I realized something about myself some time ago – my brain is not wired for direct competition. For many, it seems, there is a general feedback loop about competition that looks like this:
- Do a competitive activity.
- If you lose:
- Apply negative reinforcement to learn from mistakes and get better.
- If you win:
- Apply positive reinforcement to learn how to continue winning.
For me, the reinforcement from both the win and lose conditions are secondary to my want to have fun. Instead, my reinforcement cycle looks like this:
- Do a competitive activity.
- If both me and my opponent had fun:
- Apply positive reinforcement to learn strategies where both players have fun with the game.
- If only I had fun:
- Apply negative reinforcement to learn to make the game more fun for my opponent.
- If only my opponent had fun:
- Apply negative reinforcement to learn what makes the game fun for me.
- If neither I nor my opponent had fun:
- Apply negative reinforcement to learn how to make the game more fun for both.
One notable thing about this cycle is that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether I won or lost – that doesn’t have a lot of meaning for me. Also, I don’t necessarily have more fun when I win, and, depending on my opponent, I’ve noticed quite sharply that they may have less fun if they lose. However, I have noticed that most people enjoy a well-executed play (even when it devastates them) or a close game (even if they lose), so I’m always looking for those sorts of things in my games.
One thing that I have found is that the first step in having fun is playing a strategy that I enjoy – even if it is sub-optimal. In pretty much every game, I’m going to avoid factions that are evil and be drawn to factions that have a culture or iconography that I think is neat – notably, I play the Space Wolves in Warhammer 40k (Nordic culture, wolf iconography), and you’ll never see me play Chaos Space Marines or Demons; I play Khador in Warmachine (Nordic/Russian culture), and Circle Orboros in Hordes (druidic ideals, actual wolves), and you’ll never see me play Cryx. Even if the faction is not considered top-tier, it’s not something I’ll easily change – I have to be able to respect myself commanding the force (especially in a hobby war-game) more than whether I can win while playing them.
The other part of the strategy is playing the game the way I want to play. For instance, in Warmachine, I am always going to play an army list with a lot of warjacks – I come to the table to play a game about hundred-ton steam-powered machines wreaking havoc on a battlefield, so I’m going to do my part to make that happen. In the previous edition of Warmachine, this was a losing strategy from the start, but it was the game that I enjoyed, so that’s how I played it.
All this is not to say that I let other people win – when I lose, it’s because my opponent played better than me. It’s simply that whether I win or lose isn’t how I decide whether I need to improve.