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Work stressed and play? A brief look at competitive gaming
by Mark Griffiths on 05/13/14 05:41:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

To date, competitive gaming has not been widely researched or recognized in the scientific and professional literature on video games. As the name suggests, competitive gaming comprises players who regularly compete in tournaments organized and run by the gaming community, often for large monetary gains. Secondary benefits include the recognition and admiration of other gaming community members. Such tournaments are now often run by companies that host the events at large convention centers in major cities (e.g., New York City, Los Angeles, Seoul, etc.).

Despite three decades of worldwide growth in competitive gaming, little empirical investigation has catalogued these activities. Although empirical studies are lacking, studies have noted that competitive games now use Internet radio coverage with play-by-play commentaries, large-screen televised projections of game footage, sizeable live audiences, and cash prizes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For elite competitive gamers (i.e., professional gamers), the activity is a full-time job. Many games played competitively appear to demand high levels of sophistication in strategizing, planning, multi-tasking, and timing to master.

Academic studies have shown that certain competitive games, if used properly, can also promote prosocial behaviour and skill development. Furthermore, professional success in competitive gaming seemingly requires persistent practice and sophisticated skill sets. It is likely that these positive effects are more substantial than the effects of games played on a casual level. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of gaming more generally in lieu of the positive effects of competitive gaming, particularly in relation to improved spatial cognitive benefits. Studies have also suggested that video games can provide an enriched medium for strategic problem solving. Other studies support the differences between novice and advanced levels of play in video games. For instance, research has demonstrated measurable differences between novice and expert game players, the latter group often demonstrating enhanced short-term memory, executive control/self-monitoring, pattern recognition, visual-spatial abilities (e.g., object rotation), and task-switching efficiency, along with more efficient problem-solving skills.      

Competitive gaming has the potential to change the dynamics and motivations of gaming. For instance, if a player can make a financial living and career from playing a video game, it becomes an occupation rather than a hobby. This raises interesting questions about the role of context in excessive gaming and potential addiction. Although there is ongoing scientific debate on the nature and extent of adverse consequences associated with excessive digital technology use, I have noted (in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction) that long hours of video game use alone do not indicate video game addiction (i.e., heavy use on its own is not a sufficient criterion for addiction). Therefore, in order to evaluate problematic video game use, researchers must consider possible negative consequences players are experiencing in their lives. When video game players are capable of financially supporting themselves from their play, this matter becomes more complex. For example, how would one categorize a professional video game player who was making over $100,000 per year playing video games, but was also experiencing social difficulties as a result of excessive video game use? This point is not meant to imply that a successful professional gamer is incapable of suffering pathological effects from game use, but rather to raise the distinct possibility that professional gamers will view their use as non-problematic due to the success they experience.

When it comes to competitive gaming, many players will play excessively and spend hours and hours every single day either practicing or competing. For many competitive gamers, their whole life is dominated by the activity and may impact on their relationships and family life. However, this does not necessarily mean they are addicted to playing the games because the excessive game playing is clearly a by-product of the activity being their job. However, it could perhaps be argued that they are addicted to their work (and in this case, their work comprises video game playing).

Workaholics have been conceptualized in different ways. For instance, in a 2011 review I published in The Psychologist, I noted that workaholics are typically viewed as one (or a combination) of the following. They are (i) viewed as hyper-performers, (ii) work as a way of stopping themselves thinking about their emotional and personal lives, and (iii) are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives. Some of these may indeed be applied to competitive gamers (particularly the reference to ‘hyper-performers’ and the fact that other areas of their lives may be neglected in pursuit of their ultimate goal). Some authors note that there is a behavioural component and a psychological component to workaholism. The behavioural component comprises working excessively hard (i.e., a high number of hours per day and/or week), whereas the psychological (dispositional) component comprises being obsessed with work (i.e., working compulsively and being unable to detach from work). Again, these behavioural and psychological components could potentially be applied to competitive gamers.

I have also noted that there are those who differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some (like myself) view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. In contrast, others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits. Here, the competitive gamer might be viewed as a more positive form of workaholism. Research appears to indicate there are a number of central characteristics of workaholics. In short, they typically: (i) spend a great deal of time in work activities, (ii) are preoccupied with work even when they are not working, (iii) work beyond what is reasonably expected from them to meet their job requirements, and (iv) spend more time working because of an inner compulsion, rather than because of any external factors. Again, some or all of these characteristics could be applied to competitive gamers.

Furthermore, competitive gaming is not the sole means by which proficient gamers can financially support themselves. Researchers (such as Dr. Edward Castranova) studying the economics of synthetic worlds (e.g., digital gaming environments) have observed that gamers also procure income by marketing virtual objects in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). These digital objects often include avatars, or characters controlled by players that interact with gaming environments and other players. Each avatar has unique physical attributes and skills that a player may select, purchase, and/or develop over many hours of game play (e.g., the gradual enhancement strength, speed, weapon-wielding abilities, etc.). 

As noted above, competitive gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time and sacrifice other areas of their lives if they have the potential to make a living from gaming. This single-minded dedication may become a problem for some players because the goal of becoming a professional gamer is often unrealistic. There are currently no precise figures relating to the number of competitive game players, but anecdotal evidence suggests that few professional gamers generate sufficient income to support themselves financially. Although viability may change in the future, at present, the great majority of competitive gamers have little chance of becoming successful and financially independent professionals. For this reason (i.e., the motivation to become a professional), competitive gamers may be more susceptible to excessive use than the average video game player. Additionally, even successful professional gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time, as playing less than eight hours each day could mean that they are not practicing enough compared to other professional players. Those who work with (and treat) problematic video game players should keep this factor in mind (especially given that excessive video game use may increase as competitive gaming receives more bona fide recognition as a possible career choice).

Competitive gaming, as with video game playing more generally, has psychosocial advantages and disadvantages and is thus an important area to consider when evaluating gaming as a whole. It may be critical to include questions about competitive gaming (and context more generally) in measures evaluating the degree, extent, and “addictive” potential of video game use. Furthermore, it would appear essential for psychologists to inquire about competitive gaming in a clinical interview during which a client reports playing video games. If clients turn out to be competitive gamers, this will likely distinguish them in many ways from a person who simply plays video games excessively for fun and/or escape.

Various approaches and strategies could be used to stimulate research into competitive gaming.  For example, studies could compare the abilities of professional or high-level competitive gamers with everyday or far less experienced gamers to better understand (a) similarities and contrasts in capacities, and (b) whether skills transfer to other domains. Another possibility is to utilize case studies of highly successful professional gamers. Such in-depth studies can generate descriptive information that can help in formulating hypotheses about potential differences between these individuals and non-competitive gamers and lead to better informed and more rigorous empirical investigations. How and why are some competitive gamers able to succeed while so many other players try and fail? Are some of these characteristics and skills (e.g., persistence and speed of mental processing) similar to those seen in professional athletes or others who are extremely successful in their occupations?

Competitive gaming may offer numerous benefits that could be more pronounced than the positive effects found when games are played casually. It may also be problematic, as competitive gamers might be more likely to sacrifice other areas of their lives if they believe they can become professional players. Most importantly, those researchers in the gaming studies field might keep in mind that competitive and professional gamers are a distinct population and may differ considerably (both psychologically and/or behaviorally) from casual gamers.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input to this article was provided by Kyle Faust and Joseph Meyer

References and further reading

Andrews, G., & Murphy, K.  (2006).  Does video game playing improve executive functioning? In M. A. Vanchevsky (Ed.), Frontiers in: Cognitive psychology (pp. 145–161). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M., & Gratton, G.  (2008).  The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control.  Acta Psychologica, 129, 387–398.

Castronova, E.  (2005).  Synthetic worlds: The business and culture of online games. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Castronova, E., Williams, D., Shen, C., Ratan, R., Xiong, L., Huang, Y., & Keegan, B.  (2009).  As real as real?  Macroeconomic behavior in a large-scale virtual world.  New Media and Society, 11, 685–707.

Cheshire, T.  (2011, July 4).  Career gamers: Inside the world of modern professional gaming. Wired.  Retrieved from http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/07/features/career-gamers?page=all

Faust, K., Meyer, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Competitive gaming: The potential benefits of scientific study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 67-76.

Goodale, G.  (2003, August 8).  Are video games a sport?  They may not break a sweat, but these competitors say they are tomorrow’s athletes.  The Christian Science Monitor.  Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0808/p13s01-alsp.html

Griffiths, M. D.  (2010).  The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence.  International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119–125.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Hong, J-C, & Liu, M-C.  (2003).  A study on thinking strategy between experts and novices of computer games.  Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 245–258.

Hutchins, B.  (2008).  Signs of meta-change in second modernity: The growth of e-sport and the World Cyber Games.  New Media Society, 10, 851–869.

King, D., Delfabbro, P., & Griffiths, M.  (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice.  International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, 7, 555-562.

Lee, Y-H, & Lin, H.  (2011).  ‘Gaming is my work’: Identity work in internet-hobbyist game workers.  Work Employment Society, 25, 451–467.

Reeves, S., Brown, B., & Laurier, E.  (2009).  Experts at play: Understanding skilled expertise. Games and Culture, 4, 205–227.


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Comments


Anton Temba
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Competitive gaming is both destructive and limiting towards a game in the long run. It limits the possibilities of content, engenders hostile behaviour in the participants and is harmful to society by encouraging more competition and view it in a false positive light.

More over, the focus is diverted from having fun to the acquisition of money through the extrinsic prizes awarded in these competitions.

Joshua Clingo
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I disagree on both points.

Competitive gaming often involves a subset of gamers who will dedicate themselves to providing free advertisement for your game through tournaments and other events. I was a competitive Halo player for years and participated in a thriving competitive community. I understand that a game designed to be "hardcore" can be extremely hard to sell in large volumes. However, successful competitive games include many options for casual gamers. League of Legends and StarCraft are designed to allow for players of all ranges of skills to enjoy themselves, but have been crafted in a way that allows for great players to consistently come out ahead.

In my experience, it is the games that are easy and based on random factors that lose their player base first. All this said, making games balanced and fair so that better players always win can be tricky, as it necessitates some sort of ranking system that segregates users based on experience.

As for the fun being diverted from the game to the prizes--to many, winning is fun. Having large events creates buzz that easy games can never maintain. Adding balance and consistency to games is a long-term win. Of course, this all depends on your intentions. If all you want is a sale, you may as well make games easy and fun. But core gamers keep gamers coming back for years. People still play Counterstrike and the original StarCraft. Awards and pseudo progression have been used as band-aids for retention, but gamers are starting to grow numb to them.

Santeri Saarinen
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How is more competition harmful to society than no competition? Humans are competitive by their nature and want to best their peers. Healthy competition encourages skill development, innovation and thinking outside the box, instead of, well, not doing any of these things when everyone is happy with what they currently have.

This on one hand also improves the community by encouraging development -> feedback ->more development loops when people compete and try to improve. Just because people are in competition with each other, doesn't mean that they are intrinsically hostile towards each other. Like in sports, competition helps both sides more than doing stuff alone.

How does competitive gaming limit possibilities of content more than just being a multiplayer game? Both usually aim for balance in the game, for it to be fair for all participants. Has competitive WoW arena or CS limited the developers from releasing content? Not really, sure they need to test them for balance and often patch them later, but wouldn't they have done that anyway, even if there wasn't a competitive scene? I would like to think that the developers aim for best possible game, whether competitive or not, and in the case of multiplayer, balanced is usually the word.

And about your last point, sure the money may become the main goal for the pros, but at the same time, it creates a greater reason for others below them to play. They have someone to look up to for tips and tricks, and something to aim for, even though most will never reach it. I doubt the normal player plays LoL for the money, but for fun, knowing their limits.

But without the competitive scene to look up to, the level of play in general would go down, and people would eventually stop playing, as they would not have some far reaching goal to aim towards. Not necessarily to reach it, but to get even a bit closer. See what happened to high-end WoW raiding, as many of the top-level guilds stopped raiding, and there wasn't enough differentiation between the high- and low-end players, a lot of people stopped raiding altogether, as there was nothing to aim for. Comparing numbers of raiding guilds between BC-WotLK era WoW to current, the number has fallen to less than 50% from what it was and still decreasing.

As such, competitive scene is usually beneficial for almost any game, from all the casual players', pro players' and the developers perspective.

Anton Temba
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Competition is not part of human nature. Competition in history used to be a necesity to survive against others due scarcity of resources or other similar reasons that encouraged people to act that way.

Human nature has no meaning. Environment and situations shape people to be what they are, but they are never born to be competitive. Our current society makes them competitive with its education systems, media and traditions.

There is no such thing as healthy competition. The things you attributed with that have nothing to do with competition what so ever. Competition is defined as the following:

"The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others."

Thats all it is. The stuff about skill development, innovation and creative thinking is seperate from competition. A huge problem is towards what direction competition encourages the above listed things towards: How to make yourself be a superior than the other person. Its inherently destructive, competition cannot be healthy in any way. The core of competition is about making someone else lose. Trying to make it "healthy" is doing nothing more than hiding that fact.

As for limitations, competitive games require a balance based on arbitrary rules. These rules prevent the game from including anything out of the norm, that would deviate these rules. If these rules are violated, the resulting content will be labeled as one the following labels: Overpowered, weak or unfitting to the setting.

This sets constraints to what is possible to add to the game, even if they are considered really fun or cool. The attempt to maintain this artificial balance prevents innovation.

What I propose instead is replacing the focus from competition to either with cooperation or collaboration. When you build the scene around coop or collab, instead of competition, you'll see all the good stuff that you associated with competition, such as innovation, skill development and creative thinking be encouraged in the direction that benefits everyone, not just single individuals at the cost of everyone else.

For further material I recommend listening to these two videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_P_JMJ176Q

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4c86SDW7FQ

Alfie talks within the context of education, but the same principles apply generally to everything in life, including video games.

I've also written a lengthy blogpost that explains in more detail why competition is destructive:

http://reactorcoregames.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/competition-is-d
estructive/

Santeri Saarinen
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Check my answer to Vasily below.

Scott Lavigne
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Snip.

Vasily Yourchenko
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@Anton: In your article you have correctly identified the design of competitive games as essentially sadistic, and I agree, but I think that you are missing the fact that it is also masochistic. The kind of players who are attracted to competitive games like losing. They (let me be honest and say 'we', as I am one of them) enjoy being crushed, again and again. Otherwise we would play games where you do not spend half or more of the time losing. We like it for the same reason our non-digital sadomasochistic brethren like being whipped: it makes the eventual, euphoric, release that much sweeter. A victory that I did not bleed for does not feels like one worth having. The rush just doesn't compare. Sure, we do not enjoy losing while it happens, but we secretly want that pain. The rush of going head to head against someone who you know is better than you, tethering on the edge of the abyss each agonizing second, is intoxicating and I have yet to experience anything similar in any other context.

I do not consider such an environment abusive because the participants generally want that specific kind of abuse. Let me take a moment to make it clear that abuse that is not consented to, such as harassment, is absolutely not okay and should be fought against.

None of this is exclusive to human competition, but if you want to satisfy our tribe you'll need to make the game itself take the role of dominatrix and sub. You'll need to hurt us to hold our attention. Just keep in mind that cooperative games where the failure of one player can negatively affect the others (i.e. essentially every game where the players are working toward a common goal) tend to cause people to get angry at their allies just as quickly as those featuring head to head competition, so single player games are probably a safer bet.

Santeri Saarinen
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Continuing the conversation here instead of answering directly to Anton, as this relates to my point as well.

@Anton, in your blogpost you explain how the winner of a deathmatch round is ruining the fun for everyone else. That's just false. As Cziksentmihalyi (sorry if I mistyped the name) wrote, flow is the optimal state when enjoying an activity. Of course this is not the case for all games, but for example, to that deathmatch round, it is. During the game, people reach the state of flow by trying to play at the edge of their skill, against opposition, no matter if it's a human or not. Part of this state is that there's the possibility of failure. That's what happens if you don't win, you fail. But you still have fun, losing is fun, it's doesn't ruin anything, it just makes you try harder and have fun again. Like Jane McGonigal mentioned in her book Reality Is Broken, the actual winning leads to a state of depression, as the actual of trying to reach it is over. As such we could think that actually winning the round ruins the fun for you instead of everyone else, as now you have completed it, and don't necessarily have as big of a reason to try again.

You also mention how we should replace competition with cooperation and collaboration. This however has the inherent error, that you expect cooperation and collaboration to be non-competitive. Sure enough, there's necessarily no competition within your group of players/friends/whatever, but there still is just as much competition between groups. To continue my earlier example, World of Warcraft raiding is a cooperative and collaborative activity where your "only" competition is the AI, but in reality, your just as much competing with everyone else doing the same thing. And this is a good thing. This kind of competition creates stronger bonds within the groups as they need to be able to rely on each other and cooperate in difficult situations.

The same could be said about any competitive team game. Random teams almost never work as well as teams that have worked together before, if the skill level is even close to equal. So saying that we should replace competition with cooperation and collaboration is not something that's actually achievable, as most competitive games already contain strong cooperative and collaborative components.

Anton Temba
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Don't confuse learning with masochism. The percieved difficulty of a challenge is not the same thing as enjoying failure.

Contrary to what you may think, you're not actually going into a game to lose it, you go in for the growth it provides you, in terms of skill, creativity, thinking. You're not playing to be a dumb punching bag. You always do it to get something from the game, be it a good feeling or learning something new, but its never failure or misery. There is no purpose in participating in a game if you don't grow, learn or experience something with your time spent within. Do not confuse this with masochism and pain.

My concern lies specifically within the idea of human vs human competition. This scene creates an environment for people to be proactive in trying to degrade each other for the sake of proving ones individual superiority over others, not encouraging the betterment of everyone.

The problem is that it does the exact opposite; When you put two individuals or two groups against each other to compete, their focus is directed towards on how to beat the opponent, resulting in developing skills, tactics and systems FOR THAT PURPOSE. It makes you learn how others are your enemies and how you can suppress or eliminate them. You don't learn anything else when this goal of eliminating the opponent is in effect.

Sam Stephens
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@Anton Temba

"It makes you learn how others are your enemies and how you can suppress or eliminate them."

The problem with this assumption is that most players probably don't see opponents as actual enemies that pose some kind of threat. Some may develop this attitude when extrinsic rewards such as tournament prizes are involved, but that is kind of a grey area in general in my opinion. However, I do agree with your point about games being masochistic. No one actually enjoys losing, they enjoy learning and bettering themselves. They enjoy the challenge, which is kind of the entire point of games in our lives.

Anton Temba
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Indeed, they don't. People aren't born hostile and its not "human nature" to compete, but the issue is that setting up an environment about human vs human competition is the thing that encourages people to change to become hostile to each other.

Proof of this degradation is massive. Take a look at any competitive multiplayer community in depth and things like toxicity, classism/elitism and general hostility pop up the more serious the competition is and the more longer it lasts. There are articles upon articles about the mess in Xbox live community (google "Xbox live messages" in the image search) or how League of Legends community is toxic and how Riot is constantly fighting that... and those are only one of thousands of examples.

People are encouraged to be this way. They are in an environment that brings that out of them. This is how competitive games affect the society. This is why I'm saying human vs human competition is destructive.

Sam Stephens
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"The issue is that setting up an environment about human vs human competition is the thing that encourages people to change to become hostile to each other."

How so? As far as I know there is little psychological validity to this statement. Competition can be healthy, it just depends on someones perception of it. Interpreting an opponent in a game with negotiable consequences as an enemy is a cognitive distortion about the nature of the interaction. It's the player's problem, not the game's.

"Proof of this degradation is massive. Take a look at any competitive multiplayer community in depth and things like toxicity, classism/elitism and general hostility pop up the more serious the competition is and the more longer it lasts."

This is more conjecture than proof. You can find these unfortunate elements in practically every fold of society be it games, relationships, politics, family, art, etc. Furthermore, as someone who has dabbled in the competitive scenes of some games, I can personally tell you that there is also a massive amount of respect and friendship.

"People are encouraged to be this way. They are in an environment that brings that out of them. This is how competitive games affect the society."

Competitive games (which are really just all games, because it is impossible to have a game without conflict) have been around since humans had leisure time (so pretty much forever). They are a part of who we are. I am not going to argue that they are some kind of ineffable good, but "destructive" is hardly the right word.

Santeri Saarinen
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I disagree on your point on toxicity. It actually lessens the more serious the competition gets. The higher you go on the foodchain, towards the pro-players, the less toxicity there is. It is most rampant in the lower levels, where also majority of players resides. This is also true on pretty much anything, you put enough people together, and there's always going to be someone trying stir things up by being aggressive. Some people get their enjoyment out of that, and it is in no way related to just competitive games.

That's why you also see most of the shouting and aggressive behaviour in the masses of viewers of a football match, not the actual players. And even in these situations, the toxic people are always a small subset, who just have the loudest voice, just like in most competitive videogame scenes. I bet you'd be hard pushed to find an example where a competitive game actually pushes the majority towards toxic behaviour.

On the other hand several research have shown that competitive play increases players' enjoyment of the game compared to cooperative or solo play. (Check for example, Schmierbach et al., 2012 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/.U3W2r_mSxWY)

Anton Temba
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Thats not true, toxicity is at its highest at the height of the competitions seriousness. The difference between the lower and higher level competition is that the participants in the higher level are more subtle, more careful and more indirect, making it seem that they're more innocent than the folks below.

This development of subtlety is a countermeasure that masks the real faces of serious competitors, because the society frowns upon more honest expressions of competitive behaviour, which occur at the low level you mentioned.

Besides that, you're missing the source of the issue, which creates this behaviour to begin with.

The goal in a competitive game is to win. A game uses scoring mechanics, messages and to emphasize that, making it the thing to pursue.

However, what does it mean to win? Others must lose, otherwise you cannot be considered a winner. There are no winners without losers in a competitive game. For you to win, you must actively make others lose.

This is the fundamental problem with competition and it is the source of why you see competitive games develop toxic communities inherently.


By the way, your link is broken.

Santeri Saarinen
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Yeah seems like the link broke down, just search "Electronic Friend or Virtual Foe: Exploring the Role of Competitive and Cooperative Multiplayer Video Game Modes in Fostering Enjoyment" if you're interested.

I would like to see some data backing your claim about toxicity. As an avid gamer myself, playing for example, League of Legends, World of Warcraft and sports games through Xbox live, which you claim to be some of the biggest sources of toxicity, I just have to disagree. From my experience, the toxicity at the highest level of competition is greatly reduced.

Although I guess I have to reiterate my point a bit, the toxicity is not at it's highest at lowest levels, but the lower-to-mid tier, where the players see themselves as better than they actually are, and direct this feeling of betterness towards the ones below them.

I guess your biggest misconception here is that you think that losing is somehow bad for people. It's not. It's a big part of the enjoyment. Sure people might not play to lose, but they also wouldn't want to play if there was no chance of losing. There's a lot of research on this which I don't have time to dig up during work, but it has been shown that a proper level of challenge is required for people to be interested in the game in the first place.

Do you think this issue is only common in videogames with competitive components, or would the same be true for sports for example? Should we also quit the olympic games and football leagues and have everyone playing together in one big team? Bit over the top, sure, but the point stands. People have enjoyed competition and will continue to do so, and as far as I can there hasn't been too many negative effects on people playing basketball against each other, so why would it be different for competitive multiplayer games? Their inherent mechanics, requiring teamwork, tactics, preparation and communication, are pretty much the same in both cases anyway.

Anton Temba
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Absolutely yes, this applies to everything, not just video games and yes, we should quit the olympic games or atleast restructure them to be collaborative or cooperative. Violence between fans of football leagues is all to common of the symptoms that competitive environments encourage in society. Or then those doping scandals; Participants come win, not lose to these events and in doing so, they are put in a situation where they have to make the opponent lose. You don't see losers in sports getting paid to make a living, let alone survive.

Same applies to corporate competition. Companies will need to hide information or sabotage their competition to stay relevant and profitable. Competition suppresses innovation, not promote it.

And also, I think you are mistaken about losing is good. No one likes to lose. When you lose you don't make progress, you don't go forwards in your goals, you go back. Losing sucks.

You're mistaking losing for learning, just as Vasily did with his more extreme statement that players are masochists and thinking this is the same thing as learning.

Learning from mistakes and losing are two different things entirely and it is not a fundamental part of competition. Its entirely seperate from it.

I get what you're thinking in that when a player loses, they supposedly learn from the failure, but the issue in competition is that WHAT they learn is not how to improve themselves, but how to beat the other guy, make them a loser. This creates a vicious cycle that produces no useful skills or innovation, only hate, hostility and strategies on how to make others fail, so that you can succeed.

Sam Stephens
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"we should quit the olympic games or atleast restructure them to be collaborative or cooperative."

How is basketball, bobsledding, volleyball, pair skating, synchronized swimming, and so many other Olympic competitions not collaborative and cooperative? They are unquestionably so.

"Same applies to corporate competition. Companies will need to hide information or sabotage their competition to stay relevant and profitable. Competition suppresses innovation, not promote it."

This is hardly comparable to the competition in games. There are no significant consequences to winning or losing a game which completely changes the motivations and dynamics of the situation. The only thing that is gained from winning is the personal satisfaction of your own skill.

"When you lose you don't make progress, you don't go forwards in your goals, you go back. Losing sucks."

Again, this is just your particular (and predominantly negative) attitude about losing that many people do not share. Yes, no one actually likes losing in and of itself, but it is part of a larger and highly compelling experience that people have engaged with and loved forever. I'd highly recommend reading Jesper Juul's The Art of Failure to understand why losing is such a big part of games.

"Learning from mistakes and losing are two different things entirely and it is not a fundamental part of competition. Its entirely seperate from it."

It is impossible to separate losing from learning because trial and error is the most basic way people learn. There are much more efficient and intuitive ways of teaching and learning, and the best games employ those methods. However, intuition only takes learning so far (see Daniel Dennett's "intuition pump"). At the highest level of competitive play, trial and error (i.e. losing) becomes the best way to learn and improve.

"the issue in competition is that WHAT they learn is not how to improve themselves, but how to beat the other guy, make them a loser."

Yes, the learning often requires how to defeat a human opponent, but again, how is this a bad thing within the context of playing a game? No one is actually losing or gaining anything of objective, monetary, or physical worth. The opponent I just beat in a StarCraft match did not lose his or her house or job. There is no legitimate reason for that person to be hostile towards me or vice versa outside of their own interpretation of what the loss meant. At that point, it's just a matter of someone's personal attitude. Chances are if someone is overly hostile or angry about a game, they will respond in the way to other situations.

Anton Temba
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"How is basketball, bobsledding, volleyball, pair skating, synchronized swimming, and so many other Olympic competitions not collaborative and cooperative? They are unquestionably so."

Thats still competition at its core, the only difference is that instead of individuals, its teams of people that fight each other. Its no better and still as fundamentally broken as non-team based competitive sports.

In team sports, you have groups of people learn and train on how to take down other groups of people. Its just as destructive.


As for the rest of your points, I highly recommend watching this video, it will provide you answers to those particular arguments:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4c86SDW7FQ

Sam Stephens
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I just watch the video, and I can say that I am familiar with Alfie Kohn and his writings. The problem is that most of his work and the research it is based off of is almost exclusively related to education. In this sense, it can be somewhat clear how competition is harmful to child development even though Kohn does have some strange interpretations of classroom behaviors such as polite and orderly hand raising. These ideas are just not immediately applicable to the areas of economics and recreation however, which is the mistake Kohn makes.

I will just focus on Kohn's commentary on games found in the video, as that is the only thing that is relevant here. First, Kohn separates competitive games into those of comparison (bowling) and those of interference (tennis). He views the latter more negatively than the former, but does not really give any detailed explanation as to why in a gameplay context.

Again, we come to the same question: why is losing a rather trivial game a bad thing? As both Saarinen and I have been saying, losing is part of a larger compelling experience which would not be so without it. Kohn's answer to this question seems to be "losing is not fun." Why do games have to be positive experiences 100% of the time? What is wrong with a little frustration? Kohn has no answer to this. Jesper Juul certainly does not think games are or always should be completely pleasurable.

Kohn then brings up the musical chairs example. I agree that his alternative (having everyone try to stay on a diminishing number of chairs) is a better game. However, this is not because musical chairs is competitive or subconsciously teaches children some kind of fallacy about scarcity, but because elimination generally sucks and is usually not a practice of good game design (though I can think of a few examples where it is okay).

Kohn jokingly exclaims "this is how kids in America have fun!" It must have escaped his notice that this is how kids in every society on the planet have fun too. That is the biggest flaw in this argument. There has not been a single civilization in human history that has not engaged with competitive games on a regular basis be they individualist and capitalist or highly collective and community based. This means that it is basically impossible to link competitive games to larger societal issues.

Anton Temba
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"Again, we come to the same question: why is losing a rather trivial game a bad thing?"

Its not the losing that is bad, its the fact that it happens in human vs human situation. Failure is normal in life, but making your fellow man be the direct cause of that failure is the problem.

Sam Stephens
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"Failure is normal in life, but making your fellow man be the direct cause of that failure is the problem"

Yes, but you are continually ignoring the context we are in here. No one is subjugating anyone to emotional pain by winning. There is nothing wrong with making someone lose a game, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. If someone can't handle that, then they need to either change their attitude or just stop playing that particular game. Competition may not be for everyone, but that does not mean it should be allowed for no one.

Even the view that comptition is about "making someone lose" is rather ignorant of how competitive games work. A very simple example is tic-tac-toe. Loss only occurs in player error. What I am getting at is players are at least partially responsible for their own losses. If they improve or make less mistakes, then maybe they can win.

Anton Temba
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"No one is subjugating anyone to emotional pain by winning."

First of all, "emotional pain" is a really sloppy choice of words. Try "segregation" instead.

Secondly, its the situation itself that causes segregation, not the participant. If you set up an environment that causes players to segregate each other to prove their own arbitrary superiority, then you're encouraging them to develop and improve with skills related to making the other person be acknowledged as inferior.

I just don't understand how you cannot grasp this single fact:

Competition = an event where one or more players make everyone else lose, as that is the only way to win. Is it really that hard to see how destructive this is at its core?

Competition is entirely seperate from learning, from challenge and from trial and error. You have all that stuff just as well in singleplayer or cooperative experiences just as well. Or collaborative too, like Left4Dead, where team work helps, but isn't necessary to win.

I'm having a hard time in believing that you actually are familiar with Alfie Kohn and his research. While his focus is on education, the principles are universal, even for video games. Its a simple dynamic of cause-and-effect. You make humans compete against each other, then you get a segregated and toxic community. This applies all the same to video games, education, nations, and corporate businesses.

Sam Stephens
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"I just don't understand how you cannot grasp this single fact"

I can grasp it, I just have a neutral attitude towards it, that is, there is nothing inherently wrong or destructive about "making someone lose" in a game.

But it's just a game. None of it really matters. Do I feel "inferior" if I lose? Sure, but I can also put this feeling into perspective. It's just a game. Plenty of people are terrible at them, but they still love and play them.

"While his focus is on education, the principles are universal, even for video games."

Until there is convincing research that supports that competitive games within the realm of pure recreation have any significant "destructive" effects, I will take any "universal principals" with a pound of salt. Education and games are different in many ways, so it's pretty unscientific to make such huge assumptions about one with only knowledge of the other.

"You have all that stuff just as well in singleplayer or cooperative experiences just as well. Or collaborative too, like Left4Dead, where team work helps, but isn't necessary to win."

I love that there are games out there like Pandemic and Left 4 Dead, but there would be a huge hole in the gaming space if this was all there was. I don't think anyone wants that. They have there place just as competitive games have there place.

And that is all that I can really say to you. You can continue your crusade against competitive games if you like, but that won't change the fact that human being have enjoyed competitive games forever and that we will probably continue to do so.

Anton Temba
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Thats rubbish, humans have never enjoyed competitive games. The only things that have been enjoyable in such games have been everything else, except the competition itself. Games could be so much better if it did not rely on one human's victory be dependent on everyone elses failure.

To say it bluntly, competitive games are horrible by design, as you witnessed by the musical chair example.

A simple restructuring of the meta-game can create an experience where winning doesn't require other participants to lose. You can still lose in that game and have all the challenges and learning involved, but the point is, that failure was not caused by your playing partner. Thats the whole point.

And yes, it does matter. Games are an activity that many people spend A LOT of time with, more so than any other activity, making it a big part of their very lives. Games also have the properties of being art in itself and they can inspire people or make them think.

In the short term, the effects may be trivial, but if you're going into a competitive game, you'll be incentivised to get better at it, which means winning more. Winning more requires serious effort and commitment, the stronger the competition gets. The more effort and commitment you put into a competitive game, the more time and energy you spend with it.

When you're immersed in this environment, you adapt to it. You begin to think on how to be more efficient and more certain about winning the next round. With all the time and energy spent on it, this activity becomes your life and it will subtly define what you are and how you behave.

The result is that this competitive behaviour can spill over to real life, creating beliefs of competition being good, segregating people by viewing them below you as inferior beings, potentially thinking of them as noobs, behaving competitively in non-competitive situations or creating competitions for the sake of a moment ("Hey bro, lets race to home, first one gets the cake".)

In the long term scope, it does matter. A lot. Don't underestimate how your hobbies and environment can influence you. There a source for everything that occur in this day, including the angry messages over Xbox live and the toxicity in LoL. I challenge you to give me a better explanation than competition.

I hope its not "those people are weak" or "they're born that way" or "its their nature to be like that", because those do not explain the underlying reasons why that is the case.

Sam Stephens
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"Thats rubbish, humans have never enjoyed competitive games. The only things that have been enjoyable in such games have been everything else, except the competition itself. Games could be so much better if it did not rely on one human's victory be dependent on everyone elses failure."

I'm sorry, but that is ridiculously absurd and completely ignorant of game design, anthropology, and psychology. The very fact that people on this blog say they very much enjoy competitive games (along with the study Saarinen provided) is all the evidence you need that competitive games are enjoyable. I love competitive games and I can point you to hundreds of other individuals who are likeminded. There are other options and game-types out there, yet people continue to play competitively. This is because there is something that people find compelling about competition (in a recreational sense) that is not offered by other forms of play.

"To say it bluntly, competitive games are horrible by design, as you witnessed by the musical chair example."

As I said, musical chairs is not a great game because of excessive elimination, which quickly turns players into spectators who are not participating. There are plenty of excellently designed competitive games such as Go, StarCraft, Street Fighter, Ticket to Ride, Halo, Chess, Pokemon, and so many others. Seriously, try taking this statement up with people who actually know a thing or two about competitive games and who make, write, play, and think about them on a daily basis (David Sirlin).

"The result is that this competitive behaviour can spill over to real life, creating beliefs of competition being good, segregating people by viewing them below you as inferior beings, potentially thinking of them as noobs, behaving competitively in non-competitive situations or creating competitions for the sake of a moment ("Hey bro, lets race to home, first one gets the cake".)"

Again, there is no scientific or empirical evidence that even suggest this, therefore this is just a baseless assumption. People who are inappropriately
competitive experience cognitive distortions, which is the fault of their own psychology (Torres 2002).

"There a source for everything that occur in this day, including the angry messages over Xbox live and the toxicity in LoL. I challenge you to give me a better explanation than competition."

We can see such "toxicity" across the entirety of internet communication, possibly due to its anonymous nature. You will likely find far less hostility in games played face-to-face just in the same way that face-to-face communication is significantly less hostile than on internet forums.

"I hope its not "those people are weak" or "they're born that way" or "its their nature to be like that", because those do not explain the underlying reasons why that is the case."

No one is "born that way", but, for whatever reasons, some people develop more hostile, negative, or aggressive attitudes that tend to be expressed in certain active environments such as a game (and not just competitive ones).

So, what can we say here with absolute and unquestionable certainty?

A) People regularly enjoy recreational competition.

B) There is no solid evidence (be it psychological, anthropological, or sociological) that suggest recreational competition is harmful to society.

And that's it. There is nothing else to debate as these points just cannot be disputed.

Anton Temba
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That's BS, people say they like competition, but what they're doing is confusing it/bundling it up with qualities that are completely seperate from competition. You're still missing the fundamental point I'm making here.

Do this for me:

Look up the definition of the word "Competition". (Google "define competition".)
Be sure to notice the synomyms associated with this word.

After reading that definition, try to say out loud: "This is good, I enjoy that".

If you can do that without flinching or without batting an eye, I will consider you for a sadist.

Dusten Sobotta
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Human vs Human competition will always have the capacity to be more entertaining (if sufficiently balanced) than fabricated single-player/co-op challenges, because humans make for more interesting opponents. There's a reason why so much research goes into making AI more 'human-like'.

Santeri Saarinen
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I'll bite.

Com·pe·ti·tion [kom-pi-tish-uhn]
noun
1. the act of competing; rivalry for supremacy, a prize, etc.: The competition between the two teams was bitter.
2. a contest for some prize, honor, or advantage: Both girls entered the competition.
3.the rivalry offered by a competitor: The small merchant gets powerful competition from the chain stores.
4. a competitor or competitors: What is your competition offering?
5. Sociology . rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter.

Definition 1. I can definately enjoy this one. Competition between teams in sports or games is one the most enjoyable things I've taken part in.

Definition 2. Same as above, but I take this definition as more solo oriented, still the point stands, I enjoy being better than someone else at something, as I assume most do as well. And don't tell me you don't.

Definition 3. This is a good one, I see competition between people in similar positions healthy, as it encourages both to improve their effectivity.

Definition 4. This seems like a pretty similar definition to the first 2, nothing to see here.

Definition 5. This is more related to competition for some actual physical item or other goods. Still not that bad, as in nature, it's usually survival of the fittest, and if you want something, of course you should compete for it, unless there's more to be gained for not doing so for some reason.


None of these definitions have any kind of destructive elements in them, definition 5 going as far as saying it does not necessarily include destruction of the opposition. Also nothing related to sadism to be seen here. Thus I call your claim to be false in all of its aspects. Please prove me wrong.

Anton Temba
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"Definition 1. I can definately enjoy this one. Competition between teams in sports or games is one the most enjoyable things I've taken part in."

Please be more specific. What exactly is the enjoyable part here?


"Definition 3. This is a good one, I see competition between people in similar positions healthy, as it encourages both to improve their effectivity."

Again, please clarify. How exactly do they improve effectivity? Why do you think its constructive rather than destructive?


"Definition 5. This is more related to competition for some actual physical item or other goods. Still not that bad, as in nature, it's usually survival of the fittest, and if you want something, of course you should compete for it, unless there's more to be gained for not doing so for some reason."

How exactly is "survival of the fittest" not inherently destructive?



I'll address point number 2 after you clarify the above, althought the short version is that again you're confusing competition with an aspect that is completely seperate. You're overthinking what is the definition of competition. It is simply a concept of A vs B. Nothing more, nothing less.

Santeri Saarinen
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How exactly am I overthinking the definition? I am using your exact google search phrase and the first dictionary definition it offers. To me it sounds like you're oversimplifying it and not actually thinking it through.

1. There's no one enjoyable part here. The experience as a whole is enjoyable. This relates closely the flow theory, where the optimal experience is gained when one's skills and challenges are in balance. This happens in competition in both real life and gaming, as more often than not, there's some kind of system in place which pits you against opponents of similar level. Thus increasing the enjoyment of both parties, just through taking part in the action, unrelated to the outcome. Also both, winning and losing, depending on the situation, possibly increase the enjoyment. Quoting Jesper Jull here "players wanting games to be challenging: failing, and feeling responsible for failing, makes players enjoy a game more, not less". A win without the possibility of failing does not feel like a win at all. And a win after failing several times and struggling for it, feels a lot more rewarding and enjoyable.

3. I guess performance is more accurate wording here than effectivity, but the point stands, competition brings the best out of the competitors. As has been proven many times in sports psychology, the best records, times, performances etc. happen in competitions. For example, Corbett J, Barwood MJ, Ouzounoglou A, Thelwell R, Dicks M (2012) Influence of Competition on Performance and Pacing during Cycling Exercise.

5. It might be destructive if you're fighting a different tribe in the jungle for better hunting grounds. It is not when you're fighting a group of anonymous people for a round of CS. In games, you're not actually losing anything (not taking into account the highest levels of competition with prizes) except maybe time, and even that can be said to be time well spent, as I described in point 1. I would also suggest you read Juul's book Art of Failure that Stephens suggested earlier. Think it would help you with some of the misconceptions you have about failure in games.

Anton Temba
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You didn't answer my questions properly.

1. Thats just dismissive, everything has a source. Besides that, the "flow-state" is not competition or even a part of it, as is a the idea of learning, challenge and enjoyment. The definition of competition does not mention anything else than what competition is. You are most definitely overthinking it.
While you're at it, find the definition of what the flow state actually is. You'll soon notice that it has no mention about competition. Flow is just "Good-enough-at-something + activity-does-not-require-dealing-with-the-unknown" to describe it in a nutshell.

3. I asked how, not what. Give me a concrete example. Explain why it works and why collaboration wouldn't be a better option in that scenario.

5. The effects of competition in non-serious conditions, such as in non-tournament casual game sessions, are more subtle, but they are still just as destructive. Pay close attention to the behaviour of the participants and your own thoughts during competition. What are you thinking when you are taken down by an opponent? What do you think when you take down an opponent?

Again, don't confuse failure with competition. They're not the same thing.

Santeri Saarinen
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I am not confusing failure with competition, I'm following your thoughts on the fact that someone winning causes someone losing and that it is a bad thing, which it is not.

1. Sure, flow != competition, but competition does offer a good chance for achieving flow-state, why it is clearly relevant. Same can be said for learning, challenge and enjoyment. You can't just take a term and say that anything outside of it must be dismissed, that's not how anything works. Competition has effects on all of those, which is why it is considered a good thing.

3. I gave you concrete example, even one concentrating on real world competition. You can't just dismiss scientifically proven data because it doesn't fit your view.

If you like more gaming based example, let's talk about League of Legends. In the current competitive scene, Korea is leading the other regions by a fair margin. Is this because they have some inherent skill there? No, most likely not. Partly, it's because their training/analysis plans are better, but big part of it is the competition available to them. When they constantly compete against the other teams Korea, they improve their skills much faster than teams in other regions.

This is because they have high-level competition between the teams constantly, while in other regions the best teams don't find good enough opponents to compete with them on a regular basis. And that's why they usually get stomped by Koreans in international tournaments. As you can see here, the competition clearly increases their performance.

5. What am I thinking when taken down? Firstly, why did that happen. Did I make a mistake? Did someone else make a mistake? Did I just get outplayed by the opponent? This is always the best time to consider what you can do better next time, and by doing so, you have the change to improve your performance. And then you try to do it again, continuing the competition, trying to reach a better result.

What am I thinking when I take down an opponent? Kind of the same as above, but on a smaller scale, as I need to continue quickly instead of waiting for respawn etc. More of the time is spent on thinking what to do next. Does this situation offer me a chance to take another objective, or should I back down before another opponent enters the scene?

I don't follow your thinking here. None of these things are even remotely destructive.

Anton Temba
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"I am not confusing failure with competition, I'm following your thoughts on the fact that someone winning causes someone losing and that it is a bad thing, which it is not."

Why not? If you claim to realize that failure is seperate from competition, then how come creating a scenario where one person intently makes another one lose is not bad? Wouldn't it be more better if the said person was helping the other one win, instead of losing?

I mean, what if the participants were trying to push you ahead, give advice, thinking of how to allow you to reach a higher potential, rather than do the opposite and be selfish by the design of competition where the win-state is tied to a personal victory, not the improvement or progress of others.

You do realize that even the idea of sportsmanship goes against the idea of competition itself? A very counterintuitive backwards design, don't you think?


1. You do realize that you do not need competition exclusively to have an environment optimized for attaining a flow-state, right? There are artists that draw and go into flow states from the joy of their activity. They're not competing, yet are enjoying the flow state all the same. More to the point, the flow state in competition is directed towards the activity of defeating your opponents, not anything constructive like in the drawing artists example.


3. Yes, increases their performance in the direction of destroying others. In the end, what good is that improvement for anyway? Frankly, you're confusing the idea of challenge with competition this time.
You can take away competition from the equation completely and leave nothing but a goal, a challenge and the participants. The doctors that are fighting to find a cure for cancer don't need to compete with anyone to be motivated to make progress in their challenge, because the goal itself is pretty damn important; if they don't make it happen, people will die, including the friends around them that have contracted cancer. Thats a big enough reason to pursue something and there is zero competition involved.

If there was competition between teams of doctors, they'd be slowing each other down and possibly hiding critical information from one another, for the sake of some arbitrary extrinsic motivation, like fame or money, causing more people to die, unlike if they had shared information with one another and collaborated to solve the issue, not pursue an artificial title of superiority.

How about the International Space Station? When Russia and America joined forces, along with a bunch of other countries, look at what they achieved for the advancement of space technology. If they had been pouting in their own respective corners, competing for some sort of "superiority", then they'd have no access to the information and resources of each other, limiting their capabilities and speed.


5. Exactly, you're thinking of how to defeat the opponent, how to win the game. You're thinking patterns are focused on destructive behaviour of ensuring personal victory at the cost of anothers failure.

In a collaborative or cooperative activity, your thinking patterns would be focused on achieving the goal while being mindful of other participants and willing to help them, improve them, so you can attain that goal in unity, and not be selfish over personal victory.

Sam Stephens
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@Anton Temba

"I mean, what if the participants were trying to push you ahead, give advice, thinking of how to allow you to reach a higher potential, rather than do the opposite and be selfish by the design of competition where the win-state is tied to a personal victory, not the improvement or progress of others."

I think this point may have been raised before, but how is team based competition anything like what you have just described? I know that competitive teams at the highest level of skill are anything but "selfish" and win-states are not "tied to personal victory." Competitive capture the flag players in Halo are not going to care about their K/D or if they are the ones to plant the flag. They care about doing everything they can to help their team achieve victory.

"You do realize that you do not need competition exclusively to have an environment optimized for attaining a flow-state, right?"

I think what Saarinen (and Sobotta above) are trying to get at is that competitive games, by their very nature, have the absolute highest skill ceiling that any player can possibly find in a game. Some players want to perform at the edge of their abilities, which is how they can achieve this "flow-state." This does not mean that other types of games can't offer this experience, but for players who need more challenge to be satisfied, competitive games offer them this challenge.

"Yes, increases their performance in the direction of destroying others."

I don't know how many times we can say this: no one is destroying anyone in a game. If this were the case, no one would play them.

"The doctors that are fighting to find a cure for cancer don't need to compete with anyone to be motivated to make progress in their challenge, because the goal itself is pretty damn important."

"How about the International Space Station? When Russia and America joined forces, along with a bunch of other countries, look at what they achieved for the advancement of space technology."

These analogies are completely inappropriate to the conversation at hand. What does any of this has to do with recreational competition? There are no lives on the line. There is nothing anyone is actually working towards for the betterment of society. Games obviously don't have these kind of stakes, so comparison is impossible.

Anton Temba
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"I think this point may have been raised before, but how is team based competition anything like what you have just described? I know that competitive teams at the highest level of skill are anything but "selfish" and win-states are not "tied to personal victory." Competitive capture the flag players in Halo are not going to care about their K/D or if they are the ones to plant the flag. They care about doing everything they can to help their team achieve victory."

Its a still a human vs human competition. A team is performing actions and development towards defeating the other team. The fact that its a team and not individuals doesn't change the fact that the ultimate goal is to make the other team lose.


"Some players want to perform at the edge of their abilities, which is how they can achieve this "flow-state." This does not mean that other types of games can't offer this experience, but for players who need more challenge to be satisfied, competitive games offer them this challenge."

Are you implying that the best flow state can only be reached in a competitive game? More over, that flow state is directed towards the action of making others lose, how do you justify that?


"I don't know how many times we can say this: no one is destroying anyone in a game. If this were the case, no one would play them."

Indeed, nobody would play them if they actually understood the facts I'm talking out. Much like yourself, people confuse competition with learning, human nature, challenge and everything else good, while the dictionary has no mention about these qualities within the definition of competition itself.

Keep in mind, the cold war ended ended only roughly 25 years ago, a time during which countries were competing to be better than others, rather than working together and getting globalized like we are right now. Competition was a necessesity back in the old ages, since technology was non-existant, scarcity was a huge problem and people had strong ideas of how things should be run (dictatorship vs democracy).

Still, competition meant wars and wars demanded lots of resources that went into developing better killing machines, rather than solving more important problems like hunger, basic needs, medicine, quality of life and so on.

Its no suprise competitive games are popular right now considering our history, but the issue here is the normalization of competition. The desensitization about the harms of competition and the confusion of bundling competition with other things like learning, challenge and flow, which are completely seperate things.

The real problem here is that the more people play competitive games, the more likely the idea of a competition will seem an ok thing, even if it happens to be about people killing each other. Its no wonder how many older people look at gamers in disgust and horror when they see the content of our entertainment.

The consequence of this is that the ones who have accepted competition as something acceptable, they are more likely to organize competitions in real life, behave competitively, try to solve problems using competition and confuse the definition of competition with things like learning, challenge and improvement.

The potential damage if a person with the mindset "competition is good" happens to be in a position of power, such as a teacher, politician, designer or a CEO is absolutely terrifying, in what they might impose on others under such a mindset.


"These analogies are completely inappropriate to the conversation at hand. What does any of this has to do with recreational competition? There are no lives on the line. There is nothing anyone is actually working towards for the betterment of society. Games obviously don't have these kind of stakes, so comparison is impossible."

Yet there is still some sort of stakes that motivate the competition, is there not?

Keep in mind that video games are an illusion that use immersion to make you believe like you're in it, right there. The stakes in a video game may be just an illusion, but they are still stakes all the same, and while you're immersed in a video game, it feels real enough for you to care about what you do in the game.

Its the very reason that makes video games interesting, because they set up stakes for the challenge at hand. Without this magic, you wouldn't be playing video games. They'd be boring and uninteresting.

Sam Stephens
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"Its a still a human vs human competition. A team is performing actions and development towards defeating the other team. The fact that its a team and not individuals doesn't change the fact that the ultimate goal is to make the other team lose."

Yes, but this does not really address my response to your earlier comment about competition being "selfish" and win-states being "tied to personal victory." You did not address the specific example I made (competitive CTF), which presents a solid counterargument against your previous point.

"Are you implying that the best flow state can only be reached in a competitive game? More over, that flow state is directed towards the action of making others lose, how do you justify that?"

I specifically said this was not the case in my comment. It's just that, as people get better at a game, they will desire more challenge to stay engaged (this is why single-player games become progressively more difficult). Some people will want to go all the way, or want a game with a high skill ceiling. These people find enjoyment in competition because other humans present the highest level of challenge mentally possible. As for justification, what is there to justify? As far as we know, there is nothing wrong with losing to someone else in a game.

"Indeed, nobody would play them if they actually understood the facts I'm talking out."

Let's not pretend we are dealing in "facts" here. All you have presented is a theory about the effects of recreational competition (and not a very credible one at that).

"Much like yourself, people confuse competition with learning, human nature, challenge"

I have never confused competition with these things, but it is generally difficult to separate them when we are talking about games. Again, human vs human competition definitely has the highest skill ceiling. People naturally learn and adapt to overcome these challenges (if they are motivated to). Even then, when we get right down to the very definition of competition, I can see nothing inherently wrong with it in a recreational setting.

"Keep in mind, the cold war ended ended only roughly 25 years ago, a time during which countries were competing to be better than others, rather than working together and getting globalized like we are right now. Competition was a necessesity back in the old ages, since technology was non-existant, scarcity was a huge problem and people had strong ideas of how things should be run (dictatorship vs democracy)."

We could discuss if competition was necessary back then, or if it still is today, but the big difference is that games are anything but a necessity (they probably rank very low in any hierarchy of needs, be it for the individual or for society).

"Its no suprise competitive games are popular right now considering our history"

The issue here is that competitive games have always been popular. Furthermore, what do you exactly mean when you say "considering our history" (what historical event(s) have lead to this supposed trend of competitive games and why)? Also, how do we explain the popularity of competitive games in other cultures and nations (Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Sweden) that have very different histories? I am sure it is easy to find example of popular competitive games in many different countries at many different times.

"The real problem here is that the more people play competitive games, the more likely the idea of a competition will seem an ok thing."

Do we know if this is actually true? Is their evidence that suggests that absence of recreational competition stops wars? It is probably impossible to say, but it does highlight the problematic way that in which you seem to want problems (if competition is even a legitimate problem) to be dealt with. Let's use violence in movies as an example. I think we can agree that violence is generally not a good thing, and that many movies don't always portray it in a negative way (some even make it seem cool). Does this mean we should stop making such movies? I would argue that it is more effective to teach people that violence is not okay in real life rather then try to purge an activity that is fun and harmless in and of itself. Using the same logic, just substitute game for movie and competition for violence.

"Yet there is still some sort of stakes that motivate the competition, is there not?"

Recreationally, there are motivations, but not really stakes. Adding some kind of extrinsic stakes can drastically changes the motivations of the player, which is why said professional sports are kind of a "gray area" in this topic. Going back to Jesper Juul, he says that a lack of true stakes is one of the six universal elements of a game.

(see http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/gameplayerworld/ specifically the part about "negotiable consequences")

Juul specifically derives this from the work of very notable ludologists.

Johan Huizinga: "It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it."

Roger Caillois: "an activity which is essentially...unproductive"

Chris Crawford: "the results of a game are always less harsh than the situations the game models"

These same people also believe games and their rules are separated from real life to an extent. "It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner" (Huizinga). Games are "separate [in time and space]" and "make-believe" (Caillois). Games are "a closed formal system that subjectively represents a subset of reality" (Crawford).

Now I hope you can understand why I take issue with comparing an activity that is unproductive and somewhat removed from reality (theoretically speaking) to a scenario such as the Space Race that was very much about productivity and real consequences.

"Keep in mind that video games are an illusion that use immersion to make you believe like you're in it, right there. The stakes in a video game may be just an illusion, but they are still stakes all the same, and while you're immersed in a video game, it feels real enough for you to care about what you do in the game"

This is just another baseless assumption about how people perceive games. It's true that quite a few video game developers and gamers recently have put immersion as a top priority (I would argue that immersion has fundamentally nothing to do with games, but that is a different topic). It is a stretch, however, to say that games are inherently immersive and that people buy into the illusion (there is also no evidence to this). I think people can generally separate the fictitious stakes in a game from the reality of their actions, as Juul, Crawford, Huizinga, and Caillois did.

Anton Temba
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"Yes, but this does not really address my response to your earlier comment about competition being "selfish" and win-states being "tied to personal victory." You did not address the specific example I made (competitive CTF), which presents a solid counterargument against your previous point."

Yes it does address your point. Instead of the individual being selfish, now you have a team being selfish together. Being selfish against the other team, and the team's personal victory is tied to the loss of the other team.

Its still the same destructive situation.


"These people find enjoyment in competition because other humans present the highest level of challenge mentally possible."

"Again, human vs human competition definitely has the highest skill ceiling."

Bullshit, no human can surpass a machine in terms of multitasking and speed of operations.


"Recreationally, there are motivations, but not really stakes."

Stakes = Source of motivation.
Your argument just collapsed on itself.

The stakes maybe be abstract and imaginary in video games, but through immersion, they are still real enough to give motivation to play the game. If there are no stakes, there is no motivation and therefore, no reason to have interest in playing a game.

Sam Stephens
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"Yes it does address your point. Instead of the individual being selfish, now you have a team being selfish together."

You still have not have explained how the particular example I presented does not involve selflessness and collective achievement, nor have you shown what is exactly selfish about winning against someone. I think you are just interpreting losing to someone in an overly negative way when most players probably think little of it. A small number of individuals may even have positive attitudes about losing. In this sense, winning is not really selfish since the winner is not taking anything away from the losers, be it extrinsic (money) or intrinsic (personal enjoyment). To phrase it in another way, the enjoyment of the winner does not come at the expense of the loser's enjoyment. Of course there are exceptions (such as musical chairs), but this has more to do with the particular nature of that game than the nature of recreational competition itself.

"Bullshit, no human can surpass a machine in terms of multitasking and speed of operations."

Yes, but computers don't have a psychology. They may be fast, have a vast amount of memory, and proficient in a small number of things that the human brain is not, but the human brain is still infinitely more complex and capable. Take interpretation for example. We still are not even close to getting a computer to replicate the ways in which humans understand language. More direct evidence of this is in the attempts to make computers that "super-play" games. The only examples of these scenarios are extremely simple games with very basic algorithms (Flappy Birds is a recent case). When studying competition and all of the emergent properties that arise from it however, a computer just cannot compete. They can't adapt, understand dominant strategies, or interpret what a player is trying to do. It is extremely easy to trick a computer. There is just no way anyone can program all of the possibilities into a computer so it can play StarCraft. Who knows what kind of technological advancements will come with time, but for now, this is not the case.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain
/computer-intellectual-ability1.htm

http://www.wired.com/2009/03/gobrain/

"Stakes = Source of motivation.
Your argument just collapsed on itself."

Not at all. In fact, you have just completely supported my entire argument with this statement. Games have no real consequences, therefore nothing external or objective (survival, betterment in life, acquirement of value) can be the source of motivation. The stakes have to be internal. They are subjective and created by the players themselves, so it mostly depends on how individuals internalize it all.

It also seems that you assume winning is the primary motivation for playing a game. For some people, this may be the case, but I would guess that most people are motivated by enjoyment. Trying to win (or in this particular case, playing competitively) is definitely a huge part of the experience, but it's a means to an end. If I lose to someone, do I regret playing in the first place? Did I not enjoy the experience as a whole? Absolutely not! Some people may feel that way, but again, this is because they are just too overly negative about it all.

Anton Temba
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"You still have not have explained how the particular example I presented does not involve selflessness and collective achievement, nor have you shown what is exactly selfish about winning against someone."

Sure, team members may be selfless towards each other and share their victory, but since the entire goal is about defeating the competition, i.e. the other team, it doesn't change the fact that its still a human vs human competition and their efforts are no different as a team than what it would be if it was two individual competing against each other, instead of two teams.

All that in-team selflessness and sharing victory within the team is pointless if you're victory was about making the other team lose.


"A small number of individuals may even have positive attitudes about losing."

Why?

Let me guess: because they learned from the failure and this helped them grow? You're back to the whole topic of confusing learning (fun) with competition. Losing is sucks.


"In this sense, winning is not really selfish since the winner is not taking anything away from the losers, be it extrinsic (money) or intrinsic (personal enjoyment). To phrase it in another way, the enjoyment of the winner does not come at the expense of the loser's enjoyment."

Losing always sucks. No one really likes to lose. If they learned something while losing, then that was learning how not to lose (or in other words, how to win), learning and developing skills towards the defeating the other invidual or team, not getting anything constructive or useful from the experience, only the destructive properties of ensuring your victory the next time you play.

Ultimately, the winners enjoyment DOES come at the expense of the loser. If there was no loser, how could they judge their success?

And even then, what kind of success is that? The success that came from making another person face failure? Thats just sadistic.


"Yes, but computers don't have a psychology."

They can create a powerful illusion of psychology though. It is just a matter of clever game design, no matter how advanced the game may be. Opponent AI can be programmed to adapt and be emergent, based on player behaviour and contingencies to out-perform a human being. Meanwhile, inconsistent behaviour, fuzzy logic and deceptive randomness can be used to create a similar feeling of human unpredictability.

AI War is a great example of how interesting and challenging an AI can be, surpassing the human limits and thus providing a much more higher level of challenge than human vs human competition could ever hope to achieve. Also the IBM Deep Blue is another example of a machine being a capable opponent against a human.

Besides all that, the psychology in competitive human vs human games is destructive towards the relationships between the participants. Notice how people trash-talk, use cheats and exploits to ensure victory and generally are toxic during the action towards one another, because losing sucks and no one wants to end up in that position.

I'd rather encourage cooperation or collaboration so that development of skill and tactics will be aimed towards helping your fellow human, not making them lose.


"Stakes = Source of motivation.
Your argument just collapsed on itself."

"Not at all. In fact, you have just completely supported my entire argument with this statement. Games have no real consequences, "

Again, they may not be real, but they feel real while you play the game. Thats because the game makes you feel that it is important while you play it.


"It also seems that you assume winning is the primary motivation for playing a game."

Your primary objective is to win a competition. No one likes losing.


"For some people, this may be the case, but I would guess that most people are motivated by enjoyment. Trying to win (or in this particular case, playing competitively) is definitely a huge part of the experience, but it's a means to an end. If I lose to someone, do I regret playing in the first place? Did I not enjoy the experience as a whole? Absolutely not! Some people may feel that way, but again, this is because they are just too overly negative about it all."

You would guess? You're just guessing stuff here.

Losing is never fun. Don't confuse the joy of learning with competition. And even then, what ever joy you got from that, look a bit deeper what exactly you're getting the joy from.

Sam Stephens
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"Let me guess: because they learned from the failure and this helped them grow? You're back to the whole topic of confusing learning (fun) with competition. Losing is sucks."

I really don't think I am confusing learning with competition. If I understand you correctly, your premise is that "losing sucks" and winning is fun. Recreational competition is bad because there are winners who are having fun at the expense of people who are not having fun (please correct me if I am wrong). My counterpoint is that "losing sucks" is a just an attitude that not everyone shares. It does not ruin the value of the experience. Therefore, there is really not much "segregation" between winners and losers because they both had fun.

"Thats just sadistic"

On what planet is this "sadistic" (ones enjoyment of another person's suffering, humiliation and pain)? No offense, but you have a really messed up view of competitive players.

On computers: computers are just not capable of offering high-level competition. This is a scientific fact. Did you not read the links I provided? There is a huge qualitative difference between playing against a computer and playing against another human. It's not that the former is bad, just that people who have an itch for intelligent competition will never find it from a computer.

"Notice how people trash-talk, use cheats and exploits to ensure victory and generally are toxic during the action towards one another, because losing sucks and no one wants to end up in that position."

Notice how this happens everywhere in life. Again, your arguments are completely conjecture and do not represent the examples of community, respect, and friendship that I have experienced first hand (along with the things you mentioned).

"You would guess? You're just guessing stuff here."

My "guessing" is based on much time spent in the competitive community, countless hours playing games with friends, family, and strangers, and years studying game design (as well as my own personal thought processes while playing). I don't think "losing sucks", and I know many more who feel the same. When comparing their attitudes to yours, it appears your's is very negative and heavily biased.

Losing sucks is just an opinion, and one that I am absolutely positive many don't have.

"Thats because the game makes you feel that it is important while you play it."

Yes, exactly; emphasis on "feel". These are feelings and interpretations. They are entirely internal.

Anton Temba
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"If I understand you correctly, your premise is that "losing sucks" and winning is fun."

"Winning is fun".

I never said that. In a competitive setting, what exactly is winning?
For you to win, everyone else must lose. Otherwise you cannot validate your "victory". You cannot win without a loser.

Losing is never fun. For one, you did not fulfill the goal of the activity, which was to win.

Second, losing causes segregation between you and the winner, because in the event of a competition, you are, by the nature of the competition, now considered a player of lower value than the winner. Starcraft 2's bronze, silver and gold league player classification system is exactly that. Those who are not in the gold are consider lesser players by default psychologically. This you cannot deny.

It is much more prestigious to be a winner than a loser in a society. People will directly treat you with more respect than if you're were a loser. By that definition, even in casual gaming, you don't play to lose. You want to avoid losing.

With that said, winning in itself, in competition, isn't really that glorious. You are literally walking on top of others to be considered a winner. The supposed "fun" that you get from winning comes from the external arbitrary praises and the satisfaction that you managed to be better than the other player(s).

Your entire victory is based on someones failure.
While your intention is not sadistic, your actions are.


"My counterpoint is that "losing sucks" is a just an attitude that not everyone shares."

I disagree. Give me a good reason why anyone would consider that losing is fun.
At this point you're just guessing, not really knowing the real reason for the people that you claim might have an attitude that losing doesn't suck.

Fundamentally, losing is never great.


"Notice how this happens everywhere in life. Again, your arguments are completely conjecture and do not represent the examples of community, respect, and friendship that I have experienced first hand (along with the things you mentioned)."

It does happen in real life, thats my whole point. Have you ever considered what the source for all this is? Why do people do it in real life?

Your claims about your experience is as much as a conjecture as you claim mine to be. I've seen respect and friendship, but this happened outside of competition, never within. More so the more serious that competition is.

1. Tell me, what communities have you been in part of and for how long?

2. How were you involved in them?

3. Did you actually play the game or did you mostly hang around in a forum?


"My "guessing" is based on much time spent in the competitive community, countless hours playing games with friends, family, and strangers, and years studying game design (as well as my own personal thought processes while playing). I don't think "losing sucks", and I know many more who feel the same. When comparing their attitudes to yours, it appears your's is very negative and heavily biased."

Let me quote you from a bit earlier:

"Yes, no one actually likes losing in and of itself, but it is part of a larger and highly compelling experience that people have engaged with and loved forever."

Can you give me an explanation about this "larger and highle compelling experience"?
Can you explain to me why it is loved and how it works, in simple terms?


"Yes, exactly; emphasis on "feel". These are feelings and interpretations. They are entirely internal."

But they do matter when you play the game.
Even if its an internal interpretation, it matters to the one who holds that feeling.
Games do their best to evoke that feeling, which is why it is relevant, despite being "just a feeling".

Sam Stephens
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"Losing is never fun"

I never said losing was fun, I said losing does not (and should not) ruin the enjoyment of the game for most people.

" you are, by the nature of the competition, now considered a player of lower value than the winner."

Not necessarily. If player losses consistently, then yes, they probably are not as good as their opponent (not taking collective teamwork into account). I don't deny it, but what exactly is wrong about this? You have continuously failed to answer this question and back up your answer with anything but conjecture.

"It is much more prestigious to be a winner than a loser in a society. People will directly treat you with more respect than if you're were a loser. By that definition, even in casual gaming, you don't play to lose. You want to avoid losing."

Does society as a whole really care if someone just won a Street Fighter tournament? Probably not. Again, if you really care that much about how society thinks of you when you win or lose a trivial game, you are probably over thinking things way too much. This also leads to a lot of assumptions and cognitive biases about what opponents are thinking ("does my opponent think I am an idiot because I made a wrong move?).

"With that said, winning in itself, in competition, isn't really that glorious."

I agree. Winning a game does not mean very much in the grand scheme of things.

"The supposed "fun" that you get from winning comes from the external arbitrary praises and the satisfaction that you managed to be better than the other player(s)."

I could tell you how dead wrong your assumptions are, but I will let this guy do it for me instead: http://www.compete-complete.com/2013/02/making-beautiful-game.htm
l

"Give me a good reason why anyone would consider that losing is fun."

Once again, losing not being fun is absolutely not the same thing as "losing sucks".

"You want to avoid losing."

Yes, because attempting to win (emphasis on attempting) is what is engaging (don't ask me why). No one plays to lose, but no one doesn't play because they may lose either.

"At this point you're just guessing"

It's not guessing. It's called cognitive psychology. I even cited a source that explains this in one of my previous comments.

"Have you ever considered what the source for all this is?"

You are joking right? Are you seriously suggesting the source of all hostility and hate in the world is...competitive games?

"Tell me, what communities have you been in part of and for how long? How were you involved in them? Did you actually play the game or did you mostly hang around in a forum?"

I dabble in a lot of different games because I want to play them all (so I am at least partially familiar with a bunch of different metagames). However, the communities I have hung around in a little bit (two years tops) include Halo, Pokemon, Smash Brothers, a little bit of StarCraft, and recently some Titanfall. I have never been super-serious about it, and I'm no where close to MLG Pro level, but I like to believe I am fairly decent at these games. As far as involvement goes... I don't know. I play the games and interact in forums. Forums interest me a lot because that is where I find some of the deepest thinking and analysis of the games, which is great for someone who loves game design.

"Can you give me an explanation about this "larger and highle compelling experience"?
Can you explain to me why it is loved and how it works, in simple terms?"

The answer can be really hard to pin down, because it's directly related to the question of "why do people play games in the first place?". Why do people wish to overcome arbitrary obstacles defined by limiting rules? Does any of this serve a particular evolutionary function? Is it outdated? There are many theories and ideas about the question you posed and the ones that I have mentioned, but in truth, no one really knows. However, it's very clear that something about playing a game, any game, is very enjoyable, even when they reveal certain inadequacies when we lose. This is based in two facts

1) Humans are the only (known) life forms that play games (or are even capable of it). Some animals play, but not within a structured, rule bound, and objective based way.

2) Competitive games have been linked to every human civilization on the planet as a regular activity. It's as universal as language or art. That does not mean everyone is very competitive or passionate about competitive games, but it is a regular past time.

So to sum it all up, whether there is a definite answer or not, it does not change the fact that there is something about competitive games that draws people to them. It's just way too self evident to deny. Losing, in theory, should not be very attractive, yet people continue to play games. I can't answer why. Take it up with the historians, anthropologists, and archeologists if you disagree. Again, I would really recommend reading The Art of Failure and the link I posted above.

"Even if its an internal interpretation, it matters to the one who holds that feeling."

You just don't seem to get it. Internal interpretation is susceptible to bias and distorted thinking. Games are "make-believe" (Caillois). It's all in your head. Putting to much emphasis on completing the goal or getting upset about it is irrational because there is nothing real to get upset about. People who do get upset need to learn that it's just a game.

"While your intention is not sadistic, your actions are."

Sadism is pleasure gained from someone else's pain, suffering, or humiliation. If my opponents are not in pain and I am not taking enjoyment from that pain, how in the world are my actions sadistic? It seems you don't understand what Sadism is.

Anton Temba
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"I never said losing was fun, I said losing does not (and should not) ruin the enjoyment of the game for most people."

It does ruin your enjoyment exponentially the more times you lose. A few losses initially will indeed feel meaningless, but the more it keeps happening, the more frustrated you become, more eager to win, otherwise the gap of superiority between you and the others that win will grow.

My point is about the long term. If you haven't committed to a competitive game and have not invested more serious effort within it, then of course you'll be oblivious and unaffected by its consequences.

More over, if you have a hobby, work, family or some other main focus in life that you care deeply about, making the competition you experience as nothing more than casual relaxation activity, then goddamnit of course you won't notice the underlying effects of competition on people.

Even more so, if the games you play has to offer something more beyond the competition that is interesting, such as the art, lore, technical designs, visual effects, puzzle of tactics and strategy, satisfying audio or a comical value that makes you laugh, then bloody hell of course you won't notice the effects of human vs human competition behind all that.

You don't have a bloody clue what is even behind the "fun" you've been having.


"I could tell you how dead wrong your assumptions are, but I will let this guy do it for me instead: http://www.compete-complete.com/2013/02/making-beautiful-game.htm"

You know whats really screwed up about this whole thing? The guy who supposedly "teaches" the less experienced player to become better does it for the sole purpose of furthering their own superiority, basically using newbies as sacrifices for their own victory by dragging them to their level and then using them as a platform to go even higher.

Its a self-destructive chain reaction that allows only one individual to be above the rest at any given time. A game design with human vs human competition at its core will ultimate self-destruct by having the losers trying to bring down the sole winner down to their level, instead lifting him up even higher, which is the case with collaborative/cooperative games.

I'm really dissapointed that you think this is somehow novel and great about human vs human competition.

Anton Temba
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Just to add, I find it absurd how you have the audacity to call my statements as conjectures while you've been saying "I don't know", "Because this guy said so" or give a vague statement that doesn't properly explain the origin of your points, but are just wishy washy handwaving statements based on your personal bias on a topic you're not even properly serious or deep inside to be qualified to say the talk about.

I'd say your experience is lacking in the matter despite your claims.


Keep in mind: Just because something is popular doesn't means its good. History is full of mistakes, it'd be foolish to accept it as something great without looking deeper into it, which in this matter, you haven't.

Sam Stephens
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"The guy who supposedly "teaches" the less experienced player to become better does it for the sole purpose of furthering their own superiority"

You missed the entire point. "'The point isn't to win?' I asked. 'The point,' Bredon said grandly, 'is to play a beautiful game.'" Bredon does not want to feel superior. He wants to play with someone who is his equal.

I am sorry you will never play a beautiful game.


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