12. Games the Buddha wouldn’t play

Wikipedia link that inspired this: List of games that Buddha would not play

Gautama Buddha believed these games to be a “cause for negligence”. What does that mean, how does it interpret through a modern lens, and what does it mean in the context of games we play today?

Here’s the list, copy-pasted from wikipedia:

  1. Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows. This is thought to refer to ashtapada and dasapada respectively, but later Sinhala commentaries refer to these boards also being used with games involving dice.
  2. The same games played on imaginary boards. Akasam astapadam was an ashtapada variant played with no board, literally “astapadam played in the sky”. A correspondent in the American Chess Bulletin identifies this as likely the earliest literary mention of a blindfold chess variant.
  3. Games of marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places. This is described in the Vinaya Pitaka as “having drawn a circle with various lines on the ground, there they play avoiding the line to be avoided”. Rhys Davids suggests that it may refer to parihāra-patham, a form of hop-scotch.
  4. Games where players either remove pieces from a pile or add pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to shake (similar to the modern game pick-up sticks).
  5. Games of throwing dice.
  6. “Dipping the hand with the fingers stretched out in lac, or red dye, or flour-water, and striking the wet hand on the ground or on a wall, calling out ‘What shall it be?’ and showing the form required—elephants, horses, &c.”
  7. Ball games.
  8. Blowing through a pat-kulal, a toy pipe made of leaves.
  9. Ploughing with a toy plough.
  10. Playing with toy windmills made from palm leaves.
  11. Playing with toy measures made from palm leaves.
  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. (letters in the Brahmi script)
  15. Guessing a friend’s thoughts.
  16. Imitating deformities.

Let’s apply categories

Would the Buddha disapprove of the game of categorizing the games he’d refuse to play?… I’d guess no, the Buddha loved lists and categories and stuff.

Seems like the rough categories are:
A. Gambling/dice games
– 1, 2, 5
B. Games which imitate real work
– 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
C. Games that are you just being a dick
– 16
D. Guessing games
– 6, 14, 15
E. Other?
– 3, 4

(A) is gambling games, games of chance. Plenty of us already have a morality which implicitly knows gambling to be toxic. Potentially most card games fall into this category, drawing from a shuffled deck is also tapping into randomness in the same way as a dice roll.

Gautama would probably disapprove of something like Pacheesi, which doesn’t involve gambling in the sense of betting, but does involve dice throws. I tend to get pretty upset when playing Pacheesi, and have refused to play before out of the limited self-knowledge that I’ll get upset. Probably just not playing games which make one upset is a good idea!

One counterargument might be that games allow one to explore emotions in a safe context and handle the process of feeling and ideally not-reacting to the emotion in the heat of the moment, all without any real stakes involved. This is a reason that reading fiction, and certain movies/TV can be really useful for emotional development: they bring us through the emotions involved in the story in a safe and constrained way. This is especially the case with children’s and young adult fiction but that same utility doesn’t go away. We get older but not necessarily more grown-up.

(B) seems to avoid doing things that are direct simulacra of real-world activities, whether productive or otherwise. Don’t pretend to do the labor of a farmer, don’t pretend to do (or glorify!) the act of killing with a toy bow-and-arrow. Maybe Gautama would say that it’s better to find an adult and actually go learn and do those activities in a non-derivative way, rather than playing make-believe. Maybe the pretend-version then breeds pretend misconceptions, or returning to the stated reason breeds negligence either in respect to those actually doing the work (ie mocking a farmer because you totally know how to do play-farming), or negligence when later you go actually do that work.

For me, the glorification of war that comes with violent video games fits into this category. They’re fun games, but they also abstract away the reality that they’re seeking to virutally replicate, that these are weapons used in real life to kill real people. There’s no glory to war. Call of Duty is basically a US army propaganda tool, suckering poor young men to thinking going off and killing people is going to give them the same rush as killing someone in a game, or the same sense of victory that it seems to in the movies. Fast forward several years and you’re suffering from PTSD, at the mercy of an underfunded VA and you’ve wasted your youth for a government military apparatus that doesn’t care about you at all. It’s a trap!

(C) is just you being a dick. Could analyze this more but don’t feel like it.

(D) seems to be the category of imposing language on the void, trying to spot shapes in a cloud. Or trying to name one’s psychedelic visuals (as discussed in my agreement section of this post).

(E) is a non-category, ‘other’. One element includes hopscotch/twister, which involve abitrary restrictions on the physical environment. The other includes jenga and pick-up-sticks. I don’t really grok E, I can’t quite attach it to a higher meaning yet at least

What games would he be okay with?

  • Grand strategy games like Civilization? Historical simulators like CK3 or EU4?
  • Pacman! Doesn’t involve guessing thoughts or a simulation of reality in any way
  • Tic tac toe- has fewer rows/columns than he specifies
  • Mario and puzzle platformers
  • Racing games! Foot races and car races
  • Bop-it: not a simulacra of anything at all
  • Exercising: jumping jacks and lifting weights and stuff
  • Dancing (not really a game). DDR? A dance-off?

What games would he not be okay with?

  • Uno, since drawing from a shuffled deck is isomorphic to rolling the dice
  • Bananagrams and Scrabble, with the stronger interpretation of randomness-games. In these games we’re randomly picking tiles from a bag so those would be forbidden.
  • Word games like Pictionary and Taboo. Charades is called out by “guessing at a friend’s thoughts”
  • FPSs like Halo or Call of Duty, or even action roguelikes like Hades. These seem like evolutions of “playing with toy bows”.
  • Speculating in the stonk market
  • Chess wasn’t invented at the time but probably chess given it fits the 8 or 10 rows thing
  • Go. Interesting, because usually I think of go as having a lot of philosophical ‘observe the gestalt’ kind of teachings
  • The floor is lava (directly called out by #2)
  • – Playing House (like kids do)? Maybe this is called out by category (B)
  • Football, tg. Soccer and Tennis etc too.
  • Chinese checkers? it’s a hexagonal grid but i think still is caught by rules 1 and 2
  • Twister. Falls into the category of “3. marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places”

One thought on “12. Games the Buddha wouldn’t play”

  1. Re: call of duty- CoD licenses likenesses of guns, so buying CoD is essentially giving money to gun manufacturers! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeIHH0XEs6E

    > One counterargument might be that games allow one to explore emotions in a safe context and handle the process of feeling and ideally not-reacting to the emotion in the heat of the moment, all without any real stakes involved. This is a reason that reading fiction, and certain movies/TV can be really useful for emotional development: they bring us through the emotions involved in the story in a safe and constrained way. This is especially the case with children’s and young adult fiction but that same utility doesn’t go away. We get older but not necessarily more grown-up.

    Well put!

    Like

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