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The Game.

By Guest Author RTW

Sometimes life seems like a twisted game.

For those of you who were knocking around before the internet took over our lives, you might know where I’m going with this. Otherwise, only the more cultured of Generation Z or younger might have stumbled across this topic recently. Although the Gen Z demographic has yet to be strictly defined, it’s fair to say that they missed out of some old-school pastimes that their elders look back on with rose-tinted glasses.

Generational history aside, there’s something much more profound that binds humanity together.

Of course, I’m talking about The Game

The true origins of The Game are uncertain, although the concept is derived from the ‘ironic process theory’. This is something you may have come across as the ‘white bear problem’ whereby deliberately trying to suppress thoughts about a subject means they are more likely to surface. By trying to avoid thinking about white bears, it’s much likely that you’ll then imagine them. The same can be said for purple penguins, or other thought experiments which have acted to test ironic process theory.

The Game is a twist on this – one that is equally more morbid and alarmingly beautiful. Possibly originating in England (by Dennis Begley and Gavin McDowall whilst waiting for a train) or by Cambridge students trying to defy game theory – the genius behind The Game remains a mystery. Although many have claimed to be the forefathers, it’s the unknown origin of The Game which further adds to its elusive charm. Nonetheless, the somewhat trivial pursuit arrived and there was no stopping it.

The rules of The Game are simple:

Rule 1: You are playing The Game, along with everyone else in the world.

Rule 2: The objective of The Game is to forget that it exists. Every time you think about The Game, you lose. Loss is temporary; as soon as you forget about The Game you stop losing.

Rule 3: Loss of The Game must be announced. Every time you think about The Game, and hence lose, you must announce the fact.

These are the classical rules as moderated by ‘’ which is probably the most up-to-date website moderating the global phenomenon. Although the site explains “It is unlikely that the true origin of The Game will ever be proven, and as such there are no official rules. As The Game spreads mainly by word-of-mouth, there are numerous variants and interpretations” – which is possibly why The Game evolved and spread so quickly.

The Game is elegant in both its simplicity and the near impossibility of winning.

The rules themselves have gone through numerous elucidations in a somewhat anguish-ridden cry out against the (arbitrary) restrictions that such a simple thought experiment poses. The Game is intangible and elusive, but ever present throughout all our lives as long as the memory of its existence remains – and perhaps beyond. It’s paradoxical nature whereby remembering The Game is to lose the game brings about a frustration as to why it was ever conceived at all. However, there’s much more to this somewhat childish idea than first meets the eye.

I first came across The Game as a school kid. Looking back at its surge in popularity and near instantaneous acceptance amongst the population, I think of it as a contender for the first real ‘dank meme’.

The term ‘meme’ was actually coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’. Dawkins used the concept of a ‘meme’ to be a reflection of biological genes; whereby through natural selection beneficial characteristics are spread through a populations genetic coding. The same can be said for behaviours, cultural ideas, and themes which may spread from person to person – undergoing mutations and selective processes in our society. This is analogous to the genes encoded in DNA, but with selective pressures derived from a more fabricated human environment. As such, memes (or memetics) explores the development and spreading of ideas in an evolutionary context.

However, for most people the term ‘meme’ now refers to the global sensation of the ‘Internet meme’. These were traditionally image macros which acted to share humorous content between creators. Internet memes developed with the spread of the internet, hitting a global high in the ‘golden age of memes’ (commonly quoted from 2003-2007) with a huge surge possibly following the launch of reddit in 2005. Since then internet memes (true to their original definition) have evolved with websites, new user groups, political shifts, and blooming individualistic ideologies. Some have gone as far to say that internet memes are an artform similar to Neo-Dadaism – an art genre known for its expression of discontent with the modern world through portrayal of satirical and nonsensical motifs.

Some internet memes are more popular than others and those with the largest outreach commonly get the medal of ‘dank meme’. The use of this term is an ironic expression to mock hugely trending (viral) memes that have become overused to the point that their comedic value has been lost. Recycling of the concept then results in ‘second layer memes’ where the original content is mocked anew, typically compared with another piece of jargon called ‘layers of irony’. The study of memes, or memetics, is a very interesting way to evaluate the shifts in societal perception of certain ideas, recent activities, and human interaction.

But unlike internet memes, The Game went through this evolution largely without the help of connections through computers. For a game that seemed impossible to win, it was this paradoxical nature which provided the charm needed for its spread and acceptance. Tactics evolved through time. Namely that since it was incredibly difficult to succeed, effort should be placed in making others lose.

The Game itself has actually prompted serious study into the nature of memeory, and the development of associations driving the recall of playing. This was completed by a psychology student from New York called Cory Antiel – under the tongue-in-cheek guise of ‘Gameology’ for the new-found study of The Game. But it wasn’t smooth sailing. Antiel immediately came across problems regarding the Zeigarnik effect. Individuals studied during the month-long research project had to continually log losses when they remembered they were playing. Because of this, focus was placed on recording their defeats, and thus the fact they were playing. Here the Zeigarnik effect takes hold – causing people to remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks.

In their research, Antiel also found something very interesting, and explains the following:

“So while techniques of directed forgetting immediately after Game losses may help minimize consolidation of new episodic associations—which may have the effect of lowering frequency of losses—directed forgetting can not help players to forget The Game all together. It may actually create new associations with concepts surrounding directed forgetting.”

She goes onto quotes William James, a famous American philosopher and psychologist who said in 1890 that;

“The machinery of recall is thus the same as the machinery of association, and the machinery of association, as we know, is nothing but the elementary law of habit in the nerve-centres ... The condition which makes it possible at all (or in other words, the 'retention' of the experience) is neither more nor less then the brain-paths which associate the experience with the occasion and cue of the recall”

In practicality, by recording each time they lost The Game, individuals made a habit of recording their defeats. It was this habit that then prompted that they must recall their defeat, and hence by definition remember they must have been playing. In Antiel’s attempt to study the game, subjects were being trained to lose The Game as they developed associations of The Game with the habitual data recording in the research. The study is made particularly intriguing as the nonsensicality of The Game meant that subjects had almost no prior associations of playing with anything else in their lives. Through encouraging that they record each time they lose (remember) the game, new associations were formed which actually promoted the recall of the game (and hence losing more). By reviewing loss frequency, it was possible to review the development and cementing of new associations in the brain.

Antiel went on to theorize a number of possible explanations for her findings. Most importantly, why that upon teaching yourself to forget an idea, it became progressively more habitual to remember the idea. The Game proved to be a good experiment to expand on the nature of memory itself.

This research culminated in something very important which Antiel describes as “an active tracking of associations – as is especially evident with the loss-cues that were introduced by the experiment.

As The Game is a set of rules and a somewhat abstract concept, forgetting the game must first depend on understanding what The Game is. But because the concept of The Game depends on logical structures of semantic memory, it is difficult to simply forget its existence. Here ‘semantic memory’ refers to the idea of general knowledge, with memory dependent on the experience and culture of the individual. This differs from episodic memory which is our memory of experiences and specific events – both of which are notably easier to forget. Antiel compared forgetting The Game akin to forgetting the meaning of certain words of phrases. This memory was not of things like eating breakfast or cycling to work – but instead an abstract definition of an idea which is much more intangible.

Although The Game might have lost popularity over the past few years (and for good reason), there is another layer to what may appear to be a childish idea. If anything, it has advanced our understanding in the creation of new associations – something which any lucid dreamer should appreciate given how dreams are created around memory-derived relationships.

The Game also reveals the nature of memory in a rather ironic and applied fashion. Perhaps creating the habits like reality checks for lucid dreaming is difficult for a reason – and we should try to forget we’re dreaming instead!


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About the author:

Arty is friendly writer and blogger from the UK. A practiced lucid dreamer, he runs a popular blog under the pseudonym RTW. You can visit his site here: RTW on Tumblr


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