The Games People Play

The other day, N called me a good sport.

We regularly play Scrabulous on Facebook. N is very good at it. I am very not. N says if she were to be, basically, as bad as I were, she would probably give up, but I persevere despite not having won one game, thus qualifying me as a “good sport.” She actually didn’t say it in those words — she was much politer about my badness than I am here — but it is true, and I am not shy about it. I am a bad Scrabulous player. And I am OK with it.

I will continue to play Scrabulous badly, perhaps, forever. I am also OK with that.

This is ironic to me in a certain sense. Between the two of us, N would qualify me as the better writer. I haven’t had the opportunity to read much of what N has written, as she is rather shy about it, but I put myself out there regularly with my writing. I am rather certain, given her intellect, that she is good at writing. I assumed that because of my writing prowess (yes, that is arrogance you hear), I would be good at a game about spelling, e.g., Scrabulous. But alas, that is not the case.

It got me to thinking. N has said on numerous occasions that she has regularly engaged in something up until her natural abilities gave out, and then she quits. I take this to mean she is naturally gifted in all sorts of things, and utilizes those up until they no longer work. I am the opposite. I have come to think there aren’t actually very many things I am naturally gifted in, I am actually just fucking stubborn, and refuse to give up until something works for me. And then once it does, I give up. That’s how I was with crossword puzzles. In my analysis, she becomes bored once something is hard, I become bored once something is no longer hard. Neither one is any better than the other; I think it is why we work well together on many levels.

I’m not as good a sport as she thinks I am, however.

 We had the opportunity to play a game with some people recently. It involved cards and complicated rules that seemed to change from hand to hand. I am not a dick, typically, and in attempt to be polite, I kept my mouth shut about how frustrating it was to play a game whose rules I couldn’t follow. And here is what I learned about myself that night: I don’t care about winning or losing, I just want the game to be fair, with all the rules spelled out prior to play. In my estimation, when things are fair, and when the rules are spelled out, people can just get along and play the game.  Whether or not that is true is a different story.

I think how we play games says a lot about our personalities, and about how we engage with people in life. I have always been a 3-year old when it comes to people not playing fairly. One time, an ex and I were playing a board game, and he clearly did not know the rules well at all. Every turn, it seemed, a new rule cropped up that seemed to affect how I was going to play my turn. Younger and much more tempestuous than I am now, I flat out refused to play the rest of the game, claiming it was utter bullshit that I was expected play along with something whose rules weren’t clear.

As soon as this card game started, and I could see that the rules were changing repeatedly, I lost interest. Because I have become more socially groomed in the years since the board game incident, I pretended to play along, but secretly, I completely lost interest. I suppose I was a bit passive aggressive, by getting up to do dishes and involve myself in other tasks between my turn and others.

I guess I have an expectation in life that I will know the rules, and I will be treated fairly, and I simply refuse to play along when the rules change and all of a sudden I am no longer being treated fairly. I have done this with jobs, relationships, places in which I have lived: Hmmph. The rules have changed, you are not treating me fairly, I am taking my toys and going home. The End.

In some ways this works to my benefit: I have an inner sense of justice, of what’s right and wrong, and I have always wanted to work for people in the role of an advocate, to help them speak up when they are not being treated fairly. I think fairness is so important. I don’t know why or how I came by that. It just is. As soon as I hear about someone I care about getting treated unjustly, I bristle, and sputter: They Can-Not Do That! That Is Not Right! I will Do X-Y-and-Z to Make It Right!

With everything that is good, of course, comes something bad. I suppose being so focused on what is fair has made me a bit of a blowhard. It has caused me to trample on other people’s rights to learn their own lessons about standing up for themselves.

It’s funny to me, at 30, that I still have the same expectations around games as I did when I was a kid. I am guessing a lot of people do. Winning has never been important. Collaboration and mutual enjoyment has been, which of course is the feminine socialization that women receive for how they are to interact with their world. Even with that bit of consciousness-raising, I’m not keen on changing how I perceive playing Scrabulous, because I’m still going to suck.



  1. Shinobi said,

    February 7, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I am exactly like N. I am working to change that however. I read some interesting articles a while back about how when kids are praised for “being smart” instead of “working hard” they tend not to work as hard at things and assume that if they don’t get it on the first try they wont get it. And I am fairly sure that was me growing up and has resulted in a person who quits when the going gets tough. That is not however who I want to be, so I’m working on it, which is new for me.

    I find too that I have an expectation of fairness, and that my goals are rarely winning at all costs. I have often played games with extreme nerds who would go to great lengths to find the way to “game” a game, which would insure that they would win every time and immediately remove all fun from it. And while I understood the challenge of solving that puzzle, it made me sad for them that they couldn’t just enjoy playing the game.

  2. vesta44 said,

    February 7, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I’m one of those people who, once I learn how to do something well, I’m ready to move on to the next thing to be learned (at least when it comes to jobs). I get bored doing the same thing over and over, so I’ve been known to find different ways of doing the same job to make it less boring (I have driven QA people nuts, they always knew my work when they saw it). It was done correctly, just not the way everyone else did it all the time. When it comes to games, I prefer the ones where I can play against the computer or against myself when I’m gaming online. The only card games I play in real life are euchre and gin, sometimes pinochle. Those are played with the same people all the time so the rules are usually agreed upon in advance and nothing to disagree over. I never understood people who had to win all the time and then gloat about it, or the people who get mad when the game isn’t going their way. For crying out loud, I tell them, it’s just a game, your life doesn’t depend on winning. But that seems to be the way some people see it.

  3. Jul said,

    February 8, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I am just like N, although I’ve never been able to sum it up as concisely as you did. Hmmmm…. interesting.

  4. hotsauce said,

    February 9, 2008 at 6:13 am

    thoughtracer, you and I appear to have cloned brains of the same source.

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