Friday, December 16, 2011

You Play to Win the Game, Or Do You?

Start by watching this clip, I'll make reference to it shortly.

I've always believed that boardgames are something to have fun with, but they are also something where people can compete in a friendly fashion.

I suppose it boils down to this thought, if you don't play to win, what are you playing for?  Now, don't get me wrong, winning isn't everything, but it is something.  We're in the midst of a culture where everyone gets a participation ribbon or trophy.  Excellence isn't rewarded for fear that we might offend someone.  That's silly!  Knowing that you do something well is character building, but more importantly, knowing that you don't do everything well actually forces you to examine yourself.  It isn't enough to get a prize for playing, you should strive to do your best.

I'll step off the soapbox and bring this back to gaming.  For all my statistics of games, the one thing I don't track are wins.  That's because my ultimate goal when I sit down to play games is to have fun.  One of the ways that I have fun is in TRYING to win.  That doesn't mean winning at any cost, or becoming upset if I don't win, but it means doing my best in an effort to be better than everyone else.  It also means if I can't win, let's play for 2nd, or 3rd, or however high I can manage.  In co-op games, it's about working as a team member.  I've had more fun in games of Forbidden Island where we all drown, or Fool's Landing sinks to the depths of the ocean, than I have in games where we win going away.

I played roughly 30 games of Settlers of Catan before I won a game.  It made me a great player, because I saw what worked and what didn't.  Some of those games were poor dice rolls, but I learned from those.  As a child, I played a lot of games with my grandpa.  He never let me win.  This didn't frustrate me too much even as a 5 or 6 year old.  What it did was make me rather excited when I finally beat him in a game, because I knew that I had earned it.  When I was learning to play Chess as a 4th grader, my dad didn't let me win. He did help me make smarter moves, and eventually I won a match.

I submit to you that I am a better game player, and more importantly a better person because I was not simply allowed to win games as a child, and because I play the game to win.

It's a fine line between being competitive and being a good sport.  I can't say that I always walk that line well, but I do my best.

I'd love to hear any comments about this subject, and perhaps get a good discussion going.


  1. While I'm a very competitive person, it's still possible for me to lose a game a dozen times and still love playing it (as we've seen with Dominion). Once in a blue moon, a game will come along that I feel I will never come close to winning and that sort of sours the experience.

    There are just some games that if I get overwhelmingly defeated over and over again, I just stop having fun. There are also some games I don't find very rewarding to win for one reason or another.

  2. No kidding. Letting people win just so they feel good about winning or rewarding everybody regardless of their performance creates some very big problems that extend beyond games and competitiveness. Now this is coming from the guy who, as a 4 year old, would win chess by taking one of my pieces and knocking all the others off, and would win 1 on 1 tetris by hitting the down arrow as fast as possible (which, actually, I still argue was a pretty clever strategy on my part since I still won, points-wise, within the rules of the game... but I digress.)

    Personally, I don't enjoy games as much when I'm winning by a wide margin. The thrill of a game isn't the victory over the group but the skill growth. It's like grinding in an MMO--the bigger monsters you fight, the harder it is and the more you die, but the more experience you get and the quicker you get good at it, even though you're likely to lose a hundred times over.

    Not to say that I get a kick out of losing (unless I'm expecting to be soundly beaten, eg. Dominion,) but if you can't enjoy a game even if you're losing a fair, even fight, then why bother playing.

    In short: Enjoy the challenge, and take every loss as an education experience on how you can win next time.

    Unless, of course, you happen to be Ender Wiggin, in which case there is no excuse for losing.

  3. I agree. You are taking a good approach by not going too far to either side. I feel like the whole idea of the "participation ribbion" started in response to hyper competition, that idea that you are nothing if you don't win. From a guy who was almost always picked last in basketball at gym I can understand the disadvantage to this side. At the same time, you grip the heart of the problem of removing all competition, the loss of the drive to improve. Thats why friendly competition is the best. You are striving to get better because you are having fun. You want to win for the joy of playing hard, not because it connects to your self worth. Like most things it is this balance that is needed.