Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lifehack: Taking the sting out of competitive games played with friends

The idea: Focus on improving your score instead of whether you win or lose.

I recently took a 1-year break from boardgaming because I would feel awful after every game. If I beat my friend, I would feel guilty. If my friend beat me, I would feel angry. And games are supposed to be fun!

Well I've thought of an idea to take the sting out of playing competitive games with friends. It applies to many boardgames and sports -- any kind of game with numeric scores. Rather than thinking about who won or who lost, I'm going to focus on improving my score since the last game. Specifically, improving the difference between my score and my friend's score.

So if the difference in the scores was 5 in the last game, I'll try for 6 or more this game. If the difference was -3, I'll try for -2 or better this game. The cool thing about focusing on the "score difference" is that you are really competing against yourself rather than your friend. But to keep things spicy, you'll still want to minimize your friend's score because that is another way to improve the score difference!

Even if your friend is a lot better than you at this sport/game, consistently beating you, you can still have fun because you are competing against yourself: Has the score difference been improving? Conversely, if you keep beating your friend, you might gloat a little less when you again consider: Has the score difference been improving?

This week: my first board game after a year-long hiatus! May it be fun!


  • hi jon,

    I am no gamer at all so don't know much abt games. I think though that this approach will definitely be very very good for casual gaming which I feel will get more & more popularized.

    By Blogger Rajan, at 9/18/2005 6:56 PM  

  • This is similar to the effect of the handicap in the game of golf. As well as "levelling the playing field", the handicap forces players to play against themselves in order to improve their handicap. This removes *some* of the competetive heat, making it primarily a social sport.

    By Anonymous Chris Pilsworth, at 9/19/2005 2:58 AM  

  • I don't think it'll help. The problem, for me, is the betrayals. I always feel personally slighted when someone backstabs me.

    Their gloating expressions of triumph when they do so make me really angry - no matter how fleeting they are or how rash their betrayal turns out to be.

    If your problem is the same as my problem, I don't think concentrating on score will help any.

    By Blogger Craig Perko, at 9/19/2005 11:04 AM  

  • Hi Rajan - Thanks for the encouragement.

    Chris - Nice insight - yes, it is like a handicap.

    Craig - True enough. This won't do anything about betrayals.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 9/19/2005 6:27 PM  

  • This is why I've scaled back to mostly playing Apples to Apples.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy your foray back into boardgaming.

    By Blogger Darius Kazemi, at 9/20/2005 2:22 PM  

  • Hi Darius - "Scaling back" - I like that idea. I'll follow your example of playing light stuff for now - stuff to have fun with.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 9/20/2005 11:07 PM  

  • Indeed, you have named the reason I don't like to play most games.

    For various reasons, computer games (for me, anyway) remove the sense of defeat or embarrassment that would otherwise come with a win or loss in a multiplayer game.

    No matter how many times my friend snipes me during our sniper war, if I can get him back once or twice, I feel fine about it. Maybe it's because playing so many single-player computer games has primed me to always focus on my own performance more than that of others.

    Perhaps it's because the enemy is usually at an unfair advantage in a game (to start) and the player's task is usually to slowly, gradually improve their skills to overcome it. Because in that situation, it's easier to not take a loss personally since you've been beaten by a computer, not a human being, and because the explicit point of playing is to improve your skills moreso than to simply be better than someone else.

    Then again, some of the ill feelings of winning and losing can and do still show up... but then we just switch games and it's all made better. Funny thing that. I guess we just need to feel like the challenge ahead is surmountable. As much as we may have lost continually in the last game, this new game is a whole new bag of tricks...

    By Blogger Darren Torpey, at 9/21/2005 5:09 AM  

  • Hi Darren - I was intrigued to hear your thoughts on how single-player video games have their advantages over multiplayer video games and board games.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 9/21/2005 8:37 PM  

  • Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Gandhi was a wise and great man, but I guarantee you he would have sucked ass at Xbox hockey. Guarantee it.

    Here's the deal: You have to play to win, and part of your strategy has to be to get inside your friend/opponent's head. You can start by talking shit to him incessantly and mercilessly. The more you score on him, the more you have to talk shit and mock him. That will just make him angrier, but it will be fun for you.

    Then, when he gets mad, call him a fuckin' pussy and tell him he should hang himself in the basement out of shame and no wonder he's a 32-year old fat, masturbating virgin.

    But what about the other side of the coin? If you're losing, you have to pause the game and load a few bongs. Say your thumb is sore--whatever. Then, get your friend too high to play, and resume the game. When he starts losing, mock him unmercifully until you win.

    By following these simple precepts, your and your friends' gaming experiences will be much more fun and meaningful!

    By Blogger HAKKIN£N!!!!!!!!!!!!!, at 10/13/2005 9:51 PM  

  • Killer site by the way. Keep it up!

    By Blogger HAKKIN£N!!!!!!!!!!!!!, at 10/13/2005 9:52 PM  

  • Hi HAKKIN£N - Alright, point taken.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/14/2005 9:50 AM  

  • I've been burned by poor losers and poor winners enough times to feel strongly that people with especially strong feelings about competition generally are not much fun to play with. I guess this includes me, too. :P To them the point of competition is to "get at" (either from above, or from below) their opponent--it's not actually about the competition itself. I like games for the complexity, for the decisions. "There are no scores, only decisions." (Solaris - For me game playing is no fun if it's just masked aggression. Maybe I'm personally done with "real competition," as I see most competition as either pyrrhic or empty. However I still play games, with people I "win against" and "lose to"--and I like to do so. When I play games I strongly prefer maximizing the total "score." I like seeing the stakes (if there is such a dimension to a particular game) go up so that the underlying intracies of the game are explored. If I had to choose between "playing a good game" and "competing against a good player" I would prefer to play the good game. And, of course, if it's possible I would love to have both my cake and eat it--to play a good game with good players. All the preceding generally does not apply to physical competition which I believe is in a different category.

    By Anonymous Andrew Collins, at 12/02/2005 1:32 PM  

  • Hi Andrew - Good to hear from you again. Point taken (figuratively speaking).

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 12/06/2005 12:21 AM  

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