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  • Writer's picturePeter VanderPoel

It's Just a Game

I've noticed a subtle shift in some of the board games that have made their way into our house. But what seems subtle while we're playing, actually upends the paradigm of the way we think about games and subsequently ties into the discussion of "architectural" vs. "engineering" thinking.

In engineering there is a "correct" answer and a metric to prove it. A solution can be the least expensive, the shallowest, the strongest, etc. All of these can be verified through calculations and testing, and the testing show that it's right or wrong, 1 or 0. The validation of each piece is the validation of the whole. For instance, a truss is a structural member that is made up of individual parts. Those parts are made of a particular material (steel or wood, say)and are shaped a certain way. Each piece and its shape are evaluated for tension, compression, torque, etc., all the stresses that will be applied in the truss's particular use: a bridge, for example. The material's ultimate strength is compared to the calculated stresses. Each piece passes or fails each test. If all pieces pass, then the entire truss passes.

An architectural solution can't be measured as right or wrong, only as "better" or "worse"; there is no absolute. Because architecture is a complex, experiential product that is evaluated as a whole, the individual pieces aren't evaluated on their own but, rather, as an integral part of the whole. Architects have always admired the absolute answers provided by engineering and have come up with phrases to make their ideas seem airtight with such canards as "a machine for living" or "form follows function".

Most games in the past have followed the engineering formula. The rules are set down for all to understand and every aspect of play is measured against it. All moves are legal, or not. There is a winner, all others are losers. That makes the playing field level; everyone follows the rules and no subjectivity creeps in to muddy the results.

Our family has been playing another type of game called Apples to Apples. There are two decks of cards, one red and the other green. The game consists of each player holding 5 cards from the red deck(below). The judge for the round is one of the players who sits out the hand. She flips over a card from the green deck (above) and lays it face up. The players then choose one card in their hand that resonates with the judges card. The judge makes the decision and awards the card to the player whose choice she rules the best. The difference? It's the judges opinion that wins the hand; there isn't a "correct" answer as defined in the instructions. Sometimes irony wins.

Is it subjective? I suppose it is. But "subjectivity" is not the same as "random". Most players during most of the hands will agree with the decision of the judge. Why? Because they are immersed in the same culture which forms a shared "subjectivity". The game trades on "meaning", not the meaning of the individual words, but the meaning as it is understood in our culture.


which card did you pick?

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