It’s not rage that drives me, it’s competition. –Lennox Lewis
We compete every day. Sometimes in small ways and sometimes with very important stakes. Board games give us an opportunity to match wits and strategies with opponents in a relatively low-risk environment. Sure, there’s the ever-present threat of a flipped table, but if you’re judicious about the people you game with, that shouldn’t occur on a regular basis. The real question you have to ask is: is the competition we experience when we play games a positive force in our lives?
For this week’s CMON Feature Friday we’re taking a look at the positive benefits that competitive gaming can provide.
There are a lot of different ways to approach gaming. One of the most popular types that is growing rapidly is cooperative. This refocuses competition from your fellow gamers onto the game itself. It can make for a less-combative gaming experience. However, when we play a co-op, are we missing out on a helpful, or even necessary part of human interaction?
Psychologists view competition as having an extrinsic incentive, as opposed to an intrinsic incentive. When we do something ‘good,’ like helping others, or donating to a cause, we do it, not for some external reward, but because we are convinced that it is the right thing to do. Not ‘right’ in some vague sense of the word, but a moral code that has evolved as we’ve evolved as a species. That ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling we get from doing good is known as a helper’s high. There is a literal change to our physical makeup when we do ‘good’.
Interestingly, a lot of research shows that external rewards often carry more weight for us than internal ones. That doesn’t mean those rewards are better or worse, but when we have an opportunity to compete, it tends to overshadow the intrinsic joy we get from helping others. We focus in on the competition, seeing those external rewards as being, at least momentarily, more important.
Competition is part of the reason that we are here as a species. It can and should be considered a natural part of our lives. Our ancestors would’ve competed over food, shelter, mates, hunting grounds and much more. Facing competition forces you to react. It forces you to grow. That’s as true today as it would’ve been 100 thousand years ago. When we compete, we grow. Now, in a board game setting, we’ll grow by learning mechanics and rules, applying new strategies, and becoming better winners and losers. These are lessons that, in today’s world, might not be considered necessary to survival, but they sure are helpful.
Competition also forces us to become more creative. How many times have you played a game where the person right before you makes the move you wanted to do? It happens a lot. Sure, you could pursue them, but you’d always be one step behind. If you really want to compete, you have to find a new way to approach the problem. Often, the way to win a game is to do what the other players aren’t doing. However, if we assume that most players are going to take the obvious path to victory, you have to find the creative one.
With competition comes winning and losing. Someone is going to walk away the victor. Sometimes, that’s you. Sometimes, you fall a bit short and your opponent comes out ahead. It gives weight and consequences to the decisions you make. Having a clear goal is a good thing. It sharpens our resolve. Even competitive losses benefit us. How empty would our victories be if we won all the time? The possibility of losing is what makes victories sweeter.
In a world without competition, we get complacent. We stop striving to be better and just accept that everything is going to work out evenly. Of course, that’s not to say that cooperative situations, or those without competition, aren’t important and valid. One of the greatest things we can do as a species is work together with a shared goal. But, to be human is to compete on a certain level. Whether you’re matching strength, wits, agility, or talent, as long as it’s friendly, competition is a good and necessary part of life.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy some healthy competition in your life? Do you avoid it at all costs, preferring to go the co-op route? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #CMONFeatureFriday.