I’ve told you I’m a realist. But that’s not the whole story. Reality is too hard to face all the time. That (I presume) is why we have sleep and dreams. But even when I’m awake, I like to think of life as a game.
Games create their own reality. Within the game, nothing outside it matters. Of course, there are many kinds of games – and there don’t always have to be winners and losers. But the essential feature of a game world is that it is distinct from the “outside” non-game world.
I remember having this feeling, strangely enough, in a courtroom, where I realized that a trial is a kind of game, which has its own very strict rules. It was the first and last time I ever had to sue anybody. As you might expect, the case was over an unauthorized commercial use of some of my copyrighted epigrams. The judge was on his bench, and both sides were represented by lawyers. But, up to a certain point, it was uncertain whether or not there would be a “settlement.” There was back-and-forth conversation about this between the lawyers, in ordinary language. Then the point was reached at which it became clear that the other side was unwilling to settle. This meant that there would now be a trial.
All this was new to me, but I could sense that the atmosphere was changing, and we were going into “trial mode.” The language changed into a very formal kind of “legalese.” I didn’t know the rules of this game – but it was obvious that very strict rules were being followed. There was no jury, but under these rules, not only the lawyers but also the judge, who was also a kind of referee, was allowed to question the witnesses. (The one question he asked me was about an eminent critic whose praise of my work I had quoted in my first book – “Did you pay him?” – to which of course I was proud to state “No.”)
Another kind of game people play is actually called a “play.” It goes by other names, such as “drama,” or “performance,” but what’s essential is that it’s not “real” – the participants are “actors.” When it’s over, they return to the world outside the game. Of course, we all know that Shakespeare had a lot of fun with this concept, telling us that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” but then I think he took it too far, trying to personify each of seven arbitrarily-chosen “ages” as particular characters, such as “the schoolboy, with satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail, unwillingly to school.” It’s a beautiful depiction, but hardly representative of all the children in the world – even less in his time than in ours.
The fact is that all the world is not a stage – that’s why we need stages (or movies) – to turn reality into a game of “Let’s Pretend.” But “play” is not only a matter of games and performances. According to the psychologists, play is an essential part of becoming human. One of the first playful ways to amuse your new offspring is to give him or her the sensation of falling, and then being safely caught and held in loving arms. Similar delights are subsequently provided with swings and merry-go-rounds and seesaws.
As for playing with each other, children have always enjoyed devising games of pretense, games of competition, and games of mimicry. When I visited the equivalent of a kindergarten in China, what most interested me was a game the children were being taught, in which each one of them was a vehicle on a highway, and had a little toy truck or car. They were all trying to reach a certain goal – but when one of them had a “motor breakdown,” the others were taught, not to take advantage of this opportunity to surge ahead, but to stop and help the “driver” who was in trouble.
And in case you’re wondering about that court trial: having heard both sides, the judge retired to his chambers, and, after an agonizing interval, he emerged with a judgment entirely in our favor. Since this was a federal court, it solidly established the validity of my copyrights. And, since this game was being played for money, there was an award of $18,000, which I actually received in full. (Brilliant v. W.B Productions, US District Court, L.A., Civil Action CV791893 WMB. 10/22/79).