Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Games, cheating, aggression and our inner “bad”?

| 11 Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What does cheating in a game say about us? What about when cheating is the object of the game? What about aggression? Is aggression in games a way to “purge” some of our negative energy in a “safe” way (as in sports?) or does it promote further aggression (as in some of the research on video games)? Are people who play aggressive sports more aggressive in real life? Are people who play well in “cheating games” real-life cheaters? What about people who cheat during games? Does it say something about our ethics and values if we cheat during a game against its rules?

I remember once playing a game called “vampire” (sorry, can’t find a description of the game online) with my friends a few years ago. We were all adults, but for some reason some of our moms (including mine) were in the same room with us (cannot remember why). Anyway, in that game, I was one of the “vampires” but the other players were not supposed to know this. Winning the game depended upon my ability to deceive some of my closest friends into believing that I was not one of the vampires, so I could bit them all and keep living. I won. My mom later said, “She’s my own daughter, and I believed she was innocent, I couldn’t believe she was lying!”.

My mom’s reaction was interesting for two reasons:
1. In real life, I am a horrible liar. I don’t lie much because I am uncomfortable with the concept, it goes against my values. But when there comes a situation where I do lie, my face gives me away. My mom knows this, and so she was shocked I could maintain an innocent façade throughout the vampire game
2. My mom, as an observer of the game knew I was a vampire throughout the game (other players had their eyes closed when I was “picked” as a vampire by whoever moderates the game). So the fact that she knew I was a vampire and still thought I looked innocent was interesting!

Basically, what my mom was saying is: she could not believe the daughter she raised to be an honest person could lie so well while appearing completely innocent!

Two recent incidents reminded me of this game, and made me ask the questions at the top of this post.

First, was playing Twitter vs. Zombies and watching someone like Jim Stauffer struggle with zombiehood… And others calling themselves non-violent zombie coalition or some such thing. I was not too comfy being a zombie either (though it was more fun than being human) lobbied to create a third species (what ended up being called “chorus”). You’re obviously not a bad or evil person if you embrace zombiehood (Jim eventually did, and stopped being supernice and apologetic about it) and do your thing as part of the game. I mean, that would be silly, right? That’s just the game. It’s really about forming coalitions and using social media and building digital literacy, all while biting people virtually… No one truly gets hurt 🙂

Second, was reading Kim’s #clmooc post about how they played monopoly differently at a retreat and how some people cheated. Why would people cheat when they’re playing for fun?

I can sort of understand (but not endorse, obviously) why someone would cheat on a high-stakes exam, believing that the ends (whatever goal they’d achieve by doing well in the exam) is more important than morality and the means.

I can even understand professional athletes cheating because they feel (wrongly) compelled to.

But I have no idea why people would cheat in a “fun” game! What are the stakes and who cares? On the other hand, it’s a game, so equally: who cares if you cheat?

Back to my earlier question: do things like (harmless) aggression (in sport) or cheating/deception (in games where they are encouraged, part of the rules) actually help us stay peaceful and honest in real life, do they help us purge the “bad” in us? Or do we learn negative behaviors by playing?

I mean, in the same way that we talk about how community building via MOORPGs (someone mentioned this in the #clmooc twitter chat as counter to the more competitive nature of most board games for example) is a good thing, are some of the less positive aspects of gaming a bad thing?

I feel like I am skimming the surface and missing something important here, but can’t put my finger on it… Any ideas?

11 Comments

  1. Much is going around the outside of the maelstrom here. I think the core of it is about play. I highly recommend reading James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games as well as Stuart Brown’s Play. I only know that if you have to win it isn’t play. I will return to this. It’s a fun topic. Perhaps even playful, a game without an end, without winners or losers, just carrying on.

  2. You raise an interesting point that is based in psychology. I do not have enough background in psych to know what drives the human instinct to embrace ‘bad’ behavior, but I have definitely seen nurture (what children see parents doing) have an impact on a child’s decision making. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is an expression that often explains a child’s behavior in some situations. This explains,partially, why your mother was surprised at the vampire game. I wonder when personality traits take a back seat to the basic need to survive. When we are faced with a choice that may result in our behaving badly, when do survival instincts kick in, even if we are only playing a game? I suspect there is ample research on this topic. I know from my own son’s experiences that there can be actual physical (medical) causes of inappropriate aggression. Once diagnosed, these are treatable, but undiagnosed can cause a child to behave in ways he or she would not ordinarily, and are deemed overly aggressive/mean. This topic has so many variables because humans are so complex.

  3. You might argue that some games *depend* on an ability to cheat. Poker, for example. Every time you show a slightly excited face in order to trick the other player into thinking that you’ve got a good hand, when in fact you’ve got dreck, that’s a form of cheating. But it’s allowable cheating; it’s cheating in its right context, if that makes sense.

    • Which is my point, David. Is playing games like that a good outlet for our bad side or does it encourage us to be bad outside the game? 🙂

  4. It’s a good question. I certainly love playing poker though I play it rarely these days. I used to play a lot when I was at university. The stakes were very low because we were students (5p, 10p, that kind of thing, sometimes we’d play for matchsticks) and it always felt delicious when I won. But was I accessing a bad side? I honestly don’t know; it’s quite possible. I never mind losing games, though, so I don’t know what games say about me. I acted in David Mamet’s Prairie du Chien once. I played a crooked card-dealer and I really loved palming cards and cheating so that the audience saw me but my opponent did not. Then he did and he hit me (as part of the play, I should add). So, cheating is exciting.

    • That’s true, cheating is exciting, as are lots of other things we do in games that we shouldn’t be doing outside games (like aggression in sports, esp things like martial Art or boxing). Do we need this outlet? Does playing those games make us better people outside of it, or worse people? It may have no effect, but i have a nagging feeling…because if we say we play certain games with students to promote learning, some direct and some indirect, then we need to question everything about every game we play, because it can have all sorts of effects, some not desirable?

  5. The only problem with the proposition is that it suggests that we would need to find an outlet for a ‘dark’ side of our natures if we stopped playing games; that we would become the equivalent of Freud’s Id let loose; and this is not the case… because we *don’t* smash windows and hurt animals if we can’t play a game of World of Warcraft (or whatever).

    • ahhh I have not read Freud in a while, and it’s your area of research… But am guessing Freud would say it is repressed if we don’t have an outlet for it? But this implies that e.g. Retired boxers have a repressed need to keep boxing people… Possible but probably not true. I don’t know where I was going with this, but I think there’s something interesting about perfectly moral people enjoying being immoral in games/play. Will look up some of the research, am sure am not the first to ask these questions 🙂

  6. I’m engaged in some “line lifting” this morning, where I am stealing lines and phrases and themes from my blogging friends, and building poems around then. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, and allowing me a chance to remix. I do it out of honor for you.
    -Kevin

    My face gives me away
    etched with emotion
    I am an open book
    to all who would read me
    so take care with your pen
    and highlighter, and notice
    how beneath this facade
    there hums a heart that cares
    about the world,
    even if my words seem at odds
    with my eyes.

  7. Pingback: Big games, small games?Reflecting Allowed | Reflecting Allowed

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