“Everyone alive is in fact engaged in playing elaborate games, while at the same time believing themselves to be going about their ordinary affairs…..Whatever occupation or activity you can think of, it is in reality a game.” – Bernard Suits
The opening of the grasshopper begins with the death of the grasshopper from Aesop’s Fables. However, in this tale he is the hero, not a figure to be pitied; a prophet who is describing things to come.
Just before his death he tells the story of a recurring dream in which he has two disciples, Practicus and Skepticus. It is the mystery of what the dream means that fills the rest of the book.
Skepticus recounts the discussions he had with the grasshopper throughout the summer in an attempt to solve the riddle of the dream. In doing so Skepticus and the grasshopper debate the definition of games and their ultimate importance.
Written in the style of a traditional Socratic dialogue, mixed with parables to illustrate the main points, it is a fascinating read. It slowly builds up its definition of games, and then subjects it to as many counter arguments as it can to test its robustness.
It arrives at the first definition of games which has gone on to influence the works of many others. The book is not satisfied with this achievement however. Instead, it goes on to ask, what if the summer never ended? What if the grasshopper had not been fated to die, but instead, we as a society had managed to conquer all the problems of producing a Utopia? What if we had created a never ending summer?
What is it we could possibly do to make our existence in such a scenario bearable?
The answer is that the only thing we could actually engage in would be games. From this position the grasshopper concludes that
…the games we play in our non-Utopian lives are intimations of things to come. For even now it is games which give us something to do when there is nothing to do. We thus call games ‘pastimes,’ and regard them as trifling fillers of the interstices in our lives. But they are much more important than that. They are clues to the future. And their serious cultivation now is perhaps our only salvation. That, if you like, is the metaphysics of leisure time.
Anyone who is seriously interested in philosophy, game design, human interactions, or the theories of utopia have got to read this book. However it is approachable and enlivening enough for the layman.