All the World's a Game.
...and we are merely players...
...unless we decide to become makers...
When Shakespeare's Jacques gave the famous speech in As You Like It, that is the most common source for the phrase "All the World's a Stage," the saying was already well known to the audience. This fact caused the characters around Jacques to tease him. His use of this powerful analogy was so commonplace that the speech was a character-defining move that helped audiences understand Jacques as a Renaissance meme-machine.
"All the World's a Stage...and we are merely players..." helps us understand what it means to be alive. How we change roles in different places and at different times, that we win and lose and that sometimes we feel involved, and other times we feel as though our entire existence is somewhat arbitrary. Games are like that...they are either so important they mean everything to us, or they are so bad they make us question the purpose of our lives.
In my ongoing attempt to find better ways to talk about games, I've been using the repurposed version of the phrase you see at the top of this page. Working with graduate students, researchers and in my professional practice this new way of thinking about games as the primary lens for life, and then extending its reworking to ask whether we are doomed to be "merely" players, or if there is something more. Can we be makers? Is that saying too much about our ability to influence the world? Our lives?
Perhaps. But, I don't think so. Maybe we can think about it like this: Jacques utters a phrase that was well known because it is so effective at providing a framework for thinking about life. We can accept it, and evaluate it based on who Jacques is, and how his character influences his various biases.
The problem for me is that "merely" part. I might be able to accept a life as a player, but no one wants to live a life of merely.
That's when it's good to remember something about quotes. When someone says, "as Shakespeare said," we have to recall that Shakespeare did not say this, one of Shakespeare's characters said this, and he said it as a character-defining act. Jacques is a misanthrope. He disdains life, and most people. Yet, we still love, and quote him. Why?
Because Jacques is merely a player, but Shakespeare is a maker. Iambic pentameter and dramatic structure are two forms of code. The only real consideration is: have you sufficiently mastered your coding practice so that you create games so good that people remember your characters - and their memes - hundreds of years after you are gone.
So, maybe the power of the phrase, "All the World's a Stage," comes not from the saying as known by Shakespeare's audience, or as uttered by Shakespeare's character, but from its embedded position in a really good game.
A lot of people like to call themselves "players," and that is certainly better than being "merely" a player, but I would prefer to be a maker. I'd prefer to be known as someone who's got game.
Here is Jacques's full speech from Act 2, Scene 7 of Shakespeare's As You Like It. The text is from MIT's online edition. For the modified version "we are merely players," I use above, see Rush's Limelight in the video below. (And yes, Rush have game.)
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.