No Game No Life and the Social Contract

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In watching recent episodes of No Game No Life, I’ve come to understand a component of the series as a different sort of thought exercise than I imagined it could possibly present going in. In my mind, the series has become a much bigger social commentary than one would expect about a pair of NEET siblings who happen to be unstoppable at any sort of game. At the center is one basic question: how much should the social contract that holds society together be valued?

In the alternate world the protagonists Shiro and Sora find themselves transported to, disputes are settled by games that are organized under a set of rules. Those rules happen to form an explicit social contract that binds all people in the alternative world.

Now for the boring bit where I have to explain what I mean by that. Social contract theory is born out of a thought experiment for how people became organized into civilizations from where they were prior. So it starts with people being unorganized doing whatever they wanted and concludes with an agreement among people that in exchange for some freedoms its best for everyone not to engage in actions that would harm other people or themselves.

A lot of this is old thinking since the popularity of this topic peaked prior to the 19th century, but the main guy we want to focus on is Thomas Hobbes a 17th-century Englishman who thought that prior to the social contract,  “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[1] If you also happen to know about Bill Watterson’s comic Calvin and Hobbes, there is a game in the comic called Calvinball which is an unorganized game with no rules and is different each time it is played. Think of that, but with people.

Back to No Game No Life, the audience does get perspective on what life was like before it became organized under the game rules. The character Jibril, a Flugel who was around back then, looks back fondly on a time where there was much death; glorious, superfluous death. Needless to say, she is extremely pleased that a character that is willing to throw the world’s social contract away for the sake of winning a game has appeared in the shape of one of Imanity’s new rulers, Sora.

The role of the two siblings in how this story plays out is also interesting from this perspective. I think anyone who watches the show can agree that they do not follow the existing rules of normal society. With only games as a way of interacting with the rest of the world, they contribute nothing. The social contract has no value to them because they do not interact with other people.

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Given this distance and a device through which people in the new world can be torn from their social contract, it’s little surprise that Sora uses it as a tool to try to win a game. What is the worst that can happen from their perspective? They just get thrown back into the same situation they were in back on Earth. By the same token, the rest of Imanity sees the potential outcome as turning into a race of lawless bandits who spend their time between raping and pillaging the land with murder.

Ultimately, it would be interesting to see what would happen if they just stripped the game rules away from one of the races in the show. I doubt it would lead to anything in a realistic portrayal, which would be interesting in and of itself. I think ultimately that will not be the case simply because the protagonists are not allowed to lose at all. Perhaps that is why Sora is willing to take the risk of losing it. If people were able to organize without explicit rules before, why wouldn’t they organize under implicit rules in this new one? That of itself is show of faith in humanity by someone who is seen as discarded by society back home.

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Now having written this post, I eagerly await the point being rendered meaningless in the coming weeks as the show turns out to be terribad.

2 thoughts on “No Game No Life and the Social Contract”

  1. I think an important point of most social contracts is that they are inherently implicit, which is why it’s only really a theory; sure, we have laws or anything, but we didn’t agree to them upon birth and few people have any real choice to choose a different place to be. The rules in NGNL seem more like dicta or commandments than a real contract, which implies the consensus of all parties. I guess these rules are ok-ish rules, but the real social contract is a social construct, not an individual one.

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