Games are wonderful things. They help us remove ourselves from the consequences of life, providing challenges and choices that affect us but don’t really matter. Games are abstract. Through them we can learn about life, feel sorrow and joy, without carrying real stakes. Sometimes we add stakes, like in poker, major organized sports, or Magic. But those stakes are artificially constructed, opted into, understandable, and under our control. Games are, in their own way, a safe space.

Politics are real life. The struggle for power and equality is deadly serious. You can’t really avoid the consequences of politics, unless you move to the Alaskan wilderness. I spent a year living in Fairbanks, Alaska, just south of the timber line and very far from the edifices of American society. Many who live there go to get away from government, to live life on their own terms. Of course, life in the Alaskan backcountry is on nature’s terms first and foremost. You can be eaten by a bear, or trampled by a moose, or frozen alive by the deep cold. You can mostly avoid politics out in the bush, if you trade political risks for natural ones, but it’s real life either way.

And yet, despite the real-life consequences, our political culture has been subsumed by games. Who can vote, and when, and for whom; all are manipulated by politicians and parties for their gain. Factions are pitted against one another, sometimes with real debates, but often in an empty tug-of-war of complementary forces. We spend massive energy on political battles, for little tangible gain. Political anger gets burned off negating rival factions.

Why are the Yankees and Red Sox rivals? Because they want the same prize, and battle for it, with the comfort that losing this year motivates to win the next. But why do the Yankees win sometimes, and the Red Sox others? It comes down to numbers, edges, and randomness. One team must win, and celebrate, before we count down the days until the next battle. We feel joy in victory, and sometimes we add some monetary stakes for more abstract excitement. The actual results hardly matter, though painful sports losses often lead to domestic abuse, channeling abstract anger into violence.

When politics becomes a game, we focus on wins and losses, rivalries, bragging rights. But the consequences of elections matter in a big way. We all have friends who are immigrants, minorities, abuse victims, vulnerable outcasts. The stakes of the political game may not matter to many of us, the privileged of society. But our vulnerable friends suffer for our battles. “Are you not entertained?”

I started watching Westworld a few days ago. I’m only three episodes in, but the story obviously parallels the oppression of politics, the entertainment of abusing the powerless. The story is equal parts Spartacus and Frankenstein. I rarely get into TV shows anymore, but I have slowly bought into the Westworld conceit. I haven’t watched since Election Day, though. I need some time before I can enjoy the symbolic oppression on display in that lurid fantasy park. It’s hard enough to watch artificial rape and murder when we haven’t just elected a rapist with the votes of those who cheer for murder.

We would do well to think about why we keep our games abstract, and treat politics seriously. We don’t get a reset button for elections. The consequences are real. We have to live with them, and with the unfortunate souls who lose the political game and suffer. They can’t sit this game out. We should play morally.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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