Every Man Has a Code (or Game)

David Simon’s The Wire may be one of the greatest tales of any sort committed to media of any kind.  Jason Mittell at the Electronic Book Review sees parallels in the HBO classic with the type of play found in simulation games.  Certainly, the “rules of the game” that embody the code of Baltimore cops and robbers finds its expression elsewhere:

Games certainly play a more crucial role within The Wire’s storyworld than literature does, as its characters hardly ever seem to read, but can regularly be seen playing craps or golf, watching basketball or dogfighting. More centrally, nearly every episode has at least one reference to “the game,” a slang term for the urban drug trade that extends to all of the show’s institutional settings. Within the show’s portrait of Baltimore, the game is played in all venues – the corners, City Hall, the police station, and the union hall – and by a range of players – street-level junkies looking to score, corrupt politicians filling campaign coffers, cops bucking for promotion, stevedores trying to maintain the docks. “The game” is the overarching metaphor for urban struggle, as everyone must play or get played – as Marla Daniels tries to warn her husband, Cedric, “The game is rigged – you can’t lose if you don’t play”


One of the central elements of games, especially those centered on simulations, is replayability; for a game to be embraced by its players, it typically must allow enough experiential variation to invite multiple passes through its ludic journey. Instead of viewing each of The Wire’s seasons as a singular book within an epic novel, we could view them as one play through its simulation game.