The Jaded Gamer

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When winners are losers and how losers can be winners

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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"She said the same thing about waffles."
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Microbadge: Offline from The Geek for a while
It's one of the oldest lessons in the parent's playbook:
"winning isn't everything"

Most of the gamers I play with understand this little axiom, but I have had a few experiences, as have we all, where the failure to lord it over everyone have led to tears before bedtime, in both a figurative and literal sense.

Perhaps your first experience of gaming was against siblings, which is on the face of it a lovely and sanitised way to channel the natural family rivalries into something fun. However, anyone who has actually done this knows that it is never that simple and fun an experience. When sibling rivalries are involved, there's more on the line than a simple desire to enjoy oneself - you are proving to yourself, your family and the world that you are the WINNER! Youth is full of little moments that seem crucially important but are obviously, with hindsight, of such pitifully low importance it makes one (me) wince with every memory.

Have you ever flipped a board in frustration? I have.
Have you ever switched to actual, physical violence following a game you lost? I have.

Of course, this was a long time ago - but gamers have honed these tendencies into new forms, presumably in the hope of hiding the basic immaturity of these attitudes.

Board flipping becomes Game Bashing.
Physical Violence becomes Passive Aggressive Sniping.

Neither of these take into account the actual game state or even the eventual winner! I'm sure we've all played a game with someone who complained the whole time about how unfair it is and how they don't stand a chance, only to win by a mile at the end. shake

Game Bashing

Game bashing takes many forms, usually of the "this game is broken/unbalanced/poorly designed" type, but is always an excuse - the game is just as "broken" for everyone, after all. Luck is a harsh mistress, but these (usually first play) complaints about the route you chose to take through the game have some major flaws.

a. This game is broken
In almost all cases, this is plain nonsense. I've heard it said about many of the very highest rated games on the 'geek - it is pretty much the gaming version of calling something "gay" when I was young (very un-pc now - I am reliably informed the British youth use "butters" instead). You don't actually mean literally what you said, it's just a snarl word that is an extreme version of...

b. This game is unbalanced
This may be true, but one should always be careful to avoid oversimplification of the situation. Where you have lost and you can't understand why the game itself being unbalanced may well be the least likely explanation for your loss, but since I've covered this before I won't harp on about the same issue again

c. The game is poorly designed
More of the same. Deflection and an obviously weak excuse. A special case of this is the "turn order" or "last/first player advantage" diagnosed on first play. Dopey.

And remember what you are saying here - "I would have done better if only the game was different", which is pretty much like me saying "I'd be the greatest footballer in the world if only football was different" (presumably only I would be allowed to actually move...)

It's also vastly disrespectful to your opponents - as if their performance is irrelevant because the game is (in your opinion) unfair? That's a little harsh for my liking. Stop it.

Passive Aggressive Sniping

I'm in a difficult position here, because (and this is crucial) I believe table talk to be a necessary and important part of every game I play. Either for entertainment value or something more manipulative. After all, if I wanted to play against cold, calculating, silent opponents only then I would be computer gaming - which saves me going out in the cold, at least!

So of course I am guilty of this, either to re-position myself as a potential ally or to mislead the opposition into discounting me from their consideration e.g. my 'sulks' during Cosmic Encounter - these are now getting pretty predictable and obvious, so I'm going to have to come up with something new, thinking about it (note to self - learn to cry on cue). cry

I guess the distinction needs to be drawn in your motivation for doing so. Are you firing verbal missiles at your opposition because you are faking a weak position (or drawing attention to it) for gaming reasons, or are you actually just sulking and lashing out in defence?

Nobody's perfect but it is always worth bearing in mind how little the outcome of this game matters - one position is that games exist, at least in part, to develop your social skills and improve your relationships, neither of which is served by the childish distancing of oneself from our performances. You just look, to use a technical term, like a douche.

When Winners Are Losers

So, covering bad losing is easy, but what constitutes bad winning? As a lifelong bad winner, I can speak from experience.

Some of it is born out of victory being a far more fleeting experience than loss. The other players don't want to dwell on your performance and their failure at all, so it can be tempting to drag the moment of victory out, either by expounding on the minutiae of how you pulled it off or (and this is really unforgivable) pointing out where the other players messed up.

I get it, believe me. It's important to us that our victories are recognised - especially since our losses are so much more numerous and contain far more in the way of camaraderie. There appears more to be learned from a loss as well, since it is far easier to talk about what we did wrong than (as I have said) making a speech about what we did right.

For example, my first ever game of Dungeon Lords went perfectly. I won by a mile and never had any trouble at all. I know that the next time I play I will have no experience of overcoming difficulty in my tool bag to pull out at the opportune moment and improve my situation. Sometimes winning isn't the best outcome for the metagame.

In fact, that's a good point - winning a game is often a metagame disaster! Winner bashing is probably a special case of leader bashing, just one in which the target is chosen before the game is begun (cf. rules explainer bashing) rather than as a result of game events.

Try as we might, we cannot avoid keeping the metagame in the back of our minds - it's only the sensible way to use the experiences, after all - even if we are trying to keep an "each game is a new experience" mindset.

Frequent winners can also find themselves avoided at all costs by less experienced players. Again, this can be the case for me with non-gamer buddies - they wonder why they should even bother playing when "(I) always win". Never mind the fact that as a victim of winner bashing and games teacher bashing I hardly ever actually do anyway.
(my gamer friends will laugh at this idea, given how lousy I usually perform in games against experienced games players, but it is the case, nevertheless)

There's no real remedy to these issues, since everyone can agree that throwing a victory away in service of the metagame is completely daft, but all this just adds to the reasons in favour of underplaying your victories.

Conclusion

So is losing in this particular game a victory for the metagame? Yes and no. You avoid becoming an obvious target (particularly if the winner is being an ass about it) but, let's face it - you lost.

Of course, losing isn't the end of the world. In fact, all things being equal, it's simply more likely than the other outcome (there being more multiplayer games than two player games)!

I've said before that, in the end, board games simply don't, in the grand scheme of things, matter (this being their best feature, IMHO) and that the lessons gained through defeats are often the best way to achieve an improvement in your general play - ask any Go player and they'll tell you. Also, dealing with losing (a small failure, if you will) in a mature and sensible way is a major part of being a good person. Unless you are outrageously fortunate your life will contain more that didn't go to plan than did, the trick is to gain something from each experience.

Lose with grace, Win with humility
...and have fun either way.

Here's hoping I can live up to this ideal.
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