On Being Competitive

HOWARD MEGDAL: To me, the pleasure I get from playing a board game or bowling with friends comes inversely to how successful I am at it. For me, such times are an opportunity to make fun of whoever is losing. If it is me, I can do so with abandon. If it is someone near me, I’m a jerk for making the same jokes.

In other words, losing is merely a gateway to doing what I really want.

And while we can’t control our emotional responses, I don’t see the logic to feeling otherwise. If I’m playing Monopoly or cards, it is because I’m with someone I care about. (Seldom will I play against someone I loathe-offering chips alone would be unpalatable.)

So if I win, I get… nothing. Just the satisfaction of knowing I made someone I care about feel badly.

But if I lose… then it gets to be open season on me, which is perfect. I can be as cruel as I wish. And it doesn’t affect my self-worth, because, really, I’m supposed to feel badly about myself for missing that spare? I don’t even use the holes when I bowl!

This is compounded by the fact that my wife is, and I say this charitably, not a good loser. One of our early fights came after she lost to me at bowling, and I gently kidded her about it. (It was amusing- as mentioned, I don’t use the holes.)

And she quit our water-drinking contest (fifth year of marriage fever- catch it!) after three days, claiming the game was rigged, even though she helped draw up the rules. (The winner was whoever drank more water- this wasn’t exactly the Florida Recount.)

So for me, competition takes a back seat to other, more vital concerns. Like the emotional well-being of those closest to me. And hoping my wife is too busy to read this piece. In this last pursuit, I really will be disappointed if I lose. She’ll see to that.

JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: Generally, I’m a pretty laid back kind of person.  I’ve got a long fuse, and I pick my battles wisely.  Unless, of course, board games are involved.  In that case, I will rip your fucking eyes out.

Much like the Incredible Hulk, I go from mild-mannered to a ball of fury in the matter of seconds.  The moment I fall behind – or even answer a question wrong – my blood pressure rises.  And if you have a good hand, or get something that I might not have, I start to seethe.  You could be my best friend, my grandmother, Gandhi.  I don’t care.  I will be filled with feeling of intense hatred for you.  I will want you murdered, messily.

Where this comes from, I don’t know.  But there’s no stopping it.  It washes over me, coarses through my veins and absolutely takes over any small amounts of logic or reason that I have.    I’m not on steroids.  I don’t have an excess of testosterone.    I didn’t play sports, or watch pro-wrestling as a kid, and my parents aren’t physical education teachers.  There is absolutely no explanation for my irrational need to win.

So, please.  Don’t ask me to play Pictionary with you.  Because if you don’t get what I’m drawing, I will puncture your lung with that tiny pencil.  And Monopoly?  Forget it.  You’ll be prying hotels out of various orifices for weeks.  Unless you’re a real sadist, keep me off the guest list for your game nights.

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: When you get right down to it, there are two kinds of people: Those who always seem to end up yelling at everyone while playing Scrabble, and those who don’t.

As someone who tends to be on the less competitive end of the spectrum, I’ve often wondered why this is and where this tendency came from. I have always been the kind of person who is extremely unconcerned about coming in dead last during a round of mini-golf. I could care less if my team doesn’t place in the top five at the local bar’s Trivia Night. Do I keep landing on your built-up Park Place during Monopoly and losing half my money? Oh well!

Perhaps it started during childhood. My younger sister and I were always so different, that there were never enough areas of overlap for us to really compete in. From the very beginning, she was pegged as the crazy artist; I was the dreamy writer. Neither of us was particularly athletic or rebellious, and we rarely fought. This may have fostered a general live and let live attitude in our household.

Or maybe I am putting a positive spin on something with darker and less harmonious roots. I played chess with an uncle a lot when I was around 8 years old. Lots of people let children win at these sorts of games; this never happened in my case. “She’s 8 years old,” I can imagine my uncle reasoning. “I’m almost forty. How on earth would she ever expect to beat me at chess?” So, I lost a lot at chess at a young age. Maybe it left me with the constant expectation of failure? Maybe I never want to win anything because I don’t expect that I will be able to, and so I don’t worry about it? Oh well?

Still, I can’t see as how that’s really a true disadvantage. I’m happy enough when I win at things, I just don’t care if I lose. It seems to me that being fiercely competitive when it comes to recreational activities has more of a downside. I can recall some friends in college, all fairly competitive, who started a game of Risk one night that went on for weeks and caused some serious grudges. After awhile I believe the game had to disband in order to diffuse the situation and enable the participants to remain friends. This is not a situation I will ever find myself it.

I suppose you could argue, though, as Dave Tomar likely will since he always needs to win, that my utter passiveness when it comes to competition is a form of aggression. And indeed, this could be true. There’s inarguably something deliciously fun about watching someone lose steadily during a game of candy land and realizing that it is really pissing them off. Even if I am also losing, at least it’s not ruining my evening.

And there are also certain times when I am competitive—say, while walking down the street (I am a particularly aggressive pedestrian with a fondness for passing slower pedestrians) or running in a 5k race, although that’s more of a ‘competing against yourself’ scenario. And in situations where I am competing against myself (say, while doing pushups), I am excessively concerned with meeting my goals and tend to have high expectations for my performance. If I plan to run 40 minutes one afternoon, and I quit after 35 minutes, I am disappointed and angry at myself.

So, nobody’s perfect. But at least I can play a game of Scattergories without my blood pressure going up. Win or lose, people who don’t care either way always win. So nyeah.

DAVE TOMAR: I am the most gracious winner you will ever meet.  I am humble and magnanimous in victory.  I’ll tell you how well you played, how close you made it, how there was a moment back there when I was nervous that you might get the jump on me.  I’ll smile and tell you what a good game it was, that I thought we were pretty evenly matched, that were it not for the grace of Jesus and the tremendous physical gifts with which I’ve been blessed, it probably would have been a much closer game.

I will find it very easy to reflect amiably on a game well-played. . . when I win.

When I lose, I am a fist-pounding jerk.  I can’t believe it.  The dice screwed me.  The deck had it out for me.  How could you call with those cards?!?  Is this table leveled?  I think my cue is warped.  You used all your letters on that word?  That isn’t a real word.  Ok, the dictionary says the word is real, but it’s totally a bullshit word.  You should be ashamed of yourself, winning that way.

I like to win.  I can’t help it.  I was raised American.  It was programmed into me to experience a certain burning shame over losing, to suffer too emotionally the indignity of coming in second, to deconstruct in self-flagellating detail every effort that ever fell just shy.  I become embarrassed, clammy, filled with excuses, comforted not in the least by self-sustaining mantras about my generally fulfilling life beyond the scope of this one game of Battleship.  But it doesn’t work.  I go to sleep thinking, E3!  If I had just said E3, I might have sunk that sorry laundry vessel my opponent called a Battleship.  That would have shown my little sister who’s boss.

Sometimes, during my most embarrassing and childish fits of rage, I’m struck by the thought that perhaps I’ve taken things too seriously.  I am not the outcome of this one game.  I am a complex man with many positive qualities outside of my ability to trounce close friends to the point of tears while playing Stratego.  I think, perhaps this is something about myself that I need to address. Maybe I should change.  I can be an intolerable prick.  I’m the first person to yell at the Monopoly board for sending me to jail.  I have protested the outcome of entire games based on the argument that I was racially profiled.  When I open a candy bar wrapper and it says ‘Sorry, You are Not a Winner,” I am sent into a 24 hour shame spiral.

Even my Snickers is talking smack.

Ultimately though, I realize I could have it no other way.  Accepting defeat graciously is the first step to accepting defeat.  And this is something in which I have no interest.  Let’s be honest about our culture here.  Do we really value good sportsmanship more than victory?  That seems preposterous to me.  My baseball cards didn’t compile stats about who shook hands after the game.  They don’t give Olympic gold medals for wishing your opponents well and asking how the family is doing?  They sure as shit don’t give out multi-million dollar contract to guys who say, “no biggie, we’ll get ‘em next time.”  If Michael Jordan has shown us nothing else, it’s that you can be a huge prick but if you win everybody will love you.

Well I’m proud to say that I can be at least as big a prick as Michael Jordan.  It beats the alternative.  Just ask the Ralph Naders and Buffalo Bills of the world.  Somehow, I doubt Nader has more friends than Jordan.

I admit, I’ve alienated some.  There are many people who won’t play Trivial Pursuit with me.  My friends have secret game nights that I’m not invited to.  My fiancé hides the board games in the back of the closet on rainy afternoons.

It may be so that my personal life has suffered by my disposition.  But fuck it,  I’d rather be thought of as a jerkoff winner than as a lovable pushover

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One Response to On Being Competitive

  1. desmond.macedo says:

    nice read. at least everyone is honest. the first guy’s attitude is pretty cool – play with people you care about, so you can tease them when they lose :)

    In my own case, i can write and think better than most people around me. but i am 46. the people around me are 25; they write and think better than i did at 25. maturity helps to tone down any arrogance.

    losing gracefully does requires guts. and truthfully, i’d rather have guts than intelligence.

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