If you’ve been following ze blog for a while. you know that I’m a competitive person. I love playing games, and I love winning those games even more. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember. Each summer I’d fly out to spend time with my cousins, and we’d play board games and card games into the wee hours of the morning. If there’s one thing I learned during all those games, it’s that your inherent worth as a human being rests primarily on the ability to screw the other team over in Rook as effectively as possible.
And we all know that I take my lessons very seriously.
Another thing you might have seen on Facebook or Twitter is that I’ve started playing Magic the Gathering off and on, competitively. What this means is that I’ll go to an event, buy cards to enter, and then play. If you play well, you get fabulous prizes (more cards) and the adoration and envy of those present. Magic is a complex card game where the rules periodically change every three months or so, and you need to be up on your strategy to do well. The style of Magic I like to play (limited) is one where you don’t even know what kind of cards you’re going to be playing with before you show up, so you have to develop a brand new strategy each time.
I love it. It scratches all sorts of gaming and strategy itches, all at the same time.
I went to another game on Friday, and I managed to go undefeated–4-0. It was a blast. I played against some really strong players, and I played quite well, making few mistakes. It felt great on one hand.
On the other, I don’t recall being so stressed in my life. Ever. And I’m not exaggerating.
I know–that’s pretty sad, isn’t it? That I can get so stressed out over something that’s supposed to be light fun? But I do. My stomach was just roiling, mainly because I wanted to win so bad.
In the days since the game, I’ve reflected on why it was like that, and I’ve come up with a few reasons. First is the obvious-to-everyone-else-no-doubt conclusion that I am just too competitive. I want to win too much, and that’s something I need to work on. I need to be better at not having to be right. Not having to prove I’m a superior gamesman. Because really, isn’t it enough to know I’m a good player and accept the fact that even great players lose? (Plus, when you ditch the nerves, you also inevitably play better, since you can think more clearly.)
But I also noticed that I cared more when my opponents cared more. It was like I was this competition mirror. The more I could sense my opponent was getting invested in the game, the more I wanted to win, which no doubt made my opponent even more invested. It was a vicious cycle, and one I really don’t want to repeat.
The question is, how?
Yes, I could just stop going to the games, but like I said–it’s a format and a game I really enjoy. I bring my son along with me, so we get some together time which is a huge plus. I like it, so I don’t really want to stop it. My hope is that now that I’ve gone 4-0 once–proving to myself that I could–then I won’t be as worried about proving it time and time again. After all, when I go play games with my cousins in Utah these days, my desire to win has actually lessened. I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. They know I’m a good player. I know I’m a good player. And that’s enough. (Plus, no shiny awesome cards are on the line when I play my family . . . )
In a conversation with a good fellow Magic player, he mentioned he has the opposite problem–he doesn’t care enough about winning, and so he doesn’t play to his best abilities each time. So clearly there’s a spectrum of approaches here, and I just need to find the balance between them.
How about you? Are you competitive by nature? Too competitive? Know someone who is? What have you–or they–done to cool down a notch or five? I want to note that I don’t think I’m being a jerk when I play. I hate bad sportsmanship. It’s not that I’m being an obnoxious player. It’s mainly an internal thing. I don’t even know if my opponents know how vested I am in the outcome. So take the problem from that angle.