Improvisation Blog: Games and Cells – Mark Johnston


Improvisation Blog: Games and Cells

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Games and Cells

A game is another name for a conversation. When people play together, or talk together, they are creating a game which lives through their participation. The ‘playing’ is the dynamic which maintains the boundary of the game, just as the internal and external processes of a cell maintain its boundary with its environment. Games are like cells.

Like all whole systems, there is a meta-system which maintains the integrity of the whole. Games have rules, and rules are determined by the meta-system. The game lives as a viable entity because of the dynamic relationship between the rules of the game and the play. The rules might be thought of as a meta-game.

The relationship between the meta-game and the game is very much like the relationship between the shifts of entropy in play, and the shifts of maximum entropy of possible moves. Maximum entropy determines the maximum amount of disorder available to the game – in effect this relates to the maximum moves allowed by the rules at any point. The entropy of play relates to the constraints (rules) imposed by the metasystem. Both the rules and the play can evolve. 

This is rather like the game “Nomic”, where moves in the game change the rules.

There is an interesting question as to when a game comes to an end: the constraints produced by the meta-system mean that the entropy of play is zero. 

If a conversation or dialogue is a game, then they can come to a pause, but somehow the “talk” goes on in other ways.  The pause in a game is also the result of the entropy of play hitting zero – at least within a particular frame of play. The rules of a game can enforce this pausing-zeroing – like the games and sets in tennis, or timed halves in football. Their purpose is to impose pattern on the sequence of events, so as to set up the conditions for an eventual ending. 

In education, summative assessment does the same thing: it sets up the conditions for an ending of the game. Appeals, mitigations, etc, open the thing up again, but this too is demarcated to create a pattern which is designed to come to an end.

Formative assessment, by contrast, is the actual “playing” of the game. 


Improvisation Blog: Games and Cells