Cooperate or compete – a dichotomous key in the Tree of All Games. Having little desire in my heart to prove myself against others, preferring instead to celebrate the accomplishments of my companions, I’ve had nothing but love for the cooperative game for as long as memory serves. Beyond taste or preference, I believe this is due to a deeper compulsion. The cooperative game, I put it to you, is a higher form of play, predicated by its lesser, necessary ancestor: survival. In cooperation we all succeed or fail as one, beauty of being in either consequence. It is a subversion of the instinctual mechanism of self-congratulatory egoism and dominance. In it, we may observe all the striven-for virtues of humankind without need of heroism and vilification. Compassion, selflessness, devotion, courage, empathy, modesty, patience, respect, thankfulness, humility, understanding, unity, compassion, kindness, generosity, forgiveness – as if on the cooperative compass floats a needle that avoids the magnetic poles to point true north.
In competition, we sate our pangs for success by equating it to overcoming others, to besting our brethren. There are winners and so must there be losers – heroes and villains – the righteous and the unworthy. The price of personal success: another’s failure. Balanced at the surface, akimbo at its core, playing against each other sows some insidious vices. Defeated, we may punish ourselves and submit to indentured inferiority. Enraged, we may retaliate and trade reason for blindness. Pedestaled, we may begin to believe in our own divinity, making idols of ourselves. Exalted, we cast shadows over others in oppressive indifference. Fun, that riotous celebration of life, is not in the winning. Fun is playing together. It resides in the process, not in the end points of agency.
In cooperation, we play against the game itself. Its virtual rules challenge us to best it, to overcome indifference and unite in strategy and force. It is a barn raising. It is a dead lift that is as light as a feather. It is a society post-privilege. In cooperative games the weak link is not a single person but a failure to unite – together we are not a weighted chain of snapping links, but a gravity made stronger by every union. When it is time to cast our paper balls at the rubbish bin, those in front control the turn of the key in the Tree of All Games; turn it backward to win against those behind – or turn it forward in assistance, serve the alley-oop, where even if you’ve lost, you’ve won.
Let us play more together. For that I am always game.
“A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.”