Advice, Lifestyle

Why do we play to win?

I remember seeing my peers play Monopoly at daycare when I was a kid, and I always wondered how the game could be interesting to anyone under 40 years old. 

To me, Monopoly always seemed more boring rather than fun. What kid wants to think about purchasing properties? I guess the indoctrination of a capitalist mentality really does start early. 

Once, I asked my mom how an economics-based game would be intriguing to a demographic that has yet to understand what a mortgage is. She postulated that Monopoly offers people the chance to be competitive, which therein lies the desire to play. 

When she put it that way, it finally made sense and reminded me of the culture surrounding other childhood games, such as the activities I engaged in during gym class in elementary and middle school. 

Whenever gym teachers would announce that the class was about to play a game of dodgeball, I could sense my peers sitting on the edge of their seats to see how they would divide the class into teams. 

Whether it was divided based on orientation in the room — left side versus right side —  or which homeroom teacher we had, people generally always cheered at the chance to dominate over their peers. 

I wished I could sit out because the aspect of competition took away from the enjoyment I would have from simply playing and having some good old fun. 

Competitive opposition fills my soul with a lot of negative energy — emotionally painful energy that makes me try to avoid situations where I will be pit against others.

Whenever there is an opportunity to play a game — whether it’s a board game, card game or sports game — a tension settles into my chest as a result of simulating rivalry with another person or group of people. 

The appeal of competing with other people is something I most definitely understand, but it doesn’t resonate with me at all. I think this is in part because competition makes me feel disconnected from progress.

A podium. Holding the highest ranks and positions of prestige are seen as the greatest appeals of competition – but do they have to be? Veronica questions the efficacy of such a widespread attitude toward all forms of competition. COURTESY OF FLORIAN SCHMETZ VIA UNSPLASH

If you’ve ever played competitive review games — such as Kahoot or Jeopardy — in a class, you may be familiar with the natural tendency to focus on one’s speed or the number of points they’ve racked up at the expense of actually reviewing the material.

I knew that the purpose of playing these games was to make reviewing more entertaining, but to me, they often seemed to become counterproductive in practice. 

I am not interested in seeing my name at the top of a board and being praised — or envied — for it. I don’t say this to feign humility or naivety but to express the fact that winning doesn’t do anything for me. Neither does losing. 

When it comes to games, I am interested in opportunities for self-improvement, learning and having fun. Not only does competition make me feel disconnected from those goals, but it gives me anxiety which distracts me from the act of playing. 

In broader terms, I feel the concept of competition doesn’t fully apply to humans because it is illogical to compare something as complex as human beings when we are each influenced by uncomparable external and internal factors. 

Why don’t the ideas of playing for enjoyment or playing for self-improvement generally prevail over the notion of playing to win? Why do we give so much power to class ranks, follower counts or who calls shotgun? Why do some people take so much pride in having a competitive spirit when it is fundamentally a spirit of division?

I don’t want to waste my time or my energy in life by competing with others. I don’t want to be in opposition with my peers. 

Life itself may be a game, but I definitely don’t have to play by society’s rules and give in to the human tendency to compete.

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