Blood Meridian and Games


In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, he says this:

The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

I will be honest, because every aspect of this awful quote speaks directly to me, as if written to me personally. It bothers me, as I expect it is meant to. I was just wondering if other people had any thoughts to share about it, particularly regarding the connection of games to war.

I don’t play games to humiliate anyone, and I try not to find much pride in them. But I ache to play them, to compete and find victory in them. The word I keep coming back to describe myself is sanguine, but not merely in some sunny or optimistic way, but to mix that with a metaphorically bloodstained grin.

I feel like my saving grace as a person in this respect is my fondness for solitaire games, which I love as a purely mental exercise: not merely as practice for the “real thing” but as puzzle and test in of themselves. But then I look back at the text I just wrote and think “you used the word exercise, but what purpose is an exercise if not as a precursor to something else?”

Why do you play games?


In short, for the entertainment.

Slightly longer:
I love to explore the world of imagination. Books and movies are great, but you have no real choice in these mediums beyond to experience it or not.

Games give me this choice. What if I took the left path instead of the right? What if I play this game mechanics against that other one? What happens?

I find the “real” world very restrictive. There are a thousand things I want to do, which are beyond me means or simply impossible. Games give me that choice, that experience. That is why I play them.


To stave off dread of the creeping doom that is Monday morning every week (j/k - I actually enjoy my job, although I sure wouldn’t mind it paying more).

More seriously, there are several reasons. A handful off the top of my head:

  • Certainly there’s an escapism aspect. I know that because the likelihood of me playing is higher when I’m procrastinating.
  • Conflict avoidance is another. If I’m pissed off about something, conquering a galaxy or exploding an enemy on screen can give a release that’s unavailable in the real world.
  • Mental stimulation is an obvious one. Nobody likes boredom, and a video game is a tool of the imagination which can quite effectively defeat it.
  • Socializing is there as well. Not only in multi-player games, but also as a shared experience in society; talking with others about our opinions, highlights, and frustrations with a game gives a common focal point.


Like everyone else, I contain multitudes, and I play for various reasons. I love puzzles, and I love figuring out a game’s system. The chance to get a little better, a little farther the next time, and eke up my score a bit, that’s always a motivator.

But one thing that speaks to me, that gives me a thrill, is a map. Especially a map that’s blank, or full of black, and leaves it to me to explore and fill that map. I can’t fully explain the simultaneous feeling of anticipation and thrill of impending discovery this inspires in me, even though it’s all virtual, it’s just a game! Even better than that is if I’m given a ship and a star to sail her by. I live for that.


I love that book


I’m not sure you’re meant to identify with Judge Holden! He’s up there with Iago and Bill Sykes and Mephistopheles for the title of “evillest villain in literature”.


Yeah, the Judge is a character I love to death because of what he is and represents


That is what alarmed me.


So, here’s my take on it, being familiar with the source:

I feel that the Judge is saying that mankind has an animalistic nature. No matter how much we refine ourselves, how much we pretend, we have these notions - these violent tendencies - that we can’t completely hide. We are all selfish, as evolution has made us, in order to survive. There are these moments of pure savage instinct in games that we never get in our everyday lives and they feel wonderful. To that end, we intellectually may want to believe we are civil, but we are savage and brutal at our hearts.

Or something like that.


Oh, we’re talking about the book? I didn’t really care for Blood Meridian, it just seemed to want to wallow in Grand Guignol violence and probably had deep things to tell me about the condition of humanity. I just wasn’t feeling it.


Fantastic quote. I started reading this book and then stopped because I was afraid of how dark it would get. Maybe I should try again.


Look, as long as I end up dancing with Judge Holden in the bar, and not dead in the outhouse, I’m cool with where a game takes me.