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Mindful boardgaming

So, two weeks ago I wrote about being competitive in boardgames. As I discussed there: I viewed myself as "not competitive", which to me meant that I did not mind losing, and that I would allow others to win if it clearly meant more to them than to me.

This meant that when I was ahead in the game, I would hold back and make smaller moves, just to even the playing field again. I would do this both consciously as well as unconsciously. And seriously: I would say sorry to the other players when I did end up winning. I was a bad winner.

The discussion of two weeks ago changed my mind about this: it is unfair to other players to not give it your all. It is also related to self love (a topic I have been exploring a lot in the past two months): trying to win means you can lose, and you should know that you are still an okay person when you do. Also it's okay to take up the space in a group when you are the winner: you won, you may be seen.

So in the past two weeks I've been trying harder to win, and it changed my experience in boardgames for the better. I didn't necessarily won more, but I am prouder of the wins I did get, and I didn't talk myself down afterwards ("sorry" or "it was just luck"). The wins felt like validation: I am good at games.

At the same time, the loses are indeed hurting a bit more. But I don't see that as a bad thing. I played Unfathomable and lost. But I also identified a few big mistakes in my way of playing the game. Because I was so invested in winning, the mistakes actually hurt, so I will for sure remember not to take on those strategies if I ever play it again. Actually trying to win the game makes you better at games.

That said, I just finished my first in-person Dungeons & Dragons session since 2020, and I really enjoyed it. This is a game that is not about winning at all: it can be endless and it's really just a form of collaborative story telling.

But here also, I made some "mistakes". I felt like I could've tried harder to come up with nice twists for the story (there was a lot of "sure I'll follow" and shooting arrows from a distance). Even though this game is not about winning, there is still a skill and a commitment to bring your best to it. It feels similar to what I call "being competitive".

Two weeks ago I chose the words "therapeutic boardgaming", but I really want to go for "mindful boardgaming" now. Enjoy the moment and give it your best, in that way, you get the best experience.

It's all fun and games

Today, a discussion spawned in a queer boardgaming Whatsapp group I am a member of, about the boundaries of cheating, the value of rules and about competitiveness and fun.

In general, I like to think of myself as 'not competitive'. To me this means I don't try to win in games, but to just enjoy the experience. In the discussion I shared that I sometimes make smaller moves when I have a big lead, to even the game a bit. Not everyone in the discussion liked this.

To give a bit more context: I play the game of Go and I am around 7 kyu. This means that if I go to a tournament, I have no chance of winning a top-3 position, but against someone who knows all the rules but hasn't played before, I have a chance of winning that nears 100%. That's not my style of winning.

To me, the experience of the game is just much more important than winning.

Until someone is holding back

Someone in the discussion said they found it unfair to let someone play with a handicap without them knowing it. I have never thought of my 'holding back' in this way, but I think they have a point. Players are doing their best and they expect me to play to my full ability as well. Holding back undermines the base of the game.

A story related to that: I was playing Ticket to Ride a lot with housemates and they were really fanatic about it. I could just never win: they always completed all their routes, they always went for the longer connections (those get more points) and in general they played efficient.

Then later I joined another friend group, who were already playing Ticket to Ride a lot. I joined their game and won by a huge margin, not just once but several weeks in a row. That is the kind of experience where I feel bad about winning.

But on the other hand: I only learned how to play well because the housemates did not hold back. And my friends also got better because I did not hold back in those first games. Not holding back makes everybody improve their understanding of the game.

The weight of winning

There is another part of not being competitive, which might have to do with the way I look at myself and others. In the past month, I have done a lot of reflecting on self-acceptance and feelings in general. I notice that not wanting to win also has a component of not wanting the attention that comes with it.

And it's not really attention I dislike, because I have it even more in a group I know very well and with people I value a lot. I think this is because the nature of being the 'winner' kind of places you above the rest of the group. It is this aspect I dislike.

But then again: if you agree to play a game, you agree that there will be a winner (depending on which game you pick, of course, but most games work this way). Someone has to fill that role at the end of it. For me personally, I think it would be good to explore my competitiveness a bit more, seeing what happens if I actually try to win.

Trying to win is a bit scary too, because if I actually try, there is still the chance that I loose. It is about valuing myself enough to say "yes I won, I am the best this time", as well as forgiving myself enough to say "I tried and lost, and I am still okay". Therapeutic boardgaming, I guess.