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  • Javier Romano

Quaternity: a cultural object and a culture

by Eduardo Trombetta

Quaternity is an opportunity to harmonise a human group on a plane distinct from other sports; its practice, even in a competitive environment, contains a proposal of collaboration that is always inserted in a circumstantial way in implicit and precarious alliances.

Quaternity is both a cultural object and a culture, and like any culture it has a singular language. The semiotics of the combinatorial chain, the meaning of its words in the making of its sentences induces an interpretation of that language, which is of a higher quality when the players engage in "dialogue", let's say "telepathically", there is not only meaning but also a signifying correlate.

A kind of telepathic conversation, expressed in the exchange of positions and movements, can lead to the unpredictable becoming more predictable, perhaps a path to the development of intuition and discovery.

This contributes to a certain harmonisation of the group, be they observers or players. It is somehow a way of working together to reach a different quality of thinking and intuition.

Playing in an "active" way, then, means in some sense, that there is a level or degree of surrender, so that the "telepathic dialogue" becomes a spontaneous way of understanding the activity of the game, providing both meaning and signifier in a novel dialectic.

When the combinations of interpretation and action of the movements are linked in such an incredible way, it could be said that the game reaches a climax, one of the ways to access a "momentum".

A characteristic of Quaternity is a certain kind of humour

This humour is comparable to that of a screwball comedy, where each character believes that what is happening is like the classic kind of misunderstanding; "I thought you did that because he had done that, and then I did this, but in the end it wasn't that, etc...".

This aspect is closely linked to that of the causality implicit in the texture of the plot, which is not revealed, but only perceived as a series of events whose origin or meaning is not clear.

Incidentally, there seems to be a connection with the story in which a parishioner finds himself in a panic attack, hiding in a grave in the cemetery after having been mistakenly chased by the night guards, and finally finding him in such a situation, they ask him what he is doing in there, and he answers, "it seems that I am here because of you and you are here because of me".

One could say that the Quaternity game contains a literary structure, like that of stories or narratives; it starts from an initial situation, then a "problem" arises, then a "complication of the problem" that transforms it, then a solution to the complication, and so on until it leads to a denouement.

What we call "momentum" is there: when the plot is complicated and the denouement or another complication is about to appear.

By playing actively, which means not navel-gazing, but on the contrary participating in the complications of the story, helping to build the "momentum", the active player brings a little more "enriched play".

Of course, ideally, the final outcome of entanglements is Checkmate, or even in two-player endgames is to force or concede a draw.

When in a game one or more players lose because their time runs out, as a result of maintaining a passive/defensive posture waiting for the attrition of others, it would not potentially be an encouraging occurrence to seek the opportunity to checkmate, or to assist in the production of "momentum" or enriched play. Their pieces do not engage in overtly combining in the plot.

We may find that the ending or denouement of the sitcom needs the resolution of complications and misunderstandings and assumed understandings in a revealing way.

Play actively: to make the plot and the denouement of the play narrative revealing, as sometimes stories with an opaque ending leave a sense of a dull sequence of scenes, or that the tale was not rounded off.

The balance of power

In terms of geopolitics, Quaternity offers us an opportunity to see in the game an aspect of the world order, as traditionally, and commonly, geopolitics classifies them. In these paragraphs we speak only of it without other implications derived from and consistent with strategy and geopolitics.

In geopolitics, four (4) basic forms of world order are considered, which have been verified in the history of civilisation, and are for that discipline a way to explain also the balance of power.

These are:

1. the Imperial order or unipolar order, where a single strategic actor has dominance, such as Rome, for example;

2. the bipolar order, where two powers fight for dominance, for example during the so-called cold war between the US and the Soviet Union;

3. the multi-polar order, where other strategic actors appear and challenge the bipolar order to reach a position from which they can play to assert their interests, with or without the agreement of the two dominant powers (although this has occurred in various periods of history), usually attributed to the reordering that came after the fall of the Berlin Wall; and finally

4. the apolar order, when no strategic actor can decide with a high degree of confidence and effectiveness about its policies and alliances, because in polarity, everything is in a kind of unstable equilibrium, an ever-changing order, where each strategic actor asserts its position by achieving superiority in some factor of power over the others, and thus conditions to a greater or lesser degree the decisions of other actors with greater power. For some analysts, this is the current state or very close to being achieved.

In the development of the Quaternity game we can observe the geopolitical states of balance of power, from the very beginning, it starts in a static state, and as the game develops, the players, as strategic actors, will probably seek to reach the imperial order, that is, to give the three (3) checkmates. But here, with reference to the imperial order, it is worth asking whether this is really the only objective of the game, because precisely the unstable system of implicit and precarious alliances includes the possibility that the other players will prevent the outcome of a single winner of the game, leading to an outcome more akin to a "win-win" scheme than to conceding that one player will take all the benefit.

In this sense, it can be observed that on many occasions, in contests there are two players who hold dominance on the board, which gives rise to a bipolar order, and the checkmates are shared between them. However, with the intervention of a third and fourth player, a multipolar type of order can be achieved, as they intervene to provide a balance of power on the board, where the decisions of the first two players who dominated the dynamics are now conditioned; apolar order, for some analysts, is akin to creative chaos, and can also be observed in complex games where none of the four players is certain that a certain combination of moves will culminate as they intend to achieve strategic dominance.

In relation to recent history we could add that traditional chess undoubtedly represents the unipolar and bipolar orders, corresponding to the most traditional and orthodox geopolitical thinking. Quaternity is a disruptive turning point in that thinking, and it proposes that you no longer think in a black and white channel, now you can think in colours, and perhaps, it is one of those things that make a difference.

Just as in fractal geometry the reproduction of variants of an original form gives rise to new original forms, during each game and in the set of games recorded on the substratum of temporality, the experience of the players is accumulated and combined.

We can assert that the condition increases in which polarity naturally induces a combinatory space of pieces and colours that introduces the concept of harmony, a signifier of non-acoustic art (although we do not disregard the correlation between form, colour and sound) to unravel its meaning. There it is verified that collaboration produces harmony, (for example by the geometry of the lines of force, and the juxtaposition of colours and functions of each piece), because after all, there is also a big difference between how relations are in the adversary-competitor scheme and how much behaviour is strained when we think in terms of "friend-enemy".

The Diplomatic Entanglement

In terms of diplomacy, the diplomatic conversation in Quaternity culture is yet another aspect that we develop by participating in the game.

It has been said that the game is "as the players do on the board". But what would be the diplomacy of the players: perhaps strategic behaviour. The balance of power, then, must also be understood outside the realist concept that proposes: "Power is getting another actor to do something for our benefit that he or she would otherwise not be willing to do". In other words, it is to force the other, directly or indirectly, to act for our benefit even at the expense of his or her own interests. Indirectly it also implies the notion of deterrence, which in any case, simply put, means that we do not do something against an adversary because the deployment of his power tells us that it is not in our interest.

However, from the point of view of constructivism, power unfolds from actions of induction, persuasion and convincing, whether in the bipolar or non-polar context, because the construction is seen as the sum of the decisions of all the actors. We can affirm that the constructivist vision avoids imposition. Of course, when there are no more alternatives, the moves are forced.

Put in terms of strategic players, the quality or condition of the moves that make up a "move", a series of moves over one or more rounds, can influence or induce a player to "do something" that seems convenient for him but is ultimately convenient for someone else.

If the diplomacy is good enough, there is less chance of arousing the irrational player.

In general and conventional terms, diplomacy contains a heavy ingredient of indirect language. This means that diplomacy often states something that appears to be favourable to the party receiving the message, but its meta-message contains and expresses self-interest. Moreover, diplomacy also implies a degree of reciprocity, and reciprocity, always in conventional terms, implies an exchange, i.e. giving or withholding support to the extent that the strategic actor, the player, perceives that his or her own interests are affected. It is often said that diplomacy meets its end in realism. Because after all, it is all about giving checkmate to the adversary, even if he was once our ally.


Eduardo Trombetta

Buenos Aires, March/2024


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