Monday, March 05, 2007

Yes, that's a Q

I was looking at Shawn's posts on Wittgenstein at Words and Other Things (see previous post), and I ran across this one, which is short enough to reproduce here in its entirety:
I wonder what Wittgenstein would think about Calvin ball. Calvin ball is a game invented by Calvin of the Calvin and Hobbes comic. The only rule to Calvin ball is that there are no rules. What counts as a move in the game? Pretty much anything. But, is this a problem? If anything counts as a move, does nothing count? I'm inclined to say no. There are not conflicting rules or conflicting interpretations being appealed to. There aren't distinguishing rules being appealed to either. Wittgenstein would probably think that there is too little structure to the "game" for it to count as a game.
This gets Calvinball slightly but importantly wrong. It's not that there are no rules; it's that they make them up as they go along (and that they never play it the same way twice). But once a rule is made up, it's a rule (at least for now). When Calvin touches (what Hobbes, making the rule up on the spot, then reveals to be) the Pernicious Poem Place, Calvin still takes himself to be bound by the newly invented rule to recite, to his chagrin:
This is a poem! Please do as you're told!
And this is a bucket of water, ice-cold!
Please take this water, and dump it on me!
Don't hesitate! Do it A.S.A.P.!
After Susie complies, Calvin subsequently indicates, damply, that he takes Hobbes to be bound by this rule as well ("just you wait").

And anyway, even if there "were no rules," that doesn't mean it's not a game, even for Wittgenstein (and his point here, of which more later). They're still playing, after all; and they do distinguish playing from non-playing (games begin and end). They keep score, too (one game is Q to 7 at one point, I believe).


Shawn said...

I didn't go back through the archives of Calvin and Hobbes to double check the Calvinball set up. I think the actual game that you described is more interesting than the one I did. Asking whether a game with no rules really constitutes a game probably won't get that far. But, inquiring into a game whose rules change as you go, that seems more interesting. That sort of game seems to break the mold of the language games that Wittgenstein describes since the rules for those games are established. In most games, everyone knows what counts as playing and what counts as violating the rules. But for Calvinball, it seems like there is a liitle more flexibility; violating some rules in the future might count as establishing new rules. In a way, Calvinball seems closer to the operation of language in its everyday functioning as opposed to the restricted language games in that the rules can and do change as you go.

I'll have to go back through some of the strips to see what they say about Calvinball. I'm really interested in the score-keeping. I wonder how one would keep score if the rules change as you go... Clearly, there needs to be more philosophical attention aimed at Calvin and Hobbes.

Ben W said...

The game is actually scored "7 to Q", I think.

At one point Calvin says that the only rule is that it can't be played the same way twice. I don't know that, when Calvin touches the Pernicious Poem Place, it's because there was a rule about PPPs. "Just you wait" doesn't mean that Hobbes will be hoist by his own petard; it could mean that Calvin's going to get him in some other way.

But in the very strip involving "7 to Q" (or another strip in which an equally hard to parse score is announced) they do refer to some rules, I think.

Duck said...

Shawn, Ben, thanks for your comments. I certainly agree that this important topic deserves more philosophical consideration; and clearly we all could benefit from closer attention to the authoritative texts. (At the moment I can only locate Something Under the Bed is Drooling and Revenge of the Baby-Sat, neither of which seem to have any Calvinball strips in them on a quick look.)

I don't think they ever comment much on the scoring. Besides the one where, uh, one has 7 and the other Q, the only other one I can think of has it as "oogy to boogy". Mostly it's the rules they argue about (accompanied by fisticuffs and insults like "chowderhead").

As I recall it, the PPP strip is a daily, and goes like this: (1) Dour-faced Calvin, masked in his Calvinball mask, lugs a bucket of water into the frame, startling Susie, who is drawing on the sidewalk or something. (2) He recites the Poem; I think Hobbes is watching by now, with a "who, me?" look on his face. (3) Susie gets up, a look of devilish intent marring her features, as Calvin prepares himself. (4) We do not see the act of dumping itself; in the final frame I think Hobbes makes one of his "clever" remarks (or maybe just "I love playing Calvinball!" or some other explanatory comment) as he flees the dampened Calvin, who yells "Just wait until you touch the PPP!" (I had paraphrased Calvin's retort.) If this is right, I think Calvin is taking the rule's scope to continue beyond the present (of course, it is perhaps a different Poem that Hobbes must recite; although I think we only ever see Calvin himself come to grief.) I also think there's another one in which Calvin attempts to apply to Hobbes a rule which Hobbes has just applied to him; but unfortunately Hobbes has just declared it to be Opposite Day, so it (the rule's application) bounces back to Calvin again. Clearly more research is indicated.

I think you're right that Calvin claims at one point that the only rule is (not that there are no rules, but) that the game not be played the same way twice. This seems unsatisfactory, as elsewhere they talk about rules constantly. I'll get back to this.