I just watched the movie Waiting For Bobby Fischer, and it made me think about a few things regarding winning, losing, what competitive games do to you, and what we do to them.
Let me start by saying this: the more you add to a game, the more you take away from it. Not the game itself, but the event, the playing. Say you add sponsorships, crowds, tickets, merchandise. You add titles. You add a crowd. You add hype. You add rivalries and spectators. You add ego.
Adding these--not always, but often--subtracts from focusing on the game itself. The reason most people play a game, and devote themselves to its rules and intricacies and advancement, is for a single reason; they like the game. Sometimes the initial interest turns into a passion, an obsession. These people can't quit no matter how bad they think they want to. You think you quit, you'll be minding your own business, and then somehow somebody reminds you that the game exists and you are drawn back into it. You can't resist it. The only way to leave is if the fire dies down on its own. It's a trick candle of the heart.
Because to you, thanks to whatever weird genetic/cultural combination that crafted you, the game is just beautiful. Some games are fast paced, some are slow. Some require twitch reflexes and some require snail-paced planning. Some are intuitive and some are analytical, though just about all are really a mixture of both. Different games call to different people, and most of the time we can't help ourselves. We're weak to those games.
And it's kind of stupid, even. You started off playing for fun, and then you'll go off by yourself to practice for hours and you won't have even a smidgeon of fun, just so you can be a little bit better the next time you play. And sometimes the game drives you up the damn wall for whatever reason, and you can't help it. It's a habit. An addiction to play, because something in there is just too beautiful for you to let go of it.
Most of us want to be better for no reason beyond a simple inexplicable want. At least, initially.
This is where it gets weird and a little sad to me. You have the game, and you have the players, and it's pretty awesome all in all. But the moment you add things like hype, spectators, tournaments, championships, and titles, something both amazing and terrible happens. The spectators develop a sense of entitlement. They make demands on the players. They start dictating the shoulds and shouldn'ts of the game for the people who are actually playing it. They add foreign elements of pride and ego and territory into these events that, as far as the game is concerned, don't exist.
Players begin to worry about who is watching, and by the mere act of observation, the game is changed. Players act more aggressive or defensive. They become afraid to lose, in some cases afraid to win, or even to play at all. And then people start telling the players what to do. You have to play man. You have to win. Show them what you're made of, you're the best, prove it. No, don't play like that, give us what we want to see. You have to.
Says who? Who says anybody has to do a damn thing? The passion didn't start with somebody saying "you have to be amazing at this." It came from within. That passion is what got you up there, and then somebody else just encroaches on it. Who the hell are they to tell you what the game is about, and what you have to do when you play it?
But truthfully, I can't hate on the crowd because when you love the game, both playing *and* watching, then you can enjoy it no matter what you're doing. I love watching high-level play of most competitive events just because it's kind of awesome to see craft at its finest. To share the experience with other people who feel the same, to have somebody to talk about it with, just amplifies the experience of seeing players who are good and amazing weave magic with their chosen game.
And being good, being amazing, that really was kind of the root of the game at first, wasn't it? You loved the game and you wanted to understand it, and with understanding came more skill and with more skill came a new way to appreciate an old pastime. And some people just want to watch and enjoy it and sometimes it's not any kind of act of malice or spite or bias but it simply *happens* that the game changes.
But let's say you add a title. Suddenly you aren't thinking about the game anymore. You aren't playing for the sake of the game or yourself but because somebody put something else on the line. And while some people are immune to these kinds of pressures, most aren't.
You really can't account for how these things affect everybody. Some people like winning just because it makes them feel superior. Some people just want to be flashy, or some people just want to relax and have a good time. And the best part is that the game doesn't care what your intention is, so there is room for you to play how you want and for the reason that you want. And some people only play their best with those external pressures egging them on. Sometimes the game can only advance because people, in the desire to win and be better, use those pressures to push themselves to the next level. So who even knows.
What's the point of all this? Well, I tricked you, because you read all this way only to realize there really isn't one. I like crowds and hype and spectators and tournaments and championships and big games where everybody says "this is for all the cookies," and everybody screams and it comes down to the wire and the crowd is going nuts and you end up telling the story five times to the same person who doesn't even give a shit because you can't get it out of your head, it was that amazing.
But in some ways I also kind of lament it. Because there's something utterly fantastic about playing without a purpose or a target or a title or a crowd, where we aren't inflicting needless expectations on the players of the game. Where you can just explore the gamespace and go crazy playing how you want to play, constantly chasing that element of the game that set you on fire in the first place. And the irony is that when you combine the first and the second, when the players up on the big stage forget about the crowd and play like nobody's there, is usually when everybody in the room ends up winning.