Losing and other such nonsense
Despite my enjoyment of playing games, I do sometimes get frustrated when a game is not going my way – that is to say, when I am losing. I’ve spent some time thinking about those feelings afterward and wondering what causes them – if it is really my losing that makes me frustrated or something else. There is an inconsistency in my feeling frustrated that does not always coincide with losing. Sometimes I lose, or am losing, and I am perfectly happy to continue playing. Other times I lose, or am losing and I want to quit or leave. Recently, I had a similar feeling of frustrating and coupled with a desire to escape that mirrored this feeling of frustration I feel when losing in games: I was a guest at a persons home who kept insulting me (probably unintentionally) yet consistently enough and in such a way that I felt there was little I could do to stop it. I wanted to escape. In that situation, I had a similar desire to quit and leave. I had the desire to quit the activity which was frustrating me and leave the situation which marked my frustration. I wanted to distance myself from something that wasn’t working for me.
The common denominator in my frustration is not that I am losing, because sometimes when I am losing I don’t feel like leaving or quitting and I often lose and have a great time. It isn’t as though every game I play I win and only the games I win at I have fun at. I have never won a single game of Brass yet I like that game very much. I have won games of Through The Ages that I have been frustrated with because I felt my decisions didn’t matter and I won for arbitrary reasons. More so than in either of those cases, I have won and lost games of Roma that I thought were trivial in both cases: I would now just as likely ignore a request to play a game of “flip the coin!” then play Roma.
What I think matters in games, and also in social situations, is that I have the power to sway the result; my decisions matter in regards to changing the outcome. I may be in a situation wherein I am losing but I want to stay because I can still win. In a game where the odds are against me I may take on the challenge of winning despite my disadvantageous position. Similarly, in a social situation I may take on a series of conversations with people whom I anticipate sharing very little in common with me as a challenge that I might experience some enjoyment despite my disadvantageous position. In either case, I try to have a good time despite the situation.
So if the losing isn’t what frustrates me, what is? Again I see a parallel between these two situations. Sometimes I am done with talking to people I don’t like while other times I enjoy the challenge of trying to like them. In the former case it’s usually because either I or them are too challenging. The situation is too overwhelmingly bad to show any promise of victory. The chances of me experiecing even a modicrum of enjoyment from talking to X is so slim that I would rather leave (this is me losing) or the horrible conversation I just tried to have was so horrible that I don’t want to do it again (this is me having just lost and not wanting to stick around). In both cases I want to quit and/or leave.
Unlike social situations which have vague win conditions and many more variables than I could contemplate in this brief article, games are simplied into one cohesive win condition that every player shares and which every player (in standard cases involving identical player starting conditions) has an equal opportunity of winning at. Given that games have this simplified structure, it seems it’s only a matter of understanding the mechanics before assessing whether that game is likely to frustrate me. Identifying frustrating mechanics is a person-specific thing, perhaps not obviously. A game which may frustrate me might evoke joy in a child: candyland. As for mechanics, any game that I can foreseeably lose in the first few turns and then have to finish despite it being impossible for me to win, is liable to make me want to quit. Like a one-sided conversation with someone whose position I deplore, I am put in a position where I can’t win and I don’t want to continue losing. If the mechanics of the game are such that any decision I make from a certain point on matters for nothing, then I don’t see the point in continuing to play. The exception here is if the game was very good up until a point nearing the end and the game may as well be decided but it was so good that I want to finish to see the final scores. That is more like a friendly argument where in I decidedly lose the argument and am happy to hear my opponent finish their masterful rebuttal. Despite knowing I lost, the activity was pleasureful and the end marks the end of a pleasurable activity and not simply where I officially lost. If the end marks an arbitrary finish to what was an unpleasant experience, then why wait for that? Let’s end it right now and be done with it.
Just to clarify the distinction between losing in the first few rounds and then finishing the game to losing in the last few rounds and finishing the game, the first situation may appear superficially similar in that I am losing, I’ve lost, and yet the game continues on and I don’t mind but If we continue to use the analogy of an argument it is as though my opponent has won a simple argument in the first few remarks and then decidedly sees fit to continue on this ‘conversation’ as a lecture on why my opponent is right, pausing here and there for me to ‘take my turn’ in the conversation with the appropriate “hm,” “ah uh” and “ah” ‘s. These sounds don’t effect the end result of this ‘conversation’ any more than my continuing to play my turn would effect the end result of a game that had already been decided. If the game is still being played, i.e., I still have a chance at winning because of meaningful decisions I may make, then I am happy to continue. But as soon as the game is over, I think it ought to be over. I think it’s a quirk of bad game design that a game could be decided but not finished. And I think it’s that process of languishing in an innevitable conclusion that I find so frustrating. It is my compromised ability to win coupled with the necessity that I make ‘decisions’ that only facilitate my losing and the continuance of an activity I have no desire to be a part of that provoke frustration. Losing in this way is frustration.