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life==game metaphor

abstract to Marvin K. L. Ching’s Games and Play: Pervasive Metaphors in American Life

An underlying metaphor for life in the United States is “LIFE IS PLAYING A GAME.” Metaphors of games and play pervade our discourse in explaining phenomena in diverse realms of life for several reasons. Using Caillois’s (1979) typology of games, games of agn (skill) with some alea (chance), this study shows that such metaphors are frequently used because they are consonant with our culture’s prototypical person, as shown by linguistic concepts inherent in the phrase “game player” and with our culture’s assignment of prototypicality to masculinity. Second, because of the wide repertoire of games from which we draw metaphors–even what Caillois considered nonprototypical cultural ideal games, such as games of ilinx (disequilibrium and destruction) and mimicry (acting and the theater)–games and play as metaphors are elastic in incorporating diverse ideas in many unconnected realms of life. Such metaphors thus simplify life’s disparate experiences through one explanation, sometimes reflecting a reality that already exists and at other times making a cultural criticism, as in Berne’s (1964) “sick games.” Moreover, these metaphors are widespread because they perform multiple speech acts in one condensed form. Widespread use of such metaphors not only blurs the distinction between reality and games and play but also provides a specific framework for responding to situations because a game has a narrative structure that can be read, like Barthes’s five codes used to read fictive literature.

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Categories: metaphor
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