Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Competition and Failure

"I don't play games, because I* am too competitive."

"I* get too involved in playing and it always leads to an argument."

"I* can't stand losing."

"I* cheat."

[* I could be I/he/she/we/they]

Overly-competitive might be a matter of personality. But it's no surprise to find that there is a lower incidence of arguments, sore-losers, and cheating with some types of games than with others.

If a game is a series of dice rolls over which you have no control, and ends with but a single absolute winner, and the rewards for winning are high, then it's understandable that those who play care for nothing besides the win. Competition is heightened, sometimes to a potentially dangerous level.

In contrast, if a game requires important decisions or trainable skills, provides a score against which you can measure your progress from game to game, or if the rewards for winning are not (much) higher than the rewards for good playing, then competition still exists, but the spirit of the game is also prominent. Winning is important, but it's not worth cheating and chronic argument. There's joy to be found in the game, other than winning alone.

Certain games reflect certain values. Some games push the game win over the game spirit. The values in these games are reflected in the culture of modern entrepreneurship, boards of directors, and financial traders. A drive to win is good, and so is competition. But competition can reach a dangerous level, if it leads to an unhealthy necessity to win, and a loss of fun, fairness, and other important values.

Failure to win is not equitable with failure. Rather than devastation, a failed attempt is a necessary step on the road to discovery and growth. It is not a sin to attempt and fail; it is a sin if there is nothing to gain from the attempt other than success, and some players must fail.


Bernie said...

Nice post, Yehuda. Thoughtful, valuable comments on games and competition.

I've found that playing games can evoke a lot of fears. Sometimes people are as afraid of winning as they are of losing.

There's another distinction I draw when I talk about competition - the difference between having to win and playing to win.

Thanks for the good thinking, and taking the time to share it with us.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks, Bernie.

GeekInsight said...

Honestly, I try to remind people that a game shouldn't be about winning. The play of the game should be the fun part, and I always make a point to give the victor a cheer when it isn't me.

It's a little bit of a cliche, but its true. You'll get a lot more out of a game if you enjoy the part between opening the box and game end, than if you play it with an eye solely toward tallying your score.


Gavan Brown said...

"Failure to win is not equitable with failure. "

Good post. The difference between success and failure is quitting. You have to measure a loss in a game as a small piece of a much larger journey.