To understand, according to Mr. Gurdjieff, where games can go wrong, besides the previously mentioned depriving of children of time to play games or depriving oneself of work-rest balance, one must understand where humans can go wrong (and have gone wrong).
The same problems experienced in life are the same problems experienced in games, only on a smaller scale. This difference in scale can be used to one’s advantage—one can use games to learn about oneself and others to understand the basic problems of humanity in a limited and relatively safe environment. Some of these problems are detailed here in brief.
When I would play board games, if I lost, I would become resentful. When I won, I would silently admire myself.
When a friend of mine won, he would brag of his prowess and superior intellect, and when he lost, he would flip the board in anger.
The first problem, according to Mr. Gurdjieff, is the hereditary and acquired patterns of harmful human weaknesses and compulsive behaviors unworthy of human beings that are fixed in them, such as egoism, pride, vanity, self-love, self-conceit, envy, jealousy, swaggering, bragging, arrogance, greed, hate, cowardice, partiality, laziness and so on. There are numerous other harmful behaviors than the ones I’ve listed, but these tend to come up most in the context of games.
In Beelzebub’s Tales, he calls these “the crystallized consequences of the properties of the maleficent organ Kundabuffer“, one of the major themes of Mr. Gurdjieff’s writings.
When I lost a game, I would say to myself something like, “It was unfair that I lost—by all accounts I should have won, and no doubt it was either bad luck or my opponents were cheating.” Therefore I had every right to sulk.
Or I had every right to quietly admire myself—after all, “I played with superior skill and strategy—none of that could have been by luck.”
The second problem are behaviors that calm those unpleasant feelings and thoughts that arise when one engages in those regrettable compulsive behaviors or avoid real responsibilities. In Beelzebub’s Tales, he calls this “their inner ‘Evil-God,’ called ‘Self-Calming.’” (p. 105) The calming make the fixed patterns of harmful behaviors one engages in all but invisible to oneself—and as a result, others can see one’s behavior better than oneself.
There are different “styles” of self-calming, for example, earlier, I was justifying, making excuses for myself, but there are many other ways one avoids feeling the sting of any self-criticism.
Sometimes just playing games can be self-calming—if one is doing them to escape any feelings of remorse or responsibility.
3. Abnormal conditions
The third problem relate to the external conditions around us that inculcate and reinforce the indulging of one’s weaknesses, putting one’s responsibilities on anybody else but oneself, and externally assuaging any pricks to our conscience. In Beelzebub’s Tales, he calls these “the abnormal conditions of ordinary being existence established by them themselves.” Everything outside ourselves teaches us and reinforces in us false ideals, inverted values, and repeated harmful behaviors. But the conditions are so ubiquitous that one may not even recognize them as abnormal.
The fourth problem is where the activity itself becomes a problem. Mr. Gurdjieff writes in Beelzebub’s Tales (p. 432-448) that playing particular kinds of games, that is, sports, causes premature physical breakdown—this can be verified easily by looking at the shorter lifespan or poor physical health of post-career sports athletes, notoriously in wrestling, boxing, rugby, American football, and so on—or that there is a whole branch of medicine devoted entirely to the treatment of sports-related injuries.
It is one thing to keep the body fit; it is another to wear it out purposelessly—especially when our lifespans are already so short—and we need a physical body for one’s spiritual development.
Sometimes in roleplaying games, when a player’s character dies, they become upset at the loss of the fictional role they had assumed.
The fifth problem, and a key leading out of one’s situation, is a lack of a persistent, impartial, and independent observer in oneself (Beelzebub’s Tales p. 1189-1236). Without it, one identifies with all of the above factors and more and take them all to be oneself, rather than harmful factors to be worked upon or real functions that should be subservient to an individuality independent of them.
It is like we are a player of a roleplaying game and have forgotten that we are players playing the role of a character. We take ourselves to be the character. This would seem like madness, if everybody else wasn’t also similarly conditioned.
To break this conditioning, it takes persistent effort with the help of others who know the way. Without this, one is merely making adjustments to one’s conditioning.