Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Christmas Games

In a previous blog I discussed my belief that playing games was both for the joy of playing and to try to win. I have recently commented on Stephen Conway's  facebook page (of the spiel) where he eloquently expresses his disquiet at a professional team that chose to loose, in front of a crowd of over 67 thousand fans, so as to rest their team for a bigger game - we get this in the UK too with premiership teams discussing etiquette for the squad that they should field for a league cup game.  We also saw a year when Renault bosses allegedly instructed Nelson Piquet to crash to allow Alonso to win the Singapore Grand Prix.  Its all cheating really

Surely games are "trial runs" of what we expect life to throw at us, a practice ground, if you like, and we are only cheating ourselves to bend the rules - excepting you need to make the game a gentler environment for newgamingfolk and kids.

I understand the motivation but when a (to remain nameless) family member declared about 1 hour into a game of formula de "put me where you like, I don't mind", to me, I felt a bit cheated.  I appreciate that there are non-competitative types but if you elect to be in the game, my view is you should at the very least, try to win.  The sibling rivalry that my brother and I adequately displayed left me feeling much more satisfied - despite the fact that I took too big a risk on the last corner and span off - it was a tense and enthralling challenge [and we managed to not fall out!].  let me assure you, the rivalry was fun, engaging and relatively good natured.  Actually, we all enjoyed the game even my Mum, oops I mean the nameless, non-competitative family member :-o declared it was her favourite game.

William witnessed this, actually he came in a close second, so maybe he can fly the family colours next year and knock Uncle Rob into second place.


  1. Well you raised a few issues there James, some things you call cheating merely depend on the parameters of what you call winning, a team fielding a weaker team for instance for one game may actually be looking at the bigger picture if for instance their goal is to win a league then it would be perfectly acceptable to field a weakened team in a cup tournament. an extreme version of theis would be churchill being prepared to sacrifice the anzac and irish forces on the beaches of galipoli to enhance the chances of the british expeditionary forces in north africa. Sometimes you plan to lose a battle to win a war. In the case of your player who had no interest after an hour, it could be said that we pick our battles, perhaps the bang was not worth the buck for this player, the stake was not worth the application of effort. The goal for you was to win... which you failed at, his goal may simply have been to pass an hour in the company of his family with no particular interest in the result of what he may have though had no real value, he simply wanted to be included. another day, another game who knows. i know from personal experience that i do not apply myself to games i have no interest in unless the wager is worth it... the bang being worth the buck. Golf on the other hand, i am happy to play a friendly game against people i can beat or who are much better than me, i treat them as ways to improve, where there is a similar level of talent.. or lack there of, that is the where competition really means something... Just a though :-)

  2. Some thoughts for you to ponder:

    Is it possible that the "non competitive McD" was uninterested in the result precisely because you and your brother were being over competitive? Perhaps that took the fun out of it for her?

    Also, as Darren points out above, did she really want to play or was she coerced?
    It brings to mind a quote from James P Carse's seminal philosophical work "Finite and Infinite Games" - THOSE WHO MUST PLAY CAN'T PLAY

    This thought leads onto the whole Colts fiasco and some of the other sports related examples that you cite.
    Teams in the NFL (or F1, or the Premiership) don't PLAY they COMPETE.
    Two different approaches which lead to completely different outcomes. As a gamer Stephen assumes that there is an element of play intrinsic in the sport that he loves but I contend that this is naive and misguided.

  3. Some interesting and thought provoking commentary, thanks chaps. I shall respond more fully later, right now I must work and I am reliably informed by my kids that "if not work" then I must go and play in the copious snow! or is that compete? ;-)

  4. There are a number of issues raised in the two comments. The first is “Meta Gaming” or looking at any given engagement as one facet in a larger “Game”. I can see how losing an insignificant game and as a direct consequence winning the season/war is technically a very good strategy. Not great for the punter that thought they were coming to see two mighty teams at their full strength or indeed for the poor antipodean “cannon fodder” sent to a Turkish Peninsula.

    I think this brings me neatly to the next point. Do all stakeholders understand the rules of engagement? Are we here just to chat with a minor trivial distraction? am I here to sacrifice my life so that another battle can win and significantly progress the war? Have I paid to watch the “c-teams” do mock battle? Perhaps there is a need for the rules/conditions to be clear to all at the outset.

    The third point is Simon’s distinction between “Play” and “Compete”. You seem to infer the Metagame is “competed” and the individual engagement or game is “Played”. I’m not sure I agree with the choice of words but I understand the sentiment. Actually your choice of words has clarified one element, “Play” to me means a trivial pursuit with directionless fun as the objective. “Compete” means to direct all thought and energy to win. Using these terms as just stated, may lead to clearer specification of objectives upfront and happier competitors/players and spectators. I clearly wanted to compete, not just win, and others may just have wanted to simply play.

    My final comment is on something Darren said, “The goal for you was to win… which you failed at”. As I said above, this is not strictly true; the primary goal for me was to enjoy myself trying to win against worthy competition. This, I did not fail at in the main. Yesterday, I played Dominion against a 16-year-old relative novice. She beat me hands down (42 vs 21) with a much better strategy from the random set of cards. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and the stick that the various onlookers gave me afterwards ☺

  5. >>You seem to infer the Metagame is “competed” and the individual engagement or game is “Played”<<

    No I was not implying this (and only you can chose to infer from what I imply given the dictionary definition of the two words).
    Actually, my point was that professional sportsmen do not 'play', they 'compete'. They do not take to the field for the pure joy of play but because it is their job. Those who must play cannot play.

    And I disagree that play must, by its nature, be a "trivial pursuit with direction less fun". I'll lend you "Finite and Infinite Games" and we can debate at length :-)

  6. You don't have to agree, it was my definition.

    Thank you for correcting my lexicographic error. There is a fine line between constructive criticism and looking foolish. You walk that line so well Simon.

  7. Think I mostly agree with James' later points (while deploring the management- and politician-speak use of the word "stakeholders"). Different people obviously put different things into a shared experience such as gaming and/or competing, and take different things out. Where people's objectives are wildly different, it is likely that they will be incompatible and lead to a less satisfactory experience for at least some of those involved.

    I know that where I've been engaged in one of a series of games with several players that I will play again, I will sometimes play with the objective of having the future games go well rather than the current one, particularly if the current one seems lost. This might include retaliation against someone who has put me into the losing position, or refusing to be manipulated into sacrificing my own position to prevent a win, if the other person could have done the same thing and elected not to. In those cases (and others), remembering the consequences in a previous game may cause those players to act differently next time, increasing my chances.

    This brings to mind the article that led to the games strategy workshop at James' company, which mentioned things like doing deals in such a way that people want to deal with you again, rather than getting the absolutely best deal this time and leaving them feeling cheated.

    And sorry Simon, but if you're going to try to wrest the grammar-Nazi crown from me, you'll have to be more careful. "Infer" can be synonymous with "imply", e.g. the Free Online Dictionary has:
    3. To lead to as a consequence or conclusion: "Socrates argued that a statue inferred the existence of a sculptor" (Academy).
    4. To hint; imply.

    But I'll let you take me to task for starting one sentence with the word "And" and another with the word "But" ;-)

    So as you were, Private McDermott. Just go and stand on that exposed promontory will you, and find out if there's a hidden machine gun nest covering it...

  8. Sorry for contributing to the insidious management speak that we all must suffer. Genuinely I am kicking myself. I've reached out to many of my co-workers with the objective of entering in to a dialogue about a framework for an open discussion on acceptable nomenclature or terminology for this topic.
    I had attempted to find a word that allowed the point to stand without reference to (Soldier, competitor, player). I guess the choice of stakeholder achieved this but participant may have done just as well - although arguably the managers of the sports teams and the leaders of the armies would not be included in this collective noun and I had wanted to refer to them too. Vocabulary or more precisely active vocabulary is influenced quite heavily by our usual environment and what we read or listen to. I have started reading the Guardian blog so I suspect my spelling will deteriorate quite rapidly ;-)

    Summary of debate to date:

    Jim: Not playing to win is cheating and ruins the fun for others.
    Darren: Definition of Wining may include "loosing" this game to win a series.
    Simon: Engaging in the game may have been the goal and agree with Darren's point
    Jim: Understand Darren/Simon's point but the "players" need to know this or they will still feel cheated.
    Simon: disagrees that an objective to just play means to engage in a trivial pursuit
    Eric: agrees that in a single game may gain value out of a loss that will aid the enjoyment of a subsequent game

    I think then despite the ongoing debate on grammar/lexicography/syntax and vocabulary we've had a healthy debate, thank you all for your contribution :-)

    I suspect we'll have the same discussion in January next year ;-)


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