Don’t Play To Win

Travel improves the mind, and games can take you to more fantastic worlds in a box than the TARDIS. My favorite part of playing a new game is the forging of new pathways in the brain, where a board of bizarre symbols becomes a battleground, sequences of squiggles resolving into the physical laws of a brand new universe. It’s the opposite of One-ness with the Matrix: you start trapped in a world of incomprehensible runes and symbols, but suddenly you can see the fake world they create and have amazing adventures with others enjoying the same abilities.

I get the same joy from new video games. You learn more about the world with every round, win or lose – especially lose, because nothing teaches you a lesson like violent death. Exploring a whole new world practices all the parts of the brain which deal with new things. The parts that come up with new ideas, and new solutions, and are otherwise in charge of telling the rest of you that it’s not time to lay down and start dying just yet. (The first and worst stage of death is deciding you don’t want to learn more. Everything after that just advances the decay.)

There’s the glory of self-improvement simplified to something you can see and prove. I get brilliant at my favorite games, advancing through exploration to expertise, choosing the class or item my team needs to enabling more victories than defeats. There’s nothing like scouting several 15-4 stompings in a row to appoint yourself spotting king of the World of Tanks.

Which makes it all too easy to resist the urge to leave. But the cast-iron rule is that playing games should be fun, and if you reach the point where you only enjoy winning then it’s time to leave. Instead of cursing the idiots when we lose, or worse, knowing we’re going to lose right from the start when I see a scout take up a sniping position, or the square dot of an artillery charging the enemy. If you don’t play World of Tanks, the square dot of artillery charging the enemy is about as smart as a square dot in Pac-Man charging its enemy. The next ten minutes are doomed, because I’m not dick enough to disconnect, but I know it’ll be for nothing.

So the rule kicks in. If I find myself only playing to win, it’s time to delete the game and move on to being an idiot somewhere else. This rule is why I stopped playing Left 4 Dead multiplayer, and it’s the only reason I haven’t physically uploaded into Team Fortress 2, and now it’s time to find a new game. Because a baby bouncing off the walls in a new world is learning a lot more than a cranky old man cursing all the idiots in his old one.

Why hello, Mario Kart 8. You look like fun.

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