Tag Archives: games theory

The Purpose of the Game: MLB, the WBC, and the psychological role of baseball

A game and The Game

A part of the game, not The Game

A part of the game, not The Game

For the purposes of the forthcoming discussion, I am outlining a distinction between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the game of baseball (the Game). MLB is a business-type operation, the premier baseball league in the world, and the focal point of American baseball culture. The Game, on the other hand, is the width and breadth of baseball, with all its historic and present-day implications; The Game includes the minor leagues, college baseball, Little League,  coaches, the best players and the worst at every level, tee ball or over 40 leagues; The Game includes fans, writers, historians, bloggers, fantasy players, statisticians. The Game includes even, yes, Major League Baseball.

A shock, I know, but it bears reminding that MLB is a subsection of the greater universal Game. To push even further: MLB serves the Game. Without the latter, there is no former. And the psychologically healthly standing of the Game only improves that of MLB. There are those who would consider themselves keepers of the Game, I imagine, but  few can truly claim ownership of such an unquantifiable solar system. An old sportswriter protecting the sanctity of the Hall of Fame has as much jurisdiction over the the Game as a City Councilman does over the Milky Way.

In our time, there is a mega-focus on the MLB. It is an understandable obsession, and one that I take part in myself. But right now our viewfinder is trained close enough on MLB to render other robust baseball culture centers across the country and world into an extended MLB scouting network. We talk about Japanese players jumping to MLB and we say that the Japanese leagues are somewhere near the equivalent of Triple-A; MLB academies (recent closings aside) pepper the Dominican and Venezuela; a couple of Indian guys who’ve thrown only javelins sign with the Pirates.  My quick overview and gross generalization captures the essence I think of the general attitude in American baseball culture, by which I mean the treatment of baseball cultures outside of the MLB as servants of the MLB. Again, it is understandable that the world’s most competitive league would garner the most attention.

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Marshall McLuhan and the games we play

Games are: “faithful models of a cultures.” [MM]

Who is Marshall McLuhan? He would resist any particular definition, I imagine, and he’d be happy to exist in multitudinous ranges of expression, as a medium himself. He is a student of media theory, questioning the ways in which we translate information and culture through media. Media being the translators, the conduits of Idea. Go look him up yourself, and read the book of his that I read most of.

“Games are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions.” [MM]

Games, so says MM, echo the mechanisms of the workaday lifestyle in their heirarchies and competitions and rules, &tc. But games are not the working life because in games we can question what we do, and burn it up from the inside. The tensions that we release are the same that we recreate. To play, he states, we have to become puppets of collective demand.

The professional athlete, he claims, is pointless. When the game is the work, there is nothing for the game to emulate. There is no distance for the professional athlete between what he does for a living and what he does for fun. Do athletes start their businesses as a way to escape their working lives. With all their millions, do they in fact invert the usual model of tension relief? For the pro athlete, a business is the emulation of the business of sport. The only way to escape an endless game is to become somehow very serious, to cross the social wires again and again in a tangle of commerce and heirarchy.

If the grass is always greener: the working man plays games, and the gaming man plays work.

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