Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Taking games seriously 
Sportmanship and the paradox of zero-sum games

Marco Antonio Azevedo


Competitive games are zero-sum games; would be sports zero-sum practices? Aurel Kolnai said that game players exhibit an odd volitional posture that turns games into paradoxes. Bernard Suits disagreed. In zero-sum games, says Suits, conflict is intentional. It cannot be paradoxical, because each player aims one identical goal, but rather two different personal goals. Nevertheless, Kolnai has a point, since players fall into a predicament if they seriously adopt the attitude of playing games with their internal aims of winning them. In the extent that games continue to be non-seriously played, they do not represent predicaments for agents. But if an agent decides to take some game seriously, her attitude becomes behaviorally paradoxical. The reason is that competitive games are zero-sum activities. But with sports it is different. Being institutionalized social practices, sports offer persistent possibilities of winning. Differently from what happens in the case of mere ludic enterprises, organized competitions allow a better distribution of wins; and in a long-standing involvement in the practice, sportsmen can accumulate good results in the long run. Sports seem to be an evolved solution for a basic human predicament: the impossibility of attaining happiness and personal fulfillment by means of mere ludic enterprises.

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