WRITING 143: GAMES WE PLAY, 1

All human activities are games. They are the games we play with others, ourselves, or the nature. Some games have clear defined rules, purposes, and scopes; others are open and evolving. Some are mandatory and inescapable; others are optional. Some are consequential, setting the paths/directions for future games; others are entertaining.

Which games we play and how we play them, one can argue, make what we are. Indeed, every society has its set of core games—e.g., in the forms of religion, military exercise, sports, schooling—-the games that instill values, build characters, forge identities, and spread influences. For an individual, it seems, the early games he plays often has a profound impact on the trajectory of his future life.

Education is one such game. In a modern society, few can afford staying out. Because of its ubiquity, education game serves at least two purposes. First, it helps to produce functional citizens, including civil participation and productivity. Second, it sorts people into different professions.

Despite their diverse characteristics, these games actually have much in common. Indeed, in the last four decades, economists have been trying to tease out their common cores—game theory—the mathematics of strategic interactions.

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