An unhealthy relationship with games

It has taken me a long time to get a handle on the simple act of playing games. I’m talking board and card games here, not RPGs, which are a different animal. I had to, over time, come up with a strategy for the playing of any game. And I mean this generically speaking, as in one strategy for the simple act of playing any game. In addition to the strategy of each game played. (Sorry if I’m not saying this right; it’s a little twisted.)

As a kid I didn’t like playing games. I tended to get upset fairly easily when playing, and I wasn’t any good at handling losing. These reactions were exacerbated by the fact that we didn’t have a lot and a standard deck of cards was pretty damn cheap entertainment. But being a kid I didn’t really think about it much. We played games as a family, so that’s what I did. I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot, but as far as I can tell it didn’t do any of us permanent harm.

By the time I got to college I was pretty well burned out on card games, and this was before the recent board game boom, so there weren’t a ton of options there. I avoided playing games as much as I could, and fortunately not many of my friends were into them. I recall a few late-night rounds of Uno, but that was about it. (Again, not counting RPGs here; that was a totally different story.)

I did have one friend who was very much into board games (and still is). And it was a long time before I let him talk me into playing some of the games he was finding (this was right as the board-game boom was starting). I had to get to my mid-to-late twenties, having figured out self-reflection by then, before I could understand my problem. What I realized (after torturing my friend for a while, though I think he’d deny that it was that bad) was that the root of my problem was competitiveness coupled with a pretty solid sense of my own intelligence. Simply put, once I got a handle on the rules of any game, I firmly believed that I should be able to win every game. I knew I was smart enough and a good enough strategist to dominate all the time. As the title suggests, this was not a healthy way of thinking about it.

Two realizations helped me get out of this toxic mindset. The first (and the easier of the two) was that my friend was a hell of a lot smarter than me, and he was also a hell of a lot better strategist than me. I came to realize that spanking my family at Hearts or Uno was nowhere near as challenging as squeaking out a small victory from Bill at Settlers of Catan or Wiz-War. (This is not meant as an insult to my family, which is loaded with smart people. Bill is just that good.)

The other thing I had to figure out was that, though I might be a good strategist, I can always improve. Knowing the rules and being able to use them to your advantage are not always the same thing. And most games have some element of randomness built in, which adds an uncontrollable factor that will keep strategy from being all-encompassing. (I’ll do one of these on my relationship with dice soon, because that’s definitely another post.)

So after many years, I’m able to play games with my friends without an undue amount of stress. I’ve also learned that games are more fun for me while I’m still learning the rules, which also lowers the anxiety levels. And it doesn’t hurt that Bill is always bringing new and different games to our game nights.

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