Bernard Suits: the games, life and utopia

Suits describes three types of behaviors associated with “Play games”. On the one hand, the frivolous, which are those who follow the rules but whose movements are not focused on achieving an end since the frivolous may have another purpose in mind, for example, delivering all the pawns to his rival in the game of chess. . This person does not play chess even though he is operating within what Suits calls the “institution” of chess. On the other hand, the cheaters, those who want to reach the end of the game but violating the rules. They operate within the “institution” even though they are not actually playing the game. Finally, the killjoys who recognize neither the rules nor the ends and who in terms of Johan Huizinga They are that “they do not come into play”.

The dialogue between the cicada and her disciples progresses, reaching the conclusion that there are no games without rules and that it is possible to make a distinction between open and closed games. Open games, generally cooperative, are those whose movements have as their purpose the continuous functioning of the system (two people play ping pong with the sole rule of keeping the ball bouncing). On the other hand, closed games, generally competitive, are those that have an end that ends the game (the player gives checkmate and chess ends). This distinction of the games allows Suits to introduce an anthropological and political observation that he appears as a critique of his present capitalist world but also of Soviet Marxism: the cicada explains to his disciple that it is to be expected that, in a future society not oriented by the value of domination, open games will be emphasized. However, there are no signs that Marxists or socialists have an interest in open games or cooperation, rather they are antagonistic to any research on definitions as empty abstractions not exploitable for doctrinal purposes.

The merit of Suits, throughout the dialogues of the work, is to have left some interesting questions for the future where the author foresees that automated machines will do all the productive work and human beings will be faced with the dilemma of either get bored by not having anything meaningful to do, or discover activities that are valuable in themselves. In this context, What would be the life that deserves to be lived, that of the ant or that of the grasshopper? What would a world look like whose foundation is not that of scarcity but that of abundance and plenitude?


The cicada outlines the contours of a utopian world where it is possible to carry out some useful activities but which are at the same time valuable in themselves. That is to say, a world where work and enjoyment find a point of convergence and where things are always done because you want to and never because you should. In this world imagined by Suits, called Utopia, trades would become sports and the bricklayer, being able to build a house by pressing a button on a machine (today houses can be made with 3D printers), would prefer to use less efficient means and unnecessary obstacles. Utopia would be a world where the main institutions would not be economic, moral or political, but those that promote sports and other games.

However, in the last pages of the work, the cicada seems to have a vision and the author becomes a spoilsport when he notices the great value that people attribute to what we call “utility”: most people will not want to spend their life playing games and you will not consider life worthy if you do not believe you are doing something useful, whether it is supporting your family or formulating the theory of relativity. And this is where the fundamental role of the value assigned to utility within Western societies becomes evident. Suits invites us to critically reflect on beliefs such as those of utility which, as Ortega would say, are those that we count on always and without pause, like water for the fish, basic assumptions that dominate our entire existence.

Finally, Suits leaves us with the concern about whether it is not necessary, like the ant, to store games, that is, activities that are valuable in themselves for when a future time arrives, perhaps a winter, where machines eliminate human work and everything it becomes boring. There then we should be able to answer the uncomfortable question of the ant: what did we do during the summer?

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