Bodybuilding, Longevity and The Philosophy of Games

nopara73
10 min readMar 2, 2024

At the end of the world, all we’re gonna do is play games. Bernard Suits, a pioneer of the philosophy of games, defines the playing of a game as a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. Imagine a world where survival is guaranteed and every need is met. What’s left for us to do? In his book, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, he argues that in such a world where scarcity has been solved, the only thing left for us to do is create unnecessary obstacles for ourselves to overcome. In other words, play games.

But what is the nature of games? More recently, C. Thi Nguyen, an avid Suitsian philosopher of games, has synthesized the literature on computer games, board games, card games, party games, tabletop role-playing games, live-action role-playing games, and sports. In his book, Games: Agency as Art, he notes that game designers don’t just create environments and obstacles. They set our goals, our abilities and create the agency that we will inhabit in the game. Games create aesthetic experiences of acting and doing. Game designers design our agency. They tell us what to care about and what we ought to value. The heart of every game is the point system, the leaderboard, your aims, your goals, your money, the Bitcoin price, the number of likes, and the grades in school. They are all the same when conceptualized as games: THE NUMBER. And the number must go up.

By now you have an abstract understanding of games, the importance of the number, but you still have no idea where I’m going with all this. You’ll learn soon enough, but for now, let’s just be on the lookout for numbers and understand how they work while narrowing the scope of this essay toward my destination.

Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding vs Strength Training

The number of strength training is how strong you are, and the numbers of bodybuilding are fat and muscle size. Let’s focus on the latter for now. There’s something peculiar happening here. It turns out that oftentimes, you’re better off training for strength to achieve larger muscles than training for larger muscles. The reason is faster feedback loops. If you don’t gain strength within a few weeks, you can correct it, but you won’t notice any muscle gains for months. Thus, you ought to do the wrong things longer. Let’s say you want to gain muscle but do not care about gaining strength. You may still undertake strength training, nevertheless, and create an agency where all you care about is gaining strength, even though it’s all for gaining muscle. You undertake the difficulties that come with strength training for the sake of a higher-order goal. The agency you created for the game of strength training serves a higher-order agency that you created for the game of bodybuilding.

But what initially motivated you to pursue bodybuilding? I bet your life goal wasn’t to have bigger muscles. Big muscles were always a means to an end. Perhaps you wanted to attract girls. But at one point, you forgot about this higher-order agency of yours, and larger muscles became an end in itself. You’ve become “too big.” The number took over your life. Nguyen calls this value capture.

One way that games are satisfying: they let us inhabit a world that’s easier to make sense of, one in which the values are clearer, simpler, and easier to apply. Such games offer us are rare experience of clarity of purpose. They are an existential balm against the rest of our lives, which are full of a plurality of subtle and competing values — C. Thi Nguyen

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding

As a sport, professional bodybuilding has recognized the phenomenon of value capture. New categories like Men’s Physique and Classic Physique testify to their attempts to course correct.

The Men’s Physique division emphasizes a lean, fit body showcasing muscle tone without the extreme bulk seen in traditional bodybuilding. At the same time, Classic Physique bridges the gap between Men’s Physique and traditional bodybuilding, aiming for a physique reminiscent of bodybuilding’s golden era, spanning from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

But why did Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron on the muscle beach in Venice, California, rocketed the sport of bodybuilding into the mainstream?
What happened was a revolution of the number. The invention and adoption of testosterone and Dianabol have pumped the number up to heights that were unheard of before. (Meaning: they got big muscles.)

Today, in the monster era of bodybuilding, value capture has broken the system, the best the game developers were able to come up with is a beauty contest, which is a suboptimal number to have and an indication of a soul-searching phase.

The Golden Era of Street Workout

To contrast, let’s take a quick look at a similar game that devolved into a beauty contest before the revolution of the number would have ever arrived. Street workout originated from African American ghettos and with the advent of YouTube it became popular in poor Eastern European and Russian countries because we had no money to spend on gym membership, but we had plenty of playgrounds. From 2008 to 2012, this game prospered; however, since then, it’s been in an identity crisis. Street workout as a sport has ended up resembling gymnastics: a beauty contest. It has never become mainstream because they didn’t find the right number like bodybuilding did. Their proponents are now doing calisthenics, primal movements, movement training and whatnot.

Bodybuilding vs Street Workout

What I liked about street workout is that unlike other activities I knew of at the time, its proponents rapidly built muscles, similarly to bodybuilders and strength trainees. What I like about street workout now is that unlike bodybuilding, strength training, its focus is on perpetually learning new skills, new movements, which makes you feel much better in your skin.
In fact, many decide to play the game of bodybuilding not to get girls, but for general health and longevity reasons. The higher-order agency is in pursuit of longevity, and you undertake a lower-order agency in pursuit of larger muscle sizes. But is there a value capture here? Would street workout like movement training games be more beneficial undertaking for longevity, your higher-order goal?

Mixed Martial Arts

So far, we’ve seen how a revolution of the number or the lack of it can make or break a game. But no discussion of games can be complete without highlighting the importance of the other constituent of a game: the rules. Fighting is a beautiful game. As we’ve seen so far with other systems, it also has a number of numbers: points and leaderboards, but the most important numbers were always the same: 0 and 1. Can you kick your opponent’s ass or not? The game of physically overcoming an opponent has been popular since the beginning of human history itself. Its evolution was more about its rules rather than improving upon its fundamental number. The problem of fighting is how to do it in a way that enables fighters to attend subsequent competitions. If every fight were to the death, your champions would never achieve mastery, but a game is similarly broken if the opponents barely touch each other, like in a Taekwondo competition. At the time of writing, the state-of-the-art ruleset for a fighting game is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Its history is the history of searching for the least number of necessary rules.

Longevity

What can I do with it?

Why are some games more popular than others? We can think of a well designed game with well designed goals and rules yet they still don’t take over the world by storm. The final ingredient is the usefulness of the game. Is the game teaching a practical agency that can be applied in your higher-order agencies? Since we aren’t using horses anymore, games with cars have taken over horse racing in popularity. Football teaches teamwork; fighting is quite a useful skill to possess. The number of bodybuilding: muscle size has a terrible feedback mechanism and ruleset compared to other sports, yet bodybuilding is immensely popular for a game. Same for street workout. Millions of people were doing that even though it has never even found its number. It was and still is very popular by many standards. Usefulness is key.

What’s the most useful skill one can conceivably learn? The one that overcomes the mother of all scarcities: time. The one that gives you time. The one that reverses the aging process.

Timing

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s the one thing that can make everything else irrelevant. Before going any further, I need to address it. Is the pursuit of longevity timely? Are we on the precipice of an age-reversal revolution?
I’ve been keeping an eye on this field for a while now and to be honest, the progress is disappointing… we can’t even double a mouse’s lifespan in a lab. But all’s not lost, otherwise I wouldn’t write this essay.

Longevity escape velocity is the point at which technology advances fast enough to extend life indefinitely, outrunning the aging process.
Exponential growth turns the improbable into the inevitable, quietly, then all at once.

Arguments are increasingly commonly made that mankind has already achieved longevity escape velocity. These rely on the exponential growth of technology. But did we really?

Well… “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Clearly the only way we can have a chance of attaining agelessness if we direct immense amount of human resources towards this goal. This is where the motivational powers of games come in. Wouldn’t it be fun to play the rejuvenation game for a little while? We may get so good at it that we reach longevity escape velocity, reverse aging, achieve immortality, and then embark on an epic adventure on the planes of Sigil, seeking a way to die before our minds unravel, much like the Nameless One in Planescape: Torment.

Alright. I’m in; what’s the game? We have to work for it. Let’s put on our game designer hats and see if we can find one.

Pursuit of The Longevity Number

When talking of longevity, the game with the ultimate usefulness, what number can we design our game around?

Your chronological age is the answer to the question: how old are you? But this is not a very good number because unless we figure out a way to bend the spacetime continuum, we cannot do anything about it.

Another set of numbers can be found if we’re looking at proxies for general health, like grip strength, balance, body fat percentage, VO2 max, bloodwork or muscle mass. Here, we have the same problem street workout had. Unfortunately, we don’t have a single number to rule them all. However, it must be possible to come up with a package and distill them into a single number. Enter the race for developing biological clocks. The most sophisticated attempts to find that number.

Your biological age is supposed to be a number that tells you how old you are, not chronologically, but biologically. First and second-generation clocks have attempted to come up with this number.
Clocks estimating your pace of aging are branded as third-generation clocks, which are supposed to be better.

Although these clocks are highly criticized, the trend is clear, they are getting better. Already, these clocks should be “good enough” for a number of applications. But are they good enough for our purposes: to design a game around one of them? Enter Rejuvenation Olympics, which is just that.

Rejuvenation Olympics

The game is designed around DunedinPACE, which claims to be the state-of-the-art biological clock. RO is a proof of concept of the longevity game I envision. Will it be the game we play in the future, or will it be superseded by something better? There’s no telling just yet. By researching the topic online, cracks in the matrix can already be seen regarding the organization of the competition and its rules. However, those in the big scheme of things are just implementation details. The long-term worry is the robustness of the number and when we expect a large-scale value capture, similarly what we’ve seen in bodybuilding. When will the Dianabol of the state-of-the-art biological clock come out?

But until then, we can have a fun time with it. I believe the Rejuvenation Olympics is the earliest form of the longevity sports industry. It is poised to go mainstream. Attention, funds and other resources will be directed toward this market niche, which will be big. Even though biological clocks have as slow of a feedback mechanism as the numbers of bodybuilding have: muscle and body fat, it’s still poised to go viral, for the same reasons why bodybuilding and street workout did.

For decades, age reversal enthusiasts have been trying to figure out how to gather more resources and bring more brainpower to the field. Building a game or a sport is a novel approach and might just be the one we need to achieve longevity escape velocity.

Games Are Above The Rules

Other than the motivational power of games, there’s one more reason we should be optimistic about this approach. The health industry is in a state of regulatory capture. Governments all around the world are working hard to prevent entrepreneurs, the heroes of this age, from innovating, experimenting and creating value.

It is the case however that rules of games present a novel way to circumvent the rules of governments: bodybuilders enjoy an unofficial immunity from drug regulations. MMA fighters are not only allowed to punch each other in the face, but that’s the whole point. It’s even more fundamental than that: ethics of a game trumps ethics of life. Have you ever wondered why lying is called bluffing in poker?

Games transcend the rules and norms of society and open the door for experimentation that would be unimaginable otherwise. That makes a difference. And now…

Let the Tournament of Immortality begin!

Closing

There you have it. This philosophical article serves as a way to announce my plans to interview contenders for the Rejuvenation Olympics. At least the ones who are willing to talk to me. Subscribe to my channel if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/@nopara73/

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