"The Master Game" by Robert de Ropp

If life is a game, let's figure out how to play it well.

"Seek, above all,
for a game worth playing."
- Robert de Ropp

Image from "The Seventh Seal" by Ingmar Bergman

A LiveReal review of The Master Game by Robert S. de Ropp

We all ask, at one time or another, "What do I want to do with my life?"

On the one hand, we all want to do something that matters in some way, that makes a difference, that is meaningful, that is fulfilling. Something that's worthwhile, something real.

On the other hand, when we phrase the question "what do I want to do with my life?" - and sit with it - it often seems like such a huge, vague, looming, slippery, cloud of fog, like trying to catch a cloud in a milk carton - a frustrating experience.

But one chap, Robert S De Ropp, has offered a few pointers, which might help us get a more sturdy handle on the matter. What follows is a brief sketch of a portion of his message.

(Editor's Note: This article is not intended to substitute for study of the book itself, and is only a brief sketch of a portion of De Ropp's message. For anyone interested in the real enchilada, we recommend, as always, going directly to the source.)

In The Master Game, De Ropp frames the problem pretty well.

He paints with broad, strong, and sweeping strokes, clearing a basic way to begin thinking about the problem: essentially life is a series of "games," and from here, it's really a matter of which game you want to play.

By "game," he does not mean anything unimportant, trivial, or not serious; quite the contrary, as he states, "having found the game, play it with intensity - play as if your life and sanity depended on it. (They do depend on it)."

He lays a foundation: first "Low" games, then a "Neutral" game, then "High games, and finally, "The Master Game."

The "Low" Games:

"Hog in Trough" Wealth
"Cock on Dunghill" Fame
Moloch Glory or Victory

"Who are you calling a 'hog'?"

The "Hog in Trough"

"The aim is to get one's nose in the trough as deeply as possible, guzzle as much as possible, elbow the other hogs aside as forcefully as possible." The trophy of this game is "wealth."

"Who are you calling 'cocky'?"

"Cock on Dunghill"

"is played for fame. It is designed primarily to inflate the false ego and to keep it inflated." "Players of Cock on Dunghill are hungry to be known and talked about . . . the real player of Cock on Dunghill, whose happiness depends entirely on the frequency with which he (or she) sees his name in the papers..."

"The Moloch Game"

De Ropp describes as "the deadliest of all games," consists of "professional mankillers trained to regard such killing as creditable provided those they kill favor a different religion or political system and can thus be collectively referred to as 'the enemy.'" The 'trophy' for this game is "glory or victory."

The "Neutral" Game:

Householder Game Raise Family

This "Neutral Game" De Ropp describes as "The Householder Game" is simply "to raise a family and provide it with the necessities of life." It is stated as neutral because it is"the basic biological game on which the continuation of the human race depends."

The "High" Games:

Art Game Beauty
Science Game Knowledge
Religion Game Salvation
Master Game Awakening

"The Art Game"

as De Ropp descrbes, "ideally is directed toward the expression of an inner awareness loosely defined as beauty." In this game, as in all others, there are good players as well as bad. The goal of this game is defined loosely as "beauty."

"The Science Game"

De Ropp describes as the pursuit of "knowledge," and then outlines many of the ways that this game as well is often corrupted, muddied and tainted (by players whom De Ropp sounds intimately familiar with). Says De Ropp, "Much of it is mere jugglery, a tiresome ringing of changes on a few basic themes by investigators who are little more than technicians with higher degrees . . . Anything truly original tends to be excluded by that formidable array of committees that stands between the scientist and the money he needs for research. He must either tailor his research plans to fit the preconceived ideas of the committee or find himself without funds. Moreover, in the Science Game as in the Art Game there is much insincerity and a frenzied quest for status that sparks endless puerile arguments over priority of publication. The game is played not so much for knowledge as to bolster the scientist's ego."

"The Religion Game"

De Ropp describes loosely as the pursuit of "salvation," and then outlines as well many criticisms of that particular game: "The Religion Game, as played in the past...was essentially a game played by paid priests of one sort or another for their personal benefit. To compel their fellowmen to play the game, the priests invented various gods, with whom they alone could communicate, whose wrath they alone could assuage, whose cooperation they alone could enlist. He who wanted help from the gods or who wished to avert their wrath had to pay the priests to obtain his ends...

The game was further enlivened, and the hold of the priests on the minds of their victims further strengthened, by the invention of two after-death states, a blissful heaven and a terrible hell. To stay out of the hell and get into the heaven, the player of the Religion Game had to pay the priests, or his relatives had to pay them after his death. This 'pay the priest' aspect of the Religion Game has caused several cynics to define it as the world's oldest confidence trick designed to enable certain unscrupulous individuals to make a profit out of the credulity and suggestibility of their fellowmen by interceding on their behalf with some nebulous god or ensuring their entry into an equally nebulous heaven."

"...it must be obvious to any fair-minded observer that there is another element in the Religion Game besides that of playing on the credulity of believers and selling them entry permits into a phony heaven. All the great religions offer examples of saints and mystics who obviously did not play the game for material gain, whose indifference to personal comfort, to wealth and to fame was so complete as to arouse our wonder and admiration."

These individuals De Ropp puts in another category altogether, "The Master Game."

"The Master Game"

- in De Ropp's words, describes as "the most difficult game of all...the aim of which is the attainment of full consciousness or real awakening."

He continues: "The basic idea...is that man is asleep, that he lives amid dreams and delusions, that he cuts himself off from the universal consciousness...to crawl into the narrow shell of a personal ego. To emerge from this narrow shell, to regain union with the universal consciousness, to pass from the darkness of the ego-centered illusion into the light of the non-ego, this was the real aim of the Religion Game as defined by the great teachers, Jesus, Gautama, Krishna, Mahavira, Lao-tze and the Platonic Socrates."

De Ropp states all this in the first chapter of his book, and then continues through several more chapters, which journey through aspects of De Ropp's views (heavily influenced by the thought of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) on psychology, meditation, mental illness, and other topics.

So...are you playing one of these now?

What do you want to play?

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