The Philosophy of Monkey Pool
by Michael H. Payne

Monkey Pool is, at its core, not so much a game as it is a representation of life and death designed for at least four players.

The important thing to remember, however, is that the players themselves are purely secondary.  No player ever wins in Monkey Pool, and in the same way no player ever loses.  The eternal contest that lies at the very heart of Monkey Pool is the White Ball versus the Non-White Ball. It is a contest that surpasses competition, a contest that reaches beyond boundaries, a contest more akin to a dance.  Yin and Yang, male and female, Apollo and Dionysus, reason and emotion, fire and water: Monkey Pool is a contest of elemental forces not striving for dominion but merely expressing their opposing natures and seeking balance in a world constantly changing, constantly wearing away due to the forces of entropy. For entropy is the force that destroys all other forces, the force whose very nature opposes all else. In a very real way, entropy is a third dancer, a third player at the table. And so it is that three cue balls are needed to play Monkey Pool: the White Ball to represent one set of natural forces, the Non-White Ball to represent all those forces who by their elemental nature are opposed to the first set, and the Negative Ball to represent the force of entropy, the force that opposes the other two sets of forces.  Three of the four players in the most basic form of Monkey Pool will choose to be the agents of these cue balls at the start of the game, the youngest player being given first choice.     

There is, however, a fourth role vital to any game of Monkey Pool. Monkey Pool is, we must remember, a mere mortal representation of the eternal contest between the Yin and Yang of life and Entropy, their joint nemesis, death. So it is that a fourth player is necessary, the player who takes the role of Judge. In nature, the forces go about their business mindlessly, following the laws of physics without needing any judge to interpret those laws. We humans with our probing intellects are by nature law-breakers, seeking the loopholes in the laws of physics and doing all we can to exploit them for our own ends. This essential element of human nature cannot be ignored, but in as true a representation of the complex interplay of the forces of nature as Monkey Pool, this element also cannot be allowed to taint the cosmic level of the play. Therefore the player who acts as Judge must interpret the rules in as clear and impartial a fashion as is humanly possible, must mark the points given and taken away from both the White Ball and the Non-White Ball, must scrupulously heed the higher call of the game lest the true and eternal nature of Monkey Pool be forever lost.

The hats are, it must be admitted, another element made necessary by our human natures. For the rules of Monkey Pool provide for constant flux, much as the ebb and flow of life and death in the greater world leads to continual and continuous change. So it is that players will not remain in the roles they choose at the beginning of the game. The White Ball, for example, being scratched, will pass to the next player in the rotation, changing the roles of all other players in the game. The player who had formerly been charged with impartiality in the role of Judge now enters the contest as the champion of one of the three cue balls while one of the three combatants must now take over the Judge's appointed tasks. This changing of roles is therefore accompanied by a changing of hats, each hat assigned to a cue ball at the beginning of the game and traveling from player to player as the players change from role to role. When, as often happens, players become confused as to which role they are currently playing in the game, a quick look at which hat is being worn will settle all questions and allow play to continue. The hats are therefore vital. For the one thing we must never forget is that we are humans merely partaking in a shadow of the true game, that the Monkey Pool we play is only the slightest representation of the grand and eternal Monkey Pool game. The hats remind us of our humanity.     

Four roles, four players, four hats: this is the essence of Monkey Pool.

Fascinating Subtleties