Skip to content

Roles, Titles, Names, and Fatherhood

In Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse defines some dichotomies other than finite vs. infinite in order to speak more clearly to real life situations, particularly things that fall outside of what we normally call a game (recreational, relatively inconsequential pastimes) but can still be understood with a broad enough definition.  Things like war and romance. I find that thinking of these aspects of life in terms of games is not a purely intellectual exercise. It helps me make sense of real-life things and events, provides a neat way to discuss ideas with others, and I think that how we live life influences the kind of smaller games we play and those in turn loop back and influence how we live.

One of these dichotomies he draws is between the theatrical and the dramatic. Like finite and infinite, one of these is not better or more important than the other. We are both of these things in everyday life. Theatre is analogous to the finite: there is a beginning, a sequence of events, and an outcome. Drama, in this context, is analogous to the infinite: it is not confined to specific points in time or specific outcomes. Theatre is dramatic while you are experiencing it, because the outcome is not yet known. Once the actions have been taken and can be fixed into a narrative or a script it becomes theatre. In order to play theatrically, a person assumes a role. In order to play dramatically, a person does or becomes the role.

For example, last Sunday was Father’s Day in Canada. In order for the designated celebration day to be about more than increasing sales figures for greeting cards, fashion accessories, and hardware store gift certificates it is necessary for us to wonder what a father is and why we should celebrate that. It is abundantly clear that siring offspring does not qualify a man as a father. The men we celebrate are often stepfathers, adoptive fathers, or other father figures. To be celebrated as a “real” or “true” father a man must assume the role of father and all that entails. When a man has, as a matter of record, met the expectations and obligations associated with the role this is theatre. The fathers and stepfathers who do this well are winning in finite play. They receive the title of father, while those who fail to meet the standard are said to be undeserving of the title. A title is only as good as it is recognized and deferred to by other people. Our society ensures this by attaching powers to and celebrating that title. That is what we did on Sunday the 19th. We, as a society, reinforced a theatrical role. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at all, as long as we are aware of what we are doing. Perhaps it was most appropriate then, that my brother and I celebrated this with our father by attending a movie at a theatre.

Mother and father are titles; mom and dad are names.

In section 25 of Finite and Infinite Games, Carse introduced the infinite and dramatic counterpart to the title: the name. When you address a man as dad that is not a title, it is a name. It is not something that can be won or lost. It does not matter than you may be the only human being in existence who refers to a particular man by that name. It carries no inherent power, as any power that man may have in your life depends entirely on the level at which you recognize his title of father. We don’t celebrate the name of dad on Father’s Day, we celebrate the title of father. That makes sense because the sort of things we do on those designated celebration days are often more theatrical than dramatic. To celebrate someone’s name is not to have a specific day, it is to use that name in everyday life. I celebrate the name of dad simply by calling him that and engaging in the drama (the word drama itself derived from the Greek word for action) of being his son. That can mean different things to different people, but again I think we do well to recognize how we honour our dads in the dramatic as well as the theatrical. The drama and the theatre are linked, but distinct.

So, that’s how I see fatherhood in terms of playing games. It’s not something that is normally thought of as a game, but the celebration of fatherhood becomes more meaningful to me to recognize the limitations of our societal recognition of a title and to see that there is much more to it than that. We can look at many other roles and aspects of life in a similar way, and discover more about what we’re really doing when we use a name or recognize and defer to a title.

Published inDefinitionsPhilosophy

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *