Friday, October 5, 2012
Games are simulations. They assist us in learning and developing ourselves so we can survive and thrive in whatever landscape we find ourselves in. And humans actively create new simulations to develop new skills.
But something interesting ends up happening happens. People forget the original reason for participating in competitions and games, and start prizing victory at the expense of other factors. Factors like their health and social lives. It's strange; if a game exists to develop skills to survive, but then you sacrifice your health for the sake of it, you have defeated the original purpose of the game. Why do this?
I've spent the past few articles talking about the origin of games and competitions--purely because I find it interesting--but the reality is, we don't need to obey that origin any more. Things are the way they are now, and the truth is, we don't need games to survive quite like we did before, because the face of suvival has changed. How should we view games now? How should we look at winning?
The real answer to the question is, irritatingly enough, "it depends." It depends on the reason that you play the game to begin with. We know why we have a tendency towards games and competitions. But, once we become aware of those tendencies we can make more conscious choices. So the question "how much should I care about winning" can only be answered by asking "why do I play?" The answer to the first depends on how much winning serves the second.
Some people look at games with the perspective that they really should reflect nature, and you should approach them with a do-or-die attitude where winning is everything. And this makes sense, to a certain extent. If we agree that games are meant to be simulations that teach you how to survive, then honing the will to survive and win may be the most important element of it all. That attitude will carry over into other situations, and may give you the drive to press on when others might quit.
But again, the problem is that going at the game with the desire to win at all costs can hurt your life outside the game. And then using the skill that you're developing hurts the whole point of learning the skill. From a survival perspective, this is rather unsound.
There is also the school of thought that says, "it's just a game." I've been over this here. Even though I have just spent two weeks arguing that games developed as simulations for "real life," that is simply a descriptor of their origin. "Real life" has, for many people, changed. And therefore, so should our attitude towards games.
Does winning matter? Sometimes, in the context of your life, it really does. You are playing to earn a scholarship to get into a university, get a degree, play on a major team. You're playing on a major team, your contract and popularity and financial well-being depend on your performance. The reasons can vary, but sometimes winning has actual, hard consequences.
And sometimes it doesn't, but you manically pursue it anyhow. If it's too important to win and you fail, the experience of losing might be too negative for you to keep going. If you love the game, your desire to win could end up hindering your enjoyment of it. So do you stop caring when you lose, or just get better and always win? Many variables exist, but this is the essence: define your own purpose for playing the game in the context of your life and adjust your attitude accordingly.
I'll talk about myself for a bit, since that's the subject I'm most of an expert on. I play games to understand myself. I use them as a lens to analyze my behaviors and tendencies, to see what I think, how I behave, and why I think and behave that way. Games are useful in this regard because they offer pretty clear feedback when you're doing something wrong or not. And if I'm succeeding at something when somebody else doesn't, I just ask the question: why? What am I doing, what am I focusing on, that lets me succeed? Likewise, when somebody possesses a skill I lack, what is it that gives them that ability? These questions interest me.
I also heavily dislike mysticism. Things tend to happen for reasons; when people say, "that's just the way it is," or settle for an unhelpful answer without going into the mechanics behind it, I get kind of irritated. Our actions and feelings have purposes, and there's a reason behind the purpose, and when you understand them, you can cut away clutter and uncertainty and go straight to the heart of what actually fulfills you, what makes you feel alive and whole. We don't always know the reason for things happening a certain way, but we're also remarkably uncomfortable admitting it.
So why try to win? Because the path that leads to victory contains information that helps me become more aware of myself; learning more about myself helps me learn more about others. By learning this information I can share it, and others can refine it, and continue the cycle. What I know about myself so far is that I have a deep-seated desire to be competent, to be respected, and to create and establish things that people will attach to my name. So when I play games, I instinctively try to dominate, to be known through teaching, and to innovate to push understanding of my game forward. It wouldn't work very well if I played more established games and sports (since their territory is so well-covered), but video games give me more opportunity to achieve that goal.
How much is too much? Well, if doing something stops serving the purpose that I pick for it, I try to quit pursuing it. If I do something for my enjoyment, but pursuing the thing makes me unhappy, I try to re-evaluate my methods. Strangely enough though, because competition and games are the framework I use to analyze my own behavior and emotions, I don't actually mind if trying to win leads to a negative experience. You can't understand trends without data, and I can't understand what makes me sad, frustrated, and angry without experiencing sadness, frustration, and anger.
However, I do have other goals for my life. I'm not going to overuse stimulants and fry the reward neuro-circuitry of my brain, because that hinders my long term plans. To an athlete that plans to live past the age of thirty, I feel like similar concerns should apply. There is almost never a point where victory in the game should outweigh concern for your future (or current) well-being, because even though the game ends, you will continue living and developing.
Find your purpose for competing. Define the elements that matter to you, and then refine your actions so you can experience more of them. Thanks for reading.