Sunday, June 30, 2013

Playing to Lose

“What does the fisherman do when all the fish are gone?
Does he cast his line for the nth time wishing for one more bite?
Does he leave the watery lover he’s known all his life?
Does he beg and cry to god for some miracle?
Or does he slump at the bow of his boat, watching the sunset, knowing that he was the author of his own fate.”

There’s such a thing as winning too much.  There’s a point where you can become so good at a game that your opponent doesn’t see a reason to go against you.  Some may see the point where you have gained complete superiority over your opponent as the ultimate win, but I beg to differ.

To me, I think the important part of a game is the struggle.  Every game you’ve ever played, or will play in the future, is based around some struggle.  In Monopoly you struggle to keep your own money while seizing the other players’ money, as they do the same.  In Bridge you and your partner struggle to make the best bids and earn the most points, while the other pair does the same.  Without the struggle the win would be meaningless.  There would be no sense of accomplishment, no new lessons learned.  An automatic success would just be an empty win.

There are two types of empty wins.  The first is when your opponent doesn't put up a fight (struggle), and the seconds occurs when you've acquired the skills necessary to defeat your opponent without a struggle.  In both cases there is no struggle, and in my eyes, no reason to play the game.

In the first situation there isn't much you can do.  You can talk to the person and try to motivate them, but in the end if they just don't care about the game, it might be better to end it.  However, if you're ever presented with the second scenario, there is a solution.

The second situation presents you with two problems.    The first is a lack of challenging opponents.  If people know that you excel at this game why would they play with you?  They already know about their defeat is imminent so there is no struggle.  The second is your lack of interest in the game (because you know you will win without any struggle).

If you really care about playing the game (and you have no one who is willing to play with you), you could always let your opponent win, but that has its own problems.  No one likes the other side letting them win.  If your opponent perceives a struggle, but recognizes that you let them win, then it's nothing more than an empty win.  On the other hand, if they don't catch on to the assistance you're giving to them and you continue to play the game, over time you’ll stop caring about the game because it’s boring.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't. But there's another option.

Anyone can choose to lose a game, what's difficult is to convincingly lose.  If you want to convincingly lose, you need to know every possible strategy, remember your opponents moves, and pick moves that don't draw suspicion from your opponent.  By doing this you make a game out of losing.  This makes the game interesting for both sides.  Below are two examples.

Example 1:

Ted and Dawn are playing Scrabble and the score is 200 to 180.  Dawn could play a three letter word on a triple word score and get 45 points giving her a 25 point lead.  Alternatively she could play a five letter word for 15 points leaving her 5 points behind Ted.  In this situation Dawn would opt to play the five letter word because it would appear that she was trying, she needs to be careful though.  If those letters used in the word could be used elsewhere for a greater number of points Ted may become suspicious.

Example 2:

Ted and Dawn are playing another game, Gin.  Dawn notices that Ted picks up a 3.  Seeing that she has a three in her hand she waits two turns and discards a three that she holds in her own hand knowing that if Ted has a second 3 in his hand he can pick up this third one (in this game having three of a kind or three cards of the same suit in a row make you closer to winning).  If the two are engaged in a conversation it makes it even more convincing because Dawn could have plausibly forgotten that Ted picked up the 3.

In the above examples, Ted and Dawn are friends and Dawn just wants to let Ted have a moment of triumph.  If she always decimated him, he wouldn’t play with her anymore, and maybe wouldn’t even be her friend.  Whether it’s letting a boss beat you to preserve his sense of superiority, letting a customer win to assure that you both have equal footing, or even letting your significant other win just so they can make fun of you for the night; the art of losing is a method of preserving social relations.  To perfect this skill, you need to think strategically and above all have a strong sense of humility.

There has always been a strong stigma against losing.  If you lose it shows that you can’t play the game well.  But, with a little practice, you can make losing much more challenging than winning.  Honing your skills for when you really need them.

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