How to Enjoy Playing – And Even Losing! – a Board Game

life challenges game boardAny time you engage in a game with other people, whether it’s your life partner, your child or a group of friends or acquaintances, you’ve got the potential to encounter friction and upset. Hopefully it’s minor, perhaps taking the form of a snarky comment or friendly jibe, but sometimes it can become more tense and explode into arguments or worse. As someone who has played tons of different games of varying complexity and duration with lots of different people, I have experienced just about the entire range of gamer emotions. From storming off in a huff to bursting into tears, to using tears to manipulate everyone else in the game (aka “the sympathy ploy” or, in my family “chump charity”, but I’ll get back to that), a board game can perhaps inevitably be a microcosm of the world around us.

This morning I was reading Board Game Geek‘s discussion forums and bumped into a conversation about how to be polite and kind while playing board games. Entitled “Manners and Board Games“, it’s a pretty darn interesting discussion. This isn’t just an abstract discussion either, because I know for myself there are times during some games when I just zone out or realize I made a stupid mistake and now have to live with the consequences, which can be darn frustrating. Like in a Dungeons & Dragons game a while back when my character was eaten by a monster frog. It wasn’t until weeks later I realized I’d had a spell I could have used to rescue myself. But I didn’t remember at the time and my character died. Like, died died, after months of playing that character, and I had to roll up a new one. Frustrating!

With games that have winners and losers, it’s inevitable that you have to learn how to lose, and lose gracefully. If you’re winning 100% of the time, it’s not much of a game for anyone you’re playing with, is it? Heck, even Gaston isn’t immune from rage quitting after he realizes he’s lost a game:

contemplating a chess move

I think the challenge is greater for children too, because part of adulting is learning how to have some sort of filter on our emotions, to have the ability to not just react, but react contextually. Bursting into tears when the boss says your work isn’t up to snuff? Not so good. Indulging in a cathartic cry when you’re home that evening? Totally legit and healthy. Raging at your partner because you lost a board game? Not so good either.

This is also why it’s critical to teach people that gloating is unacceptable. There’s no question, the fastest way to get gamers – or anyone – upset is to beat them at a competition then gloat about it. I have watched ribbing turn dark and ugly astonishingly fast and it’s that sort of combination of embarrassment and frustration that causes some pretty grim scenes in the gaming world:

man throws gaming table over, angry frustrated mad

Fact is, it’s easy to get angry and it’s easy to be a jerk, but if your goal as a gamer is to enjoy yourself and have fun with your friends or family then it behooves you to learn how to be more kind and polite. It’s okay to accuse someone of picking on you and sometimes that’s exactly what’s going on (side note: that’s why I don’t play Risk any more. That game requires that people pick on the weakest nation to help the game move forward). It’s also okay to say “this isn’t very fun, let’s play something else”.

shiroe girl from log horizonWith my children, I’ve had to teach them that if we’re going to play a non-cooperative game then they are going to have to learn how to accept both winning (yay!) and losing (boo) as part of the game. They’ve mastered that concept and when we play cards or board games, they all know that odds are probably not forever in their favor.

Then again, there are some games like Monopoly that still bring out the anxiety and fear of losing; my youngest will invariably whinge about never winning and want to team up with someone else rather than play solo and lose. Then more often than not when we refuse to do teams and just play she does quite well in the game and sometimes wins. Go figure.

There are also different ways of dealing with the frustration, disappointment and embarrassment of realizing you’re losing. You can get down on yourself – “how is THIS person beating me?” – or you can accuse the others of cheating (rarely is that true in my experience) or you can even play the victim. That’s the “chump charity” I mentioned earlier; when my youngest was pre-teen, she’d often hide some money or other in-game valuable item and then claim she was worse off than anyone else and ask us to help “poor little her” out. Now charity isn’t a bad thing during a game, but being suckered into it? And then having that $500 or missing property mysteriously show up again at the critical moment? Yeah, the chumps in “chump charity” are everyone else in the game who consents to help out!

I just try to focus on the experience of gaming and socializing with my friend. Do I enjoy winning? Yes, I do, actually. But it’s not that important to me in the big picture, and there are some neat co-op games that ensure we all win or lose together too, some of which are amusingly difficult (try Cthulhu Pandemic if you want to experience hard and co-op simultaneously!) Co-ops are great for people who hate losing, actually,  though then you might have to deal with the “person who plays for everyone in the party” problem instead.

How about you? Most people play some sort of game or the other with friends and family, whether it’s poker, Uno, checkers or a more complicated board, video or computer game. How do you deal with losing and have you mastered the art of not being a jerk when you are winning or have a decisive victory? I hope so! 🙂

Note: featured image animé is shiroe girl from log horizon and the animated chess image above is from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Moments after the above scene, Gaston rage quits the game by slamming the board into the air.

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