Trifles – Tic-tac-toe

First two ply of a game tree for tic-tac-toe
Image via Wikipedia

Gazing at a child’s notebook I am constantly surprised by the plethora of randomly placed grids filled with attempted rows of circles and crosses.  This international pastime of children is a fascinating phenomena, it is universal and yet everyone comes to the same point.  Whenever someone finds that when two equal players play there can be no winner, they have a choice.  The truly wise keep playing.  For the others the wonderment of teaching, challenging, and testing the initiated dissipates, the drive to win is all that is left before the game is abandoned. The mystery of other minds has left, the selfish want of gratification is all that remains.

Despite these “hollow men” there are those blessed gifted individuals who still enjoy the game.  They are the ones who start out instead of circles, they draw smiles; instead of crosses, a crucifix.  They enjoy the game not because they can win but because it points to greater games and experiences.  They understand that when they were taught Tic-tac-toe by their fathers it was to teach them the basics of a game so that they could learn to play the adventures in life.

There is another tic-tac-toe like game – it is the world around us according to the modern mind.  It has created for itself a grid that confines the exploration of the world in neat organized squares with either a circle claiming it or a bold ‘X’ eradicating it.  This game is science itself. Instead of pointing outward to greater things like the divine, it drives its players mad. For “Science is a splendid thing; if you tell it where to go” (Chesterton) – but if we do not tell it where it go it removes our direction as well.  This madness brought about by grids, lines, and symbols is the madness of purposelessness souls, who have forgotten what pleasures lay outside their universe.  Instead of reaching out of the self-imposed grid, the madness is not content by itself – it desires that more revel also in mediocrity and despair.  Just like the children, who have grown up too fast, clamor to claim another pointless win against a younger opponent, those infected with the cry of skepticism see only the game and not the Creator of things beyond the game.  Instead things are defined in reference to the game itself: how the ‘X’’s are perpendicular to the guidelines, how round the circles are, how ‘real’ the game is.

Those who adjust their ‘noughts’ into faces and add meaning to the ‘crosses’ are quickly are readily confronted with arguments about how they are not playing the game correctly.  Using the structure of the game to prove that only the game exists is the same as a child who never grows out of playing tic-tac-toe.  This is the same argument that only material things exist by criticizing those who believe in a world beyond the material. For “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” (Chesterton) – a horse is not a horse due to its innards nor because the rest of the world is not a horse but because it was created a horse.  The miracle of that beast marvels in the miraculous freedom of divine appointment.   Those however who liken to the circular (in arguments and thought), cling to the ‘game’ that should point them to greater things, and enjoy crossing things out may soon see that the ‘board’ has filled up.  At that point only those who see beyond the game are free to move.

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