(This post started out life as a comment to Robert Brook’s Not Everything Is a Game post.)
I remember when I stopped beating my wife. I used to beat her regularly without ever wondering why. Without really considering how it made her feel, the effect on our relationship or the effect it had on me.
Beating her was just something I did. I didn’t take any particular joy in it. I wasn’t experiencing huge emotional relief after she was beaten – I didn’t feel smug, self-satisfied or powerful. Deep down I knew that beating someone when it’s not a fair fight is no kind of victory.
I can come up with various excuses as to why it happened. People used to beat me – they did fairly regularly. That’s no excuse – but I found myself beaten so many times that I just became numb. The pain and humiliation that a child feels when defeated is almost too much to bear. So I removed it. Next time I was beaten I simply sighed and moved on.
I can remember the first time I beat someone. After a disastrous inter-school Chess competition – yes, I was that kid – I tried out for the Scrabble team.
I beat everyone. Every single one of them.
I know I felt a flush of pride. A sense of worth and of power. This is what winning feels like. It felt good. Great in fact.
I didn’t like it.
I saw in the face of my opponent the crushed spirit that I had known for too long. I realised that the price of victory is failure. I couldn’t stand the heavy responsibility of causing that much pain and anguish in another… But I carried on anyway.
I learned to quash the shame of victory just as I had quashed the shame of defeat. Success was marginally preferable to failure, so I competed only when there was a fairly decent chance of winning.
I used to beat my wife at computer games, board games, and quizzes. I thought that’s what I was expected to do. Play my hardest. Play for victory. Crush my opponent. Damn the consequences.
But winning never felt good. It never made me happy. Any short lived joy came at the expense of my partner’s unhappiness.
Command And Conquer changed all that.
For the first time, we could play collaboratively. We would team up to defeat an opponent – working together against an emotionless enemy. An aggressor who didn’t mind when we beat him mercilessly.
From then on, the majority of games we’ve played have been collaborative. The Lego Star Wars, Batman & Indiana Jones games are perfect examples. Not only can you play together – it’s actively encouraged. Victory only comes through teamwork. Not one leader instructing a team – but players working collectively.
Where games are single player – we’ve found ways to work together. On Zelda, I take charge of the fine co-ordinated jumping puzzles and my wife does the rest. We sit together and solve the logic puzzles, plan where to go next, strategise our next move.
Do we sometimes argue? Do we fight over who messed up? Do we moan about who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Of course we do! But we’re not fighting each other – we’re fighting for each other.
My only regret is that there aren’t more collaborative games. Lego, Boom Bloxx, Rock Band – what else? Too many games pit you against your friends. Why would I want to beat my friends? I like my friends – I don’t want to defeat them. I love my wife and don’t want to beat her.
Playing together is much more fun than playing against one another.