When considering Hauissh, the Great Game of Cats, you have to forget such human concerns such as winning, because while the game can be won, the criticism and inelegance of such a feat would surely defuse any pride at accomplishing something that by all rights should be impossible.
A better example of the goal of Hauissh would be to play elegantly; as a Go player making patterns or a swashbuckling chess player concerned with setting up clever combos. Winning doesn’t matter, it is more figure skating than hockey.
The game upon which I wish to comment took place on 28 September 2019, the human observer and writer of this commentary being somewhat ill with a stomach bug or perhaps from drinking too much or eating too much the previous day. The game occurred near the commentator's apartment and mostly took place during a windstorm.
The apartment complex is large and the street is buttressed by many parked cars. For the purpose of the game, the area was defined as anything within four apartment buildings and the street between them with the Universal Tree being located roughly in the center of the street (1). The participants were five local cats. Obstacles during the game consisted of several moving cars, one dog, a roadrunner, and wind. There was two observers; one feline, one human. Since Hauissh doesn’t stop due to interference, the distractions have to be noted, as do the observers for their very presence reduces the control (or eius’hss as the cats themselves call it: “being alone”).
The game starts around 1:00 pm with an orange harlequin cat parking himself near a fire hydrant, boldly claiming the entirety of center in the first move of the first sequence. At this point, having no competitors, and being firmly in control of the territory around the Tree, he flops down on the sidewalk and begins to wash.
However, his control is reduced a few minutes later when a black and tan cat took up a spot near apartment building H, in such a position to view the first cat, but not to be seen by him. Because the view has to be toward the Tree, the harlequin loses more control, being unable to turn and see the second cat. She has a dominant position and is further helped by blending into the stucco of the building.
Cat number three, a large tabby enters the game at this point, sitting in the grass under a tree (not to be confused with the Tree), at a slight disadvantage as he can be seen by the other two, but he can see the other two as well.
In this frame, the black and tan cat still is dominant as she can only be seen by one of her two opponents, while seeing both of them.
Perhaps alerted by the new cat’s attentions, the harlequin shifts his stance walking around the Tree to the other side of the street so that he can see both his opponents. This makes his score roughly even to the other cats, however, since he is closer to the Tree, he has the dominant position.
The other two cats shift slowly around, black and tan prefers a cautionary approach. She exchanges her spot next to one building for a mirrored position near the neighboring building. This is an overly defensive move without a clear advantage/disadvantage in terms of control. On one hand, she is protected from anyone else seeing her from behind, including any arriving players, but it also means she doesn’t have solid control over the Tree and she can’t dominate cats who can see her.
The tabby takes a low position under a car, preferring to keep his eyes mostly on the harlequin. While this too seems defensive, it is a clever preparation for a gambit. The tabby wants to harlequin to grab more territory at the center, to be a more easy target, both in terms of how visible this would make him and how many other cats can control the center.
This is the paradox. The Tree is the ultimate object players wish to control, and the easiest way to control it is to be on top of it, but by being in the center where all attention is focused, your own control withers under the other players’ gazes. You cannot control the Tree if you yourself are controlled, and the cat holding the cat that holds the Tree is the real master.
Sensing this, the harlequin rotates again, putting himself on the other side of the car. Blocked by the tire now between them, the cats have each lost control over each other, but gained it over black and tan who can be seen by both (2).
She shifts position again, forgoing defense and choosing an opposing position under a car directly across from the other cats. This is an offside position, given it has no bearing on the Tree, and the other cats take the blunder to shift themselves more toward the Tree.
Now, the harlequin is dominate again, being only viewed by one cat, but more focused on the tree. The tabby’s own view of the tree overlaps with a cat who is closer, but who can’t be seen. And while the harlequin can be viewed by the black and tan cat, she is off position, and so isn’t a territorial threat.
A truck stops on top of the Tree at this point disrupting the score. It releases two teenage girls who stop to coo over the only cat visible to them: the harlequin, and negatively affects his score. He has to escape to a better position and chooses another car, but now as he can no longer see the Tree (even as the truck has driven away) or the other cats and isn’t strictly in play and thus loses his control entirely.
Black and tan, makes a bold assertion by charging the tabby, but such stratagems rarely work and she is repulsed by claws and yowling, having to retreat to the building and losing even more control as the tabby advances into the street.
They are now joined by a ragged black tom. He takes up a position by a recycling bin and starts grooming as a show of confidence. This is meant with defiance. All other cats re-position on the board and after some confrontations the harlequin ends up in a position where by virtue of being on top of a car, and above the line of sight of the other cats comes to dominate the field.
The positions of the others at this point become irrelevant as the height and control of the game belonged to this one cat. By being “alone,” and by observing all the other cats, the harlequin effectively wins the next twelve frames until the black tom notices him and yowling brings all attention to the elevated cat.
At this point the black and tan begins to complain loudly, perhaps at some breach of the rules and all the cats chatter at each other for a very long time, either discussing the rules or some quibble of the rules. Since every cat in the game is involved, the game resets, with no clear victor, though the harlequin insists it is his victory due to grabbing early territory and holding control for longer (3).
The game thus done, the observer leaves for coco and his writing desk.
1. The Tree is the location either all action or attention during the game must revolve around. For more information on the specific rules of The Great Game see Diane Duane’s essay On Hauissh located in The Book of Night with Moon.
2. There is some debate as to whether being so close to another cat, even an unseen one, affects the control aspect of the game. It is generally agreed, however, that your score can still suffer if you are observed by a player you don’t even know exists. The whole determination of a match played by the famous Hruieow came down to his mottled color blending him into a black background so that the other players never even knew they were being watched.
3. The philosophical implications of Hauissh are something of a mania with cats who are willing to discuss it. They point out the universal European legends going back to the Tree and the Monster thereby. The Game, they say, is the universal truth about the need to destroy the Monster and dominate the Tree. However, all of them disagree at the level of abstraction in the Game itself. Some claim a transubstantiation-like necessity of playing It; the idea being that if it isn’t played, the Monster will destroy the Tree and thus the world. Others say that the Game is an extension of primitive territorial feuds. They point to the game as played by tigers and lions as primitive versions and claim that the most refined practitioners are the African Wildcats who play the game with much less philosophical bent, and a “purer” rule set. Since no cat agrees on scoring, the determination of a match is impossible and this is-- argue the cats themselves-- what makes the game worth playing and any cat that puts score above the elegance of play is generally seen as a simpleton if not outright uncultured and dog-like.