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Opinion – It's Not About Winning

Games have rules. Those rules are there to show us how to play the game, and we play that game because we want to win. Winning is the goal of almost every game. But winning is rarely the point.

I recently tried to introduce one of my non-gamer friends to Lego Marvel Super Heroes. The response I got was, "I'm not good at games." I told my friend that Lego Marvel is one of the easiest games in the world, and super welcoming to players of all skill levels. Hesitantly, they agreed to play. Over the course of the next hour, they continued to apologize anytime they died, or failed to understand a puzzle, or (bizarrely) when they beat a boss. My friend couldn't enjoy the game because they were so worried about not being any good at it. I just wanted to relax and have a good time, but my friend felt like they had to perform.

How do people develop this perception that you have to be good at games? This is completely against the philosophy of games as a whole. I think the problem is the overly competitive culture that has built up around video games. This culture has become hostile and vitriolic. If you've ever played a game online you've probably witnessed the biting remarks and acidic behavior that takes place online. People are competitive by nature, but sometimes this competition leads to hateful, sometimes hurtful sportsmanship. This kind of behavior isn't innocent either – it actually damages the spirit of fair play and tarnishes our entertainment medium as a whole.

Games are a form of entertainment.They're the things we developed as a species, thousands of years ago, when we were not fighting for our survival – the things we designed to take our mind off that fight for survival. They are entertainment, but they aren't always treated like other forms of entertainment. No one ever says that they are experts at listening to music (actually some people do; they are elitists). No one feels like a newb at watching movies. Those forms of entertainment are designed to be enjoyed, and people don't make fun of other people because they aren't skilled at watching a movie or listening to music.

The difference is that games (like sports), are a participatory experience. You actually can be better at a game than someone else. Games also reward us by making us feel like we've achieved something – they tickle the reward centers in our brain. If we do well at a game, we feel a little better about ourselves and carry that over to the rest of our daily life. Unfortunately, if we do poorly at a game the same is true, and it can send us spiraling into a funk. We need to get better at brushing this off. "It's just a game," isn't helpful when you're in the heat of the moment and still reeling from defeat, but it's true. Don't let your anger over a game affect your relationship with your fellow players. We're all here to have fun. I'm all for a little smack talk, but when a game ends, the only thing that should come out of your mouth is "Good game, thanks for playing."

I recognize that some people play games competitively for money and even make a living playing games, but no game should drive you to the point of ruining the experience for someone else. Games are suppose to invite players to relax. Games are suppose to invite us into a safe environment where we get to challenge ourselves without consequence, but sometimes gamers look down on people who aren't any good at a game – we're attaching negative social consequence to something that is suppose to be welcoming. Let's stop this. Game's aren't about winning; they're about playing, and everyone should get to play.

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