Zeno of Elea: Patron Saint of Game Designers

Zeno of Elea may be the patron saint of game designers.  Zeno understood that you didn’t need solutions if you knew how to ask the right questions.  So he devised 9 paradoxes that drove people crazy for millennia.

In their most fundamental form, as understood by Combinatorial Game Theorists (which is to say, mathematicians,) games are a question.  These theorists “play” by seeking to solve the games.  Not win, but solve.  The distinction is important.

What places Zeno among the rarest of geniuses is his ideas were not only profound enough to resonate through the ages, they were simple enough that the average person can understand them.

And while it’s a fact that games are, at their core, mathematical in nature, the purpose of games is engagement.

Thus, even the most trivial “game”, such as simple, combinatorial puzzles “ask the right question” to the people who play them.  This extends to any form of game, including what are generally regarded as “mindless”, which only seem mindless but are based on stimulation of the peripheral nervous system, and often, even the brain.

Like Zeno’s paradoxes, the most enduring games all have a common feature which is sometimes referred to as shibui.  A partial list of such games includes: tic-tac-toe (which may be the most widely played game in existence in terms of unique participants, and may go back to the stoneage); Chess, which is still fairly old, and believed to date to the 3rd Century C.E., and has been estimated to have been engaged in by a tenth of the population; and Go, which may be older than Chess by about a thousand years, and has recently been used to validate Machine Learning.

If only Zeno were alive in this age of wonders, who can say what new questions might he be inspired to ask.