The sentiment expressed by Robert de Ropp in his 1968 classic The Master Game was recalled to me by events at the conference I’m attending this weekend. I remember when it sounded rebellious and even a bit naughty.
It has been stated by Thomas Szasz that what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem but games worth playing. He who cannot find a game worth playing is apt to fall prey to accidie, defined by the Fathers of the Church as one of the Deadly Sins, but now regarded as a symptom of sickness. Accidie is a paralysis of the will, a failure of the appetite, a condition of generalized boredom, total disenchantment — “God, oh God, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” Such a state of mind, Szasz tells us, is a prelude to what is loosely called “mental illness,” which, though Szasz defines this illness as a myth, nevertheless fills half the beds in hospitals and makes multitudes of people a burden to themselves and to society.
Seek, above all, for a game worth playing. Such is the advice of the oracle to modern man. Having found the game, play it with intensity — play as if your life and sanity depended on it. (They do depend on it.) Follow the example of the French existentialists and flourish a banner bearing the word “engagement.” Though nothing means anything and all roads are marked “NO EXIT,” yet move as if your movements had some purpose. If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then invent one. For it must be clear, even to the most clouded intelligence, that any game is better than no game.