I read a post by my friend SinSynn at the House of Paincakes network last night. It was about online trolls, but he mentioned in passing that he doesn’t play miniatures games primarily to win. Neither do I, and it brought to mind a personal revelation I had a little while ago. I was chatting to my partner about a game I was playing, the mobile scrabble clone Words with Friends. I’m in a few continuous matches with people when I ride the bus in the morning, and one of my friends, let’s just call him Roland, is a guy I had a friendly rivalry with as an undergrad. We were both top of our respective high schools in English and we actually became friends when I helped him with a crossword he was doing in the bar. That sounds pretty uncool, I know. But we were drinking beer at least, and hey, we were wagging a lecture!
So I play Words with Friends casually, and Roland keeps beating me. He’s top of the leaderboard out of everyone I know who has the game, and that’s a lot of people. I find myself trying really hard to defeat him, to play as well as I can, and I was complaining to my partner that when it’s my turn I usually knock out a word in two to five minutes, but against Roland it takes me days to make a move, because “I’m actually trying to beat him.”
She laughed at me and when I asked what was so funny she said “that’s so you. I think most people are always actually trying to beat everyone they play. I bet Roland always tries his best.” And you know, she’s right. So I started actually trying to get the highest points I possibly could from every word in every game. My game dramatically improved in a couple of weeks. One person I was playing with resigned when my score doubled theirs and did not challenge me to a rematch. Everyone else I was playing either lost to me or mysteriously improved as well, and scraped a victory. But the list of friends I’ve never beaten is now down to one, when before the number of friends I had beaten was er . . . one.
I’m trying to figure out why I’m like this, and why I don’t play games seriously as a rule. I now play a total of two games in this way: Words with Friends and Street Fighter. It’s an enjoyable way to play, and seductive; it gives you a feeling of accomplishment and it’s simple. You don’t have to deal with any social grey areas involving such things as sportsmanship, or taking responsibility for your opponent enoying themselves. You just focus, and you assume that they’re doing the same, and you get down to it.
Why do we play some games in this way and not others? Are all games even suited to playing seriously? I doubt it.
I know that many people today play all games this way, and I’m fairly certain that this is a new development. In the 19th and early 20th century even sports were played in what is sometimes still called a “gentlemanly” manner. Now people play Scrabble like they’re dicing with death. What happened? I could take a few stabs at it, but I’d be much more interested to hear what other people think first.
Till next time,