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A common function of games is to provide a means of overcoming social restrictions, at least in fantasy. Many games place the player in a role that would not be socially acceptable in real life, such as a pirate or a thief. An excellent (albeit extreme) example of this is the game CRUSH, CRUMBLE, AND CHOMP by Automated Simulations. In this game the player is cast as a 1950 svintage monster going on a rampage through his favorite city. He stomps on police cars, crushes buildings, swats helicopters, and creates general mayhem. The box art shows a monster about to attack an IRS building as terrified citizens flee. This represents an extreme case of anti-social behavior made acceptable by the safety of the game. Sometimes the player s role is itself socially acceptable, but the actions taken are discouraged in real life. MONOPOLY encourages players to engage in what the Federal Trade Commission delicately calls "predatory trade practices." Wargames encourage players to start and win wars. Some games address sexual matters, allowing players to indulge in make-believe behavior that they could never exhibit in the real world. The most telling example of this nose-thumbing phenomenon lies in the arcade games. These games emphasize violence, and lots of it. The theme is almost universal in arcades: destroy somebody. The coup de grace is not delivered discreetly or elegantly. On the contrary, the victim is dispatched with the most colorful animated explosion possible. Like a Sam Peckinpah movie,
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the violence is the whole point and purpose of the enterprise. Yet, even as we pander to these distasteful emotions, we delicately mask them in less offensive garb. We never, never obliterate human beings; instead, we vaporize ugly space monsters. The monsters have perpetrated some odious interstellar crime, so the player is cast as the defender, the protector, or the avenger. The case is often presented that the game represents a time of extreme crisis ("THE FATE OF HUMANITY IS AT STAKE!!!"). This heightens the player s sense of urgency; it also conveniently justifies the use of extreme violence, thereby allowing the player to have violence without guilt. The player can thumb his nose at social strictures and engage in violence and mass murder without risking censure. The game provides a safe way to thumb one s nose.
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Another function of games is as a means of demonstrating prowess. All games support this motivation to a greater or lesser degree. Many game-playing communities sponsor tournaments or player ratings. Arcade games support this function by recording and displaying the initials of the top-scoring players. There are also players who carry this to extremes. Their prime goal is not merely to win, but to beat somebody, preferably somebody worth beating. Chess has an unusually high concentration of such sharks; so do wargames. A common question asked during a wargame is "Are you playing for blood or for fun " Such players normally prefer games that allow their skill to be properly brought to bear, so they tend towards games in which chance plays a minimal role. Despite this concentration of such players in deductive logic games, almost all games have sharks preying on the playful players. When a shark plays for serious rewards (e.g., social dominance) and -takes serious risks of failure, the crucial element of safety is eliminated from the game, and the game ceases to be a game; it becomes a conflict. Inasmuch as all games have the potential for being played in an overly competitive way, some people who are especially sensitive to the social risks of game-as-conflict refuse to play games, for they do not perceive the games to be safe. If they do play, they prefer to play games of pure chance, not so much to disable or discourage the shark as to create a situation in which winning is patently unrelated to prowess. If winning is arbitrary, social risk is eliminated and safety is restored. It is impossible to design a game that is unalterably safe (i.e., invulnerable to sharks) without resorting to pure chance as the sole determinant of victory. If the game in any way allows individual prowess to affect the outcome, then the outcome is perceivable as a reflection of individual prowess. In most games, safety from social risk is conferred onto the game by the attitudes of the players, the willingness to say, "It s only a game."
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