In the Anscombe episode, Mark refers (about 20 minutes in) to language games to explain what’s behind Anscombe’s claim that “ought” has been abstracted from the contexts in which it has clear uses and imagined to have a sense independent of those contexts. Mark notes that although Anscombe doesn’t use the term “language game,” she studied closely with Wittgenstein, translated most of his work and wrote from a Wittgensteinian perspective. Mark felt it important to emphasize, however, that, despite her allusion to the idea, for Anscombe, discussing morality or particular moral issues “is not a game.” Or, as David Byrne might put it, “This ain’t no foolin’ around.”
One might wonder why Wittgenstein would choose to use the word “game” so much when talking about language. Why choose as your principal analogy something that is sure to elicit the accusation that you are trivializing what is as far from trivial as anything could be? After all, he took philosophy about as seriously as one can take it, I believe. Ironically, Russell, not really knowing whereof he spoke, said of Wittgenstein’s later work that it was the product of a man who had grown tired of serious thinking. He even suggested Wittgenstein had invented a doctrine in order to make serious thinking in philosophy unnecessary. So, was Wittgenstein just playing around? Did he just make up his own rules so he could play the game the way he wanted to? I’d say that’s barely plausible. He believed he had achieved an insight into how philosophers (but not only philosophers), including himself, were prone to being misled in the course of their investigations. He wanted, among other things, to try to reveal why this happens and to put up sign posts to warn of the dangers of confusion. He tried to do philosophy in a new way, showing how by example, just as one might explain what a game is by example rather than by definition.