Fried Art presents: Games People Play (a group exhibition of South African Artists)
Preview on Thursday 17 June at 18h30 by Dr Franco Colin
Music by Bongi Nthombeni
June 2010, the ears are numbed by the cacophony of vuvuzelas in the crowded South African soccer stadiums. What’s happening on the field is what does justice to the idea of GAME. Yet, such formalised games are often only a mild version of the kind of games that are played out in the human arena of political, social, personal and business games, agendas and encounters. These games are ongoing; there’s plenty at stake and much tug of war.
During the 1960s, game theory became a popular study of the way in which human beings operate and compete especially in the fields of computer science, politics, agriculture and economics. Game theory has proven instrumental in understanding how and why decisions are made. Games People Play (1964), a groundbreaking pop psychology book by Eric Berne, introduced the notion of such human gaming based on Freud’s psychodynamic model, particularly the ego states, as a psychology of human interactions called “transactional analysis”. According to Berne, games are ritualistic transactions or behaviour patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions. In a general sense it can be argued that human encounters involve mind games in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of “transactions” that are superficially conceivable, but sometimes could mask hidden agendas. Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) came to the view that within each person were three selves or “ego states” which often contradicted each other. They were characterized by the attitudes and thinking of a parental figure (Parent); the adult-like rationality, objectivity and acceptance of the truth (Adult); and the stances and fixations of a child (Child). The three selves correspond loosely to Freud’s superego (Parent), ego (Adult) and id (Child). Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) further argued that we teach our children all the pastimes, rituals and procedures they need to adapt to the culture and get by in life, and spend a lot of time choosing their schools and activities, yet we don’t teach them about games, an unfortunate but realistic feature of the dynamics of every family and institution. The book spawned a well-known song by the same title written, composed and performed in 1968 by singer/song-writer Joe South.
During the eighteenth century, a game called “stag hunt “was developed by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This game, also known as the assurance game, involves making a choice between individual safety and risky cooperation and involves the idea that two hunters who must decide whether to hunt a hare alone or a stag together. ‘Arguably, the stag hunt describes the ethical dilemma of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Roughly: The world would be better off without the bomb, but we have to try to build it because our enemy will. Better we have the bomb than our enemy; better both sides have the bomb than just our enemy’ (Poundstone [s.a.]).
In an interview with Arthur Holmberg, Milan Kundera (1985) stated: ‘ … playing games is an important source of pleasure. Real life is linked to a series of deceptions. It disappoints us with its futility. But when we consciously play games, as on stage, we already know that the game is not serious. Thus, the tragic futility of life becomes the joyous futility of play. In totalitarian regimes one quickly learns the importance of humor. You learn to trust or mistrust people because of the way they laugh. The modern world frightens me because it’s rapidly losing its sense of the playfulness of play.’ The playing of games can provide various satisfactions: aggressive and masochistic; expectant readiness with contempt of danger and consequent mastering of situations; repeated endurance of symbolic castration with resurrection of potency when one wins (Stokes 1956).
Accordingly, the “games” people play form the core of the subject matter in the works on display in Games people play. The artworks on exhibition comment on the playing of games through a patterned and often predictable series of “transactions” that might not be superficially conceivable, but mask secret motives, feelings or emotions. Similarly, there are many word games, echoed in the game of the “language” of the artwork that is open-ended and often cloaked in metonymy. The philosopher Wittgenstein maintained that words have a “family” of usages and resemblances: the word “game”, for example, could indicate board games, card games, virtual gaming or soccer games. Such games do not hold a single critical mutual attribute, but rather possess common characteristics and similarities.
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Butler-Bowden, T. 2007. 50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do: Insight and inspiration from 50 key books. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007 . [O] Available: http://knol.google.com/k/games-people-play#. Accessed 14 June 2010.
Poundstone, W [s.a.]. Excerpts from Prisoner’s Dilemma. [O] Available: http://www.heretical.com/pound/staghunt.html. Accessed 14 June 2010.
Stokes, A. 1956. Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXVII:185-192.
Kundera, M. 1985. Interview with Arthur Holmberg. Performing arts journal, Volume 9, 1:25-27.