Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buddha Was a Hardcore Gamer

Sometimes reading between the gaps can cast a beam of light on a central design aesthetic.  Lets take the following literally.

According to wikipedia, and several sources around the web which parrot one another, Buddha is quoted in the T.W. Rhys Davids translation of the Brahmajāla Sutta as not being a fan of:
1. Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows (note that Chess as we know it was not invented at this time, though earlier Chess-like games such as Chaturaji may have existed). The name appears in Pali canon is Asta padam (Asta - eight, Padam - literally means legs)
   2. The same games played on imaginary boards (Akasam Astapadam - Akasam is sky or Astapadam played in sky), same game played in moon shaped chess boards
   1. Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places.
   2. Using nails to place or remove pieces from a heap with the loser being the one who causes the heap to wobble (such as pick-up sticks).
   3. Throwing dice
   4. Hitting a short stick with a long stick (there is still some debate about the translation of this line). This is similar to the Indian game of Gulli-danda or Russian Gorodki.
   5. Drawing a figure on the ground or wall after dipping a finger in lac, red dye, flour or water, and having the other players guess what the picture is going to be (a guessing game similar to Pictionary).
   6. Ball games.
   7. Playing with toy pipes made of leaves.
   8. Ploughing with toy plough.
   9. Somersaulting.
  10. Playing with toy windmills.
  11. Playing with toy measures.
  12. Playing with toy carts.
  13. Playing with toy bows.
  14. Guessing at letters traced with the finger in the air or on a friend's back.
  15. Guessing a friend's thoughts.
  16. Imitating deformities.
Buddha is expressing here some preferences as to the types of games he enjoyed; it seems clear he looks down on chance, exploratory play, social interaction, and anything with a ball.  No games with 8 or 10 rows of spaces, either- if its board games, he must have favored Pachisi, unless cowrie shells count for dice.  No charades or guessing games!  He must have been frustrated with cheaters.  Simple play, with whatever means was available, completely pointless.  Games with balls?  Too bad the ball hogs and funny bounces ruin those.  Games with sticks, why the sticks are always crooked and unfair.  Games which only let the player step certain places, as the others are all filled with lava, adders, or scorpions, were simply sadistic exercises for the enjoyment of their designers.

Seems like only footraces appealed to Buddha!  Pure skill, clear goal, nothing to get in the way of the player, the results are always black and white, no luck, no handicaps for the weak, no aesthetic goal of the designer to get in the way of the flow, the runner's high.

These are outlooks by and large attributed to the "core" gamer of today!

Well, ok, maybe we needn't read it so literally.  Obviously, the original text is about achieving a higher state of being, oneness with the universe, through meditation and a deep understanding of the world.  What the Literal Read did end up with, a footrace, isn't so different from meditation.  In both activities, the body and mind must cooperate in order to function at a higher level, in much the same way as a modern digital gamer enters a trance in order to succeed at their quest for self-actualization via skill influenced feedback loops.

I once saw a player going by "TheBuddha" playing Counterstrike; now the alias seems apropos.