Way of Play

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A discussion with my boyfriend made me realise something about different ways of play – or, more exactly – how and why I play games.

I for myself don’t like competition much. Seeing yourself displayed on a single additional sheet as the very last person of the ladder of a athletics competition is not exactly helping boost your self-esteem. Picked as the last one whenever teams for football, floorball or basketball are formed neither. So what did I do?

I opted out. It was just a game. I went to out-of-school sport activities because of the people there, not because I wanted to achieve anything – after all, I wouldn’t be good enough anyway, I told myself. I avoided competition as good as possible. If I took everything as a game, as something of no importance, losing didn’t matter anymore. I could forget it, and wouldn’t care that I wasn’t as good as I wanted myself to be.

This attitude persisted throughout my life. My brother was always better at playing highly competitive computer games than I was. For me it was just a game and never supposed to feel like work. As soon as I was truly challenged, as soon as some training and persistence was required, I gave up. My brother kept going. And he made it past the challenges. I never did.

I gave up wanting to win in order to keep myself from being disappointed when I lost. Yeah, foxes and grapes come to mind …

But of course, there is another way to play games. Perceive them as contests of strength, speed, wit – whatever; as challenges to overcome and a way to assess one’s abilities. Wanting to win is necessary part of that way of play; losing just a motivation to make it better the next time.

Those two views will naturally conflict when people of both of those sides take part in one game. One side thinks that the other part is taking the game way too serious (“It’s just a game, man!”), while the other is pissed because the first isn’t taking the game serious enough (“Why play in the first place if you don’t intend to win?”).1 The potential for mutual misunderstanding is rather high.

Nowadays, I play for two reasons: because of the people that play with me (in case of board games) or because of the story (in case of computer games). Competing is not a motivation, possibly because I’m still afraid that I’m not good enough, because I fear making a fool of myself by failing.

This past year I realised how far I can get with just a bit of ambition. Maybe it’s time to opt back in?

  1. That could actually make an interesting stage or radio play – a game, that is played not just on the game level, but on the personal level as well. ↩︎