OBLIGATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT WHO THE HELL I AM
I have been gaming most of my life (age 4 and up). I think my first game was a DOS BASIC game called Depth Charge, played on an IBM back in 1984. Since then, its been a string of PC games, board/card games, RPGs, console games, and the occasional pick up game of basketball. I enjoy having to thinking within a system of constraints (or rules), then watch the patterns of play style and tactical choice emerge within that system. I seek out competitive game environments as a sort of mental martial art. And like a community of martial artists, in order to become better at what you do, you need good adversaries. For me, a good adversary is a fellow player that pushes back, hopefully harder than you pushed. The give and take. But with meeples and chits, rather than punches and kicks, blocks and throws.
For me, competition against a variety of players has given me insight into my own failed ways of thinking, and access to different models of decision making. This has helped me break down the ways in which I am a scrub, then work on making better decisions with the given and hidden information. As a general rule, I tend to gravitate towards players capable of creating and fostering a vulnerable and safe space to push each other to outthink and outmaneuver opponents. Like most gamers, I am a recovering scrub, and have mostly left that flawed way of thinking in lieu of actually playing to win.
I spend a lot of time observing the ways in which my adversaries think. I find games to be an elegant way to test and implement different ideas. And while a game can give you something to compete for, good adversaries have taught me how to win with integrity, and how to learn from a failure. While I am human like everyone else, I try to stay positive and not lose my cool at the table. Failures should be embraced. You can win a game through no fault of your own. But losing a game usually involves someone outpacing you.
One of my favorite aspects of competitive games is the way I can truly experience another individual’s mind through their decision-making process. A competitive game environment draws that decision-making process into sharp relief, reveals the pattern, and if you’re observant, can give you insight into your opponent (I am still working on reading things correctly).
You can literally track that process in the way the game unfolds. Decisions snowball into other decisions. Then counter moves snowball into other ways of pushing the rules to your own advantage. That exchange, the back and forth, is the pattern of the other player’s mind at work. And in a well-designed competitive game environment, you get an opportunity to both counter a player’s moves as well as their future moves, if you can read the pattern. And when I play a game with that many levels to it, it has indelibly changed the way I think – so long as I am paying attention to the lesson.
THE VULNERABLE SPACE OF COMPETITION
I love competition… sometimes. Well, I particularly like competition within systems of rules and constraints, aka games. I find competition to be a very vulnerable space to occupy, so choosing the right adversaries is a very critical task. Creating this space to be vulnerable actually produces “valuable” competition. The value is in the act of self-control, and staying positive (also, difficulties for me, as I am sure we have all experienced). Fostering an environment that promotes different modes of thinking and engagement requires being a support mechanism for your peers, and constantly seeking to dive into the deeper nuances of a game.
RIGGED GAMES VS. RANDOM GAMES
One’s application of strategic thought and innovative implementation is meaningless when the circumstances more than manipulation grant victory or defeat. Or, in other words, a game system with too many random variables, or too many hard and fast rules, actually hinders and sidetracks the competitive nature of a game environment.
I typically only play games that have direct lines of competition, whether that is a territory fight mixed with resource management, or games where you fight for position while having to track a variety of other variables that are solely influenced by the other players. Its not to say that resource management games aren’t fun, but they are not an experience that I derive satisfaction, as I would be playing against the board or rules set, rather than other players and their decision-making process.
More to come…