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A “Simon Says” World

Brent H. Cameron is a Senior Advisor with Concierge Strategies, and a local councillor in Ontario, Canada. The second edition of his book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization” is available now on Amazon worldwide. He can be found on Twitter at @BrentHCameron

Games and sport have long been recognized as having a purpose beyond the obvious. Everyone will recognize the physical benefits of such activity, but its value in developing social skills and aptitudes is often less appreciated.

The value of teamwork, cooperation and the honing of interpersonal skills are – we are told – crucial for the development of happy and strong adult personas – resilient to the vagaries of life and able to master adversity. You learn to work well with others, play by the rules, and even if you do not win you can take pride in the honest effort. You take your lumps and are – hopefully – the wiser for it.

Of course, organized team sports have gotten a bad rap as of late. Whether it be the cost of enrollment and equipment, the danger of physical harm, or the not-too-subtle inference that it encourages undesirable and aggressive tendencies, there are those who openly disapprove of these activities. 

Notwithstanding the criticisms, what if we were to solely focus on the socialization aspect of games – teaching young people how to interact with the broader world – and dispense with the brutish state of play? For those wishing to jettison the existing selection of sports for all manner of reason, yet have an activity that perfectly encapsulates the values and ethics of society in 2020, I would like to humbly suggest an alternative – competitive “Simon Says”.

In many ways, “Simon Says” is the logical ‘fin de siècle’ pastime to teach navigating modern group dynamics, while avoiding the physical dangers of many other activities.

First, it is non-contact, so there is no threat of a concussion, sprain, or other injury. Second, it is perfectly accessible to all participants at any age, level of skill or ability. Beyond that, it perfectly reflects the skillset needed to be a successful adult in today’s world. Master the gameplay of “Simon Says” and the world is your oyster.

For those unfamiliar with the game’s rules, it consists of any number of players, with one being designated as ‘Simon’. ‘Simon’ barks out a series of commands, prefaced with the words “Simon says…” The other players stay in the game by carrying out the instructions. If ‘Simon’ barks out a command without saying “Simon says,” and you do it, you are disqualified and banished from the game. The winner, of course, is the one who performs all the “Simon says” branded tasks while avoiding the unsanctioned demands, thus outlasting their competitors.

In the children’s game, the object of the game for the player is to avoid being called out, while the incentive of the ‘Simon’ is exactly the opposite – to catch people out, to weed out and disqualify the others kids.

They intermix commands in such a way as to not belie any pattern for the players to follow. When “Simon says touch your nose” turns into “Touch your nose” in rapid succession, what keeps you in the game will get you removed in a split second.

Of course, you can stay in the game by being fast to react. You can also win by pointing at the kid next to you and yelling “Hey, they didn’t say ‘Simon says’!”, thus deflecting attention to another.

Think about this game, then look at the world around you and ask yourself whether it is a perfect metaphor for our times. Go on Twitter or Facebook without using the prefaced missive by the ‘Simon’ of the day (or hour) and you are out of the game – online, or in your job, or in polite company. 

The world is increasingly dominated by groups of Simons – either self-deputized or empowered by a cadre of right-thinkers – eager to play the game with the rest of us. There is no ‘up’ or ‘down’, ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – only “Simon says”. 

But this game is played by adults – not children – performed not for amusement but for high stakes, for livelihoods and reputations. Get caught out and you are removed – not from a game, but from acceptable society writ large. Of course, in the children’s game, everyone takes a turn at being “Simon.” Not so in this version.

Which gets to the central point of “Simon says.” No matter how well you play, no matter how well you follow orders, or deflect attention to the other players, you will never win. The best you can ever hope for is to outlast your rivals. But you will never outlast “Simon”. “Simon” will continue to bark out orders at the one who is left, speeding up the cadence of the commands that become ever more demanding. When they trip up and are disqualified, then and only then is the game complete. 

The ”Simon Says” world functions the same way. With each bout of rapid-fire commands that you survive, you only line yourself up for more of the same – only faster and more challenging. There is no finish line and no medal of achievement – only the momentary respite of having survived to face another round of humiliation and expulsion.

But you continue to play because it is human nature to accept a challenge, and it is a social custom that games played are games that should be able to be won with skill, ability, and determination. You convince yourself that the next level you overcome will be the last, and you can walk away with a victory. 

This explains why people from every station in life are willing to subject themselves to the equivalent of a never-ending hazing ritual. We are assured that this time will be the last time, and that one last act, one last demonstration of fidelity, is all that is needed to secure acceptance. We think it is a game in the conventional sense, but it is not. It is a game where the clock never runs down, where the score is meaningless, and the referee is suited up for the opposition. It is not Premier League Football – it is “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” where “the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.”

But people will still play, for the same reason bet on lotteries and horse races or play blackjack at a Las Vegas casino. Misplaced hope is still hope, nonetheless. But the odds are never as good as you think. No matter how much you wager on a hot hand, the ‘house’ will always win in the end. So, too, will the self-appointed “Simons” of our age that determine so much of our discourse.

Reasonable people will, it is hoped, eventually prevail upon this fever dream that has seized our civil discourse. Until that time, we are left with but two options – work to empower less capricious and vindictive ‘Simons’ or just maybe – just maybe – refuse to play the sordid game altogether.

 

About Brent Cameron

Profile photo of Brent Cameron
A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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