the society (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-rider_problem). Proponents of Game A (capitalism as it is) are most likely to point out one version or another of this problem: take free healthcare (Medicare for All) for instance. The reason why this would not work in the system we’re currently having, and the game we’re currently playing is that it reduces the pressure on people to “work for their healthcare”. Once all basic needs are met–so the theory, backed up by some credible evidence at least–people will “slack”, and once that starts, there’s no end to it, leaving in the end the “stupid and ideologically naive” to provide for the rest of us, and services being provided at a much lower level, like in communist countries. So, let’s be clear: Game B is **not** another name for communism

For me, personally, a more interesting question is this: why am I so driven to explore this topic? My hunch is that Game B, as dreamed of by its most fervent supporters, may for many decades or even centuries be an unattainable goal–simply because our genetic inheritance shaped by evolution has put too much fear in our minds that makes it difficult to stay with a consciousness of abundance over scarcity. But that doesn’t mean we have to be content and contend with Game A as it is at the moment. Over the course of the past several hundred years, the game has been transformed already many times. We abolished slavery, for instance–where slaves are players that really are not even given a hypothetical choice (for instance to become homeless bums). And for a while we had a pretty good thing going, called “The American Dream”. Clearly some of it was a dream to the extent that it wasn’t attainable for everyone, but at least it changed the awareness of people to not believe life was bound by current rules, and that instead through entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity, one can make one’s own rules and still succeed in a game yet to be defined and discovered. It is this, by the way, that I believe populism in Trump’s message (as well as with Brexit) represents: a rebellion against an establishment that has formulated a version of Game A they can comfortably live with that doesn’t work for the average person. It is just that populism has never been understood in terms of sovereignty of players re-establishing against an already established elite that tries to keep the rules “as is” and in their favor.

So, yes, it does make sense to open up Game A–at least far enough for people to re-experience the freedom that comes with the thinking that the game isn’t fixed, and I use fixed in these two meanings: inflexible as well as made by other people against one’s own interests. It is this message of Donald Trump (“the game is rigged”) that caught so many people’s attention. And it is this very same message that makes Bernie Sanders such a formidable candidate. And to the extent that establishment sections of both parties have an interest in “keeping the fixed rules in place”, they will work against Trump and Bernie.

Is it necessary to believe in Game B in order to work against the inflexibility of establishment rules? Not at all! All that is necessary is to wake up and no longer believe in the story of Scenario A. The gun against your head is in your head. You are the one keeping yourself playing the game as provided to you. If you start to decide to change the rules by which you play, you can do so. It is just incredibly important to be aware that this has consequences, and to be very careful when starting to experiment with those rules.

Maybe you can start by talking with colleagues and coworkers how they experience their “game play”. Do others feel equally “played” (toyed with) by the system? How much sovereignty do you currently have? Does that seem fair? Who gets to decide on the rules? Probably not your boss (unless he’s the CEO maybe, but sometimes even the CEO doesn’t decide, unless it’s a privately owned firm). What does “ownership” have to do with “making the rules”? And if owners make the rules but don’t have to play by their own rules but play a different game (owning and extracting value), what kind of fucked up game is that?

So, the first step in exploring new rules is to become acutely aware of what is going on. I’m not suggesting upending the apple cart in favor of anarchy. What I am suggesting is that before anyone could attempt a scaled-up version of Game B, it is necessary for players to wake up and to know exactly what game it is they are playing–or which game is played on them–and why the current game may or may not work for them as it is being played.