There’s a funny thing about my personality. If you know me, you know that I’m pretty quiet most of the time, and very laid back, and generally not that competitive. In fact, though my dad had some dreams for my high school career as a star kicker in football, I never really got into organized sports. This is not because of an outright rejection of sports – I could hold my own in a pickup game of basketball or touch football – I just didn’t appreciate how much time and effort and lack of actual fun were involved, because organized sports are not about playing, they’re about winning.
However, despite my lack of enthusiasm towards sports, I do have a competitive gene inside me, and when I played games, I played to win. Winning was the most important thing when I played any game, even RPGs.
There’s a funny thing about board games, though. They’re generally designed to be played with a group of 2-6 people, who are usually your friends. If the only way to have fun is to win, that means 1 person gets to have fun while the other 5 people have an awful experience. What kind of hobby is that?
Eventually I learned, by looking myself and others, that a game is much better for everyone if you have fun regardless of the outcome. Winning is great, but a game should be fun even if you’re in last place. Sometimes that’s just the games fault (like, you know, with Monopoly), but sometimes its the players attitudes. Attitudes can ruin a game for everyone. It can make things awkward if someone is actually seething in anger over something that is just a game. And when someone gets depressed and just gives up, it can completely mess up the balance for the other players.
The whole list thing seems like a good way to continue to share my thoughts in an organized fashion, so here’s a list of things that can ruin fun, and how to respond to stay away from the dark side.
1. Don’t be a sulker.
If I see one of my friends is angry because he got hit early on in the game, or his numbers just aren’t coming up in the dice rolls, it’s less fun for me. If it’s a co-op game like DnD, I can offer help and encouragement, but if it’s a competitive game, it’s just not fun to attack someone who is sulking off to the side, barely participating because of a little bad luck. It’s okay to be disappointed when stuff doesn’t go your way, but remember that it is just a game. Keep it light. Act indignant, but don’t take your hits too seriously. Joke around. Self-deprecating humor works really well when you’re the underdog.
2. If bad stuff happens early… don’t give up.
Sometimes, when something bad happens to you early on in a game, it puts you behind early and you can just never catch up. But most of the time, everybody will take a big hit at some point during the game, allowing you to catch up. If you let a big hit discourage you, you may miss an opportunity to swing things around. It’s usually much worse to take a big hit late in the game than early – unless you let that early downfall get inside your head.
3. Remember the good times
If you’re doing well and then you get blasted just before the end, ripping victory from your clutches… remember that you had a good run. You were the dangerous player that the other players were targetting. You were the one to beat. So, you got busted in the end… at least you had a good run.
4. Use your imagination to come up with a story
I’ve said before that games provide a general outline for a ‘story’ leaving the details up to the players. If you’re doing poorly, come up with a story in context of the game to explain why your side just isn’t making the cut. Or, create an additional spark to the game by creating a rivalry – or picking a Nemesis (just remember, keep it friendly). You may not win in the end but at least you’ll have done something creative along the way. Maybe you’ll even make your friends laugh and bring enjoyment to everyone.
5. Appreciate the stuff the other players are doing
If you’re watching a good action movie and there’s a fight scene, you enjoy it because cool stuff is happening. You’re not going to win the fight yourself, and sometimes the hero onscreen doesn’t even win at the time. It’s still a good scene. In the same manner, if another player pulls of a sweet move, commend him for it. Imagine it playing out in real life. Imagine how awesome it is and enjoy the scene. When the game is over, talk about stuff the other players did that was cool, including the players that didn’t win. They’ll feel good about it and chances are they’ll point out some of your successes as well.
6. If you can’t win… make other goals.
Maybe you realize you can’t win, or maybe you just want to have something to accomplish personally. Maybe you’ve never finished a game of Catan with more than 6 points, and this time you’re going to get 7. If you have personal goals that are achievable separate from what the other players are doing, you can end any game and feel like you’ve accomplished something. If you can’t win, you can make some decisions that won’t get you closer to winning – but will help you accomlish your goal. And sometimes, simply by focusing on a specific goal instead of just winning, you’ll find yourself pulling ahead.
7. You’re not the only one playing.
Sure you like to win, but no one wins every time. Most good games have an element of luck that can swing things out of the hands of even the most talented player. And nothing is written that entitles you to win every game you play. If you lose, feel happy for the player who won, because they’re not going to win every time either. Also, everyone is trying to win, so if someone does something to you – it’s not personal. It’s part of the game.
8. Don’t get physical
No one likes that guy that tries to start hitting someone who just dealt out some damage to them, or the guy that gets so frustrated at his situation that he throws the board off the table, sending pieces flying everywhere. Don’t be that guy. If you are really feeling frustrated, take a break. Stand up and walk away from the board for a few seconds. Get a drink of water or pepsi or coke, have some snacks (who plays boardgames without snacks?) and remind yourself that it’s just a game.
Just remember, in the end games are about having fun and spending time with people. It is okay to be competitive, to want to win, to feel disappointed when something terrible happens to you or when you lose. Just don’t give up and keep a positive attitude so you, and the people you’re playing with, can have a good time no matter what. Having a bad attitude doesn’t just affect you, no matter what you try to tell yourself. It affects everyone else in the room, and in a bad way.
Do you know anyone who can’t have fun unless they win?
Do you have any other ideas on how to enjoy a game even if you dont win?
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Nice post. My cousin used to destroy the board after he was out of a game. It really did make games much less fun.
I’ve had to combat the competitive gene, too. It’s tough to do, but you have some good ideas.
One problem we developed in our circle o’ board gamers was sometimes we were just too NICE! 🙂 No one wanted to piss anyone off which was equally awesome (cuz we’re friends) and annoying because games would last twice as long due to lack of aggressive game play.
Best game to bust out when you have a hyper competitive borderline d-bag player: Arkham Horror. You pretty much always lose… but you always lose together. 🙂
~jen~ (Dan U’s sister)
hey, new readers! welcome!
Arkham Horror is fun stuff. Long game though, hard to find time to play. I do like cooperative games, though.
Maybe i’ll have to write a post on not being nice when playing a game.
Yes, it is important to be nice when playing any game, because when the game is over, you still have your opponents as friends, and you want to play again so your redemption is possible, at least in your own eyes. However, one must be careful not to deliberately throw a game so the sullen player can win. This rewards the negative behaviour encouraging its repetition at the next game, and alters the game-play of the other participants. This is an error in judgement I made playing against my siblings: they no longer enjoying playing ANY games, unless they are confident of a victory.