On Losing Well May 25, 2012Posted by Tim in General.
Tags: Game Psychology
So I lost this week’s 40k game. It shouldn’t be a big deal – it’s just toy soldiers, after all – but losing does get to me a bit. I wouldn’t say I have the most robust psyche, and am sometimes prone to anxieties and depressions in general, but in the closer focus of the aftermath of an unsuccessful game, I do notice things in myself I’d prefer weren’t there.
It all depends on how seriously I take it. Consider a game, any game, of two players. My opponent plays better than me, or is luckier, and I lose. But losing the game can be phrased in four different ways:
- I lost.
- He won.
- I didn’t win.
- He didn’t lose.
They are all correct, but each implies subtly different meaning, different connotations.
“I lost,” is personal and brutal; I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t try hard enough. It carries undertones of personal shortcoming, fault, blame. Self flagellation. Very much taking it personally and probably not a healthy way to look at it all.
“He won,” makes it about the opponent; their skill and fortune are superior to my own, so they had the better result. There is a sense of acceptance, a feel of a match well played and a victory deserved.
“I didn’t win,” is personal again, but seems somewhat more hopeful than “I lost.” It carries a hinted silent “…this time!” and suggestions of resolve and improvement. It feels like something someone who thinks they will win next time, might say.
“He didn’t lose,” is curious, and suggests a kind of chagrin, an almost arrogant expectation that He should have lost, but didn’t, perhaps through imagined trickery or bad luck. It seems a faintly unsavoury way to view it all.
Perhaps I’m imagining all the above; it is all subjective, of course, and there are a further four matching statements concerning Winning which I’ll look at next time I win something! But can these statements be fitted into a neat grid?
One axis would be Optimism vs. Pessimism – the classic half full and half empty glass. The Pessimist will take defeat personally – an unfavourable judgement on themselves. “I lost” and “He didn’t lose” are probably both on that side. The Optimist is likely to be happy the better player won (“He won”) or glad of the opportunity to learn and do better next time (“I didn’t win”)
Is the other axis Competition vs. Cooperation? The two statements “I lost” and “I didn’t win” both suggest a focus on personal performance, on how well “I” did. “He won” and “He didn’t lose” both have a wider focus on the overall state of the game. Perhaps these viewpoints are more concerned with the overall game, the enjoyment (or otherwise) of all participants; the game itself becoming a thing which both participants build during play?
Where does the phrase “It’s the taking part that counts” fit in the above? Or the phrase “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!” Both quite polarised approaches to game playing.
Speaking personally, I think I am a reasonably graceful loser, but with a lot of grudingness about I all. I can be prone to sudden sullen withdrawals of personality when I think that a game is slipping out form under me, and I have to do a fair bit of internal soothing to come out of those moments, trying to convince myself that ‘It doesn’t matter anyway’. I don’t like what that turns me into, so try not to ‘try too hard’ at games, as a means of pre-emptively defusing these brief spikes of internal bitterness. But if I let it, losing can hit me hard and make me unpleasant.
I believe that losing well takes practice, but the danger is that losing often can dissuade those of a more pessimistic bent to not try winning in the first place, to minimise the losses. Unfortunately, that can result in a player getting out of practice at losing gracefully. A strange paradoxical cycle which possibly only I suffer from!
A trite conclusion would be something along the lines of “getting back on the horse”, but I’m less certain. Learning to lose well is important, but there comes a point when it is sound to simply stop playing, to give up and play something else. The key is a clear and objective assessment of the game being played, and the potential for any future improvement, and at least the potential for decent amounts of enjoyment even if losing anyway.
I shall write more on ‘Winning’ when I’m in a more winning mood!