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Let's talk about games and rules and cheating. [Apr. 5th, 2014|09:25 pm]
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When two players want to engage in a game together, they first have to agree on what kind of game it is going to be. They have to agree on what the rules of the game are, how the game works, what they are going to do independently and with each other during the game, etc. During the game, they both have to abide by those rules that they agreed on, do the things they negotiated, and not do the things that they did not negotiate. In many games there are things that one participant is allowed to do and the other player is not, overall or at specific times. In any game, when one player breaks one of the rules, they are cheating. The game will be paused while the nature of the cheating is discussed. The game might end, because one player does not want to continue to engage in a game with a cheater. The game might continue with a penalty applied to the cheating player. The rules of the game might be renegotiated to account for the result of the cheating, or to make the cheating activity less likely to recur.

Sometimes the rules of a game might be vague. Both players will think they know what a vague rule means, or how it should be interpreted in a specific situation, but not realize that they are not in agreement with the other player. Eventually this will come to light, and one player might think the other is cheating. This misunderstanding will be resolved in similar fashion to actual cheating. The game will be paused while the nature of the misunderstanding is discussed. The vague rule will need to be clarified, which may involve renegotiation. The game might end, because one player does not want to continue the game with that specific clarification. It may be the case that one player was acting in bad faith, intentionally interpreting a vague rule in a way that they knew would contradict the other player's interpretation, which would lead to results very similar to intentional cheating.

At this point I suspect most readers will have realized that this post is not about games. Hopefully every reader will agree with the outline above of how rules and cheating and games work, generally, at least. Now, for the big reveal... scroll back up and re-read this post, replacing "game" with "relationship" and "player" with "person". The purpose of this post is to illustrate that cheating is a consistent concept regardless of what kind of relationship two people have, just like cheating doesn't fundamentally change between different types of games. Cheating is breaking rules that both players agreed on and understand. That's always what cheating is, whether you're monogamous or polyamorous, married or single, straight or gay or bi or something more complicated, etc.
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[User Picture]From: ratatosk
2014-04-06 04:19 pm (UTC)

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Cheating is breaking rules that both players agreed on and understand.

I am not sure that mainstream people think this way at all. I think they see the rules of relationships as more like religious principles, that have some external normative force. So "cheating" in a relationship, according to mainstream usage, would be more like eating a bacon cheeseburger than turning over a tile in Scrabble and pretending it's a blank. This is about the source of the rule -- whether it's a thing you agree on beforehand, or that just is. State-sanctioned marriage, for example, is very much not a thing where people get to define their own terms of what constitutes the relationship for legal purposes.

The problem with this is obvious, which is that legal and religious sources are inconsistent and only concerned with a few aspects of relationships. There is no unambiguous, clear, authoritative source that treats relationships exhaustively. But most people think and act like there is.

I think in a lot of cases of "cheating" between mainstream people there was no actual contested interpretation of a rule -- there were actual different sets of rule, so one person was trying to play chess and the other checkers and it took them a while to figure it out. But they don't see it that way, because each thinks there is only one game in existence. They disagree about the actual rules and they believe the rules originate from something external to the relationship. Negotiating beforehand wouldn't have been a coherent concept for them.

If it worked the way it did in your model, people would be saner. I just think it mostly doesn't work the way you described.
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2014-04-06 07:02 pm (UTC)

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What you're describing is just a superset of a vague rule. It's a vague ruleset. If we sit down together and you think we're playing draughts and I think we're playing checkers, then we might fail to negotiate the rules ahead of time, with the vague rule being "the standard rules of the only game you can play with these pieces". We are eventually going to figure that out when someone makes an "illegal" move in the other game. That's not cheating, it's crappy negotiation, and the way to handle it is covered in my second paragraph.
[User Picture]From: ratatosk
2014-04-06 10:55 pm (UTC)

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I don't think it's failure to negotiate if you think no negotiation is possible because there is only one game you can play with those pieces.

People are all walking around with completely different ideas of what is "the only game you can play with these pieces". But from their point of view, if someone claims to have played the game before, there's no reason to check whether they have a different set of rules, unless you have some reason to think they are actually naive, inexperienced, crazy etc.

Hm. Here's another idea: Suppose we look at the metaphor as if we were sitting down to play a really complicated game. From that point of view, even if there is Only One Game You Can Play With These Pieces, it would make sense for regular people to go over the rules ahead of time, at least if they believed it were easy to get the rules wrong. I do not think mainstream Americans think it is easy to get the rules wrong for heterosexual, monogamous relationships. I think they would say that if you think you might need to double-check whether someone else knows the rules, that's a red flag, and you should not date that person.

An alternative metaphor, since people already use it for relationships, is baseball. Baseball has more rules than the average person can hope to memorize, but for the most part they don't come into play in any given game. People are expected to be able to play baseball more or less as it is constituted, and then if anything weird happens, you resort to an umpire. But weird things only happen to other people.