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The myth of "I Play To Win"

FFG posted this article today, it’s a good read from Nate French basically saying don’t be an a-hole. Here’s the thing: clearly something prompted this, from reading that article. What happened to get a response from Nate himself? Did some tourney go off the rails?


That’s a much better message.

I’ve always maintained that focusing on ‘winning’ is never going to produce a satisfying frame of mind or experience - if for no other reason than that there can be no more than one winner!

Shifting the focus to self-improvement, or making the best decisions you can with the given information (and this can even extend to ‘playing the deck you want to play to the best of your ability’, which is what supports creative or thematic deckbuilding) probably leads to a much healthier, happier mindset and richer enjoyment of the game - assuming the game design supports such a perspective. (And my enjoyment of the game certainly waxed and waned with this aspect.)

I too wonder what prompted the article though.


I don’t know anything about any specific incident but peoples internal motivations, especially as they relate to gaming are a fascinating thing most people don’t truly understand about themselves.

I find, in any game, that understanding what your opponent wants can be an underappreciated aspect. If you really are the guy who is the “competitive, only winning matters”-type then being really kind is actually a great strategy. It’s not like there is money on it, and if you are a really fun, nice person who can make the game fun for everyone, then some people will let you take back mistakes, tell you what they have or just give you the win if it really means that much to you.

But the truth is usually that people who tell themselves they are motivated purely by competition are telling themselves a comfortable lie. The binary nature of games attract an element of anti-social and recreational games have always been plagued by this type. I find overwhelming kindness and empathy to spmetimes be a reaction they aren’t expecting and that they even find disappointing aka dont feed the trolls.

It’s also slightly dangerous to take peoples “in it to win it” claims at face value. Judging people’s motivations is an awkward thing and just because two people want different things from a game doesn’t mean anyone is truly wrong. Just mismatched with their opponents.

Two really mean individualswmight even perversely fit with each other.

Again, certainly not defending bad behavior. I don’t put up with poor sportsmanship myself. I just think the why of games is a fascinating, under examined topic.


Extra Credits had a recent video about this as well.
The quick version is that games must be designed that they are good for everyone to play, not just the winners. After all, there must be at least one loser, and we don’t want that person to have a bad experience. And in the extreme case of the Battle Royale games, there are 99 losers and 1 winner. We can’t make a game that only that one winner enjoys.

They were looking at it from a Game Design perspective, trying to make sure they designed a game that was fun for everyone, even the losers, but you can also look at it through a Player lens, noting that when playing a game, you should be having fun, regardless of winning or losing.

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I don’t know if I agree that when you play a game you should be having fun. That is why I like to play games but if someone wants something else out of the experience, consciously or unconsciously, I don’t believe it my right to judge. I play poker with people who are depressed and trying to escape that and I don’t think that what they are doing is right or wrong, it’s not even my business. I have played chess with guys who are on psychotic ego trips and I think that’s ridiculous but it’s their life. Judgement of other peoples motivations is itself problematic in some ways.

But maybe we all judge sometimes. I know that there is a certain type of gamer who doesn’t care enough about winning and just likes crazy things to happen or to be a spoiler. I played the Dune board game with 5 people and 4 of them were playing to win and the fifth was a more mischief driven player. What was a strategically engaging game ended unsatisfyingly to me because he just randomly wanted to “the fly in the ointment.” He had a blast, I felt like I had been cheated out of an interesting challenge and an exciting finale to a game I had given hours to.

He was the kind of guy who was really into Munchkin.

That’s just one example of different ideas of what a game even is to different people. Neither one of us were right or wrong, just mismatched. I think it more important to understand the people you are playing with first, because a game is most of all an agreement.

Pardon the waxing but I think about this a lot because sometimes I get trashed on for what I want from Netrunner. I love the game itself so much but don’t always love the players. It’s nothing personal and I respect people but I don’t want to get to know people for my own reasons. I often feel stigmatized and wish I could just play the game I love without having to chit-chat and do all the, what I consider corny typing of gg, gl and all that, to cite one example of silly little rituals that some people freak out about like I am actively trying to hurt their feelings when really I felt like the game itself was so good that the experience spoke for itself.

Like if you have a really good kiss with someone on a first date, I don’t pull away at the end and say “gk”

If the no gg thing is really upsetting, please just respect that we want different things from our experience and neither of us is wrong. Just don’t play with me again. My feelings aren’t hurt, we just want different things and that’s okay. There’s a lot of fish in the sea, bb


I don’t consider the drive to win in games like these to be unhealthy. As an academic and a person generally, I’m not very competitive in day to day life. Not to say I’m submissive or won’t stand up for myself, but I’m simply not interested in dominance dynamics because they tend to poison the well. Being competitive in games is healthy for me precisely because games don’t actually matter. I can obsess and be as ruthless at the table as I need to be, relish the fact that my opponent cares as much as I do, and then shake hands and grab a beer over the experience later. Losing a clean game neither diminishes my experience nor my opinion of my opponent.

Not beating yourself up over a hidden information or luck based games is a good message, as is focusing on your play instead of raw outcomes, but the reason I feel like shit after I know I screwed up in a big match and lost because of it is because I wanted to win in the first place, and the drive to win the next time is what allows me to learn my lesson more clearly. And I almost owe it to the game to get better and create a more pure expression of its ideals in my future play.

There’s definitely something to be said about etiquitte and culture, but those problems don’t come from a win-centric philosophy, but socially unaware people who are insensitive to their opponents’ feelings or behaving belligerently. At its core, the best games come as an emergent property of people experimenting best they can and playing their hearts out to come out on top.

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The folks over at Limited Resources bang on the drum on Best-Choice Oriented Decisions in nearly all of their casts. It’s a message that I’ve taken into most other areas of life as well. Good decisions lead to good results, so focus on good decisions.

When you think of a Final Table at a major No Limit Poker tournament, the amount of variance that had to happen to have those players get there is probably pretty big. That said, each of those players at the table most likely gave themselves the best chance to get to that Final Table by making good, sound decision after good, sound decision. Winning was just the side effect.

Perhaps another title of the article could have been, “I play to make good choices.” But that isn’t nearly as sexy.


Social conventions like greetings, apologies, and expressions of goodwill are not there to oppress you and waste your time, nor are they—as you seem to imply—a trite and overemotional indicator of softness on the part of the people you are playing Netrunner online with.

When you are playing a game of Netrunner online you are engaged in a social experience, whether you like it or not. It may be with someone you can’t see and whose name you don’t know, and this is, in my mind, all the more reason to practice the maximum etiquette and general humanity one can.

There’s a big difference between someone who gets salty, gets emotional, and overreacts, and someone who simply thinks the rules don’t apply to them. The second case, thematically in our broader cultural moment, is the more disturbing and the one which needs to be addressed.


Although you may find my behavior disturbing and in need of being addressed, maybe it’s not disturbing and doesn’t need to be addressed?

One point would be not that “I don’t think the rules apply to me” but that I don’t think typing “gg” at the end of a game is a rule, but a frivolous and annoying convention.

Again, I think it’s fine if you like to say it and fine if you don’t want to play with me because I don’t, but to find it disturbing and needing to be addressed as some erosion of society?

Maybe you don’t mean to, but I feel like what you are saying is itself aggressive, when you are trying to speak out about not being too aggressive online.

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I think you’re looking at it differently. Saying “glhf” and “gg” at the start and end of a game is part of online etiquette just like saying some variant of “hello” and “goodbye” at the start and end of a conversation is. If you don’t do it, people might be put off. It doesn’t have anything to do with what this article is about.


“I don’t think shaking the opposing team’s hand at the end of a game is a rule, but a frivolous and annoying convention.”

“I don’t think touching gloves at the start of a match…”
“I don’t think bowing to my opponent at the end of sparring…”

It’s etiquette, and also an acknowledgement that the game is a game, and once it’s over, you don’t carry bitterness or resentment towards your former opponent for anything that happened in the game. (Within reason. Please don’t punch your opponents during a game…) It is a delineation, that once you say ‘gg’, you stop being opponents and can resume Life.


This. Every game requires us entering into a magic circle, with a set of agrred rules that allow for competition in this environment. Otherwise, the circle is broken and it’s difficult to really say that we are playing a game, as it would be indistinguishable from regular life.
Just think about how many family arguments has Monopoly caused…


I didn’t think players were carrying anonymity with them after the game no matter what initials they typed. I think playing games is fun and we do it and that very obviously speaks for itself.

We could go back and forth and you can indulge to lecture me further but the bottom line is that we disagree and if I zen-quit on you without typing gg, it’s not some personal slam. Imagining it to be so in your head when it wasn’t meant that way seems, if nothing else, exhausting.

Again, if you like doing it, right on to you. I don’t object at all and if it makes you happy, great.

Netrunner, and all games that involve chance, are on some level about zen and projecting expectation on to strangers does not sound like the ideal path to the peace of Buddha. Just live life without looking for drama where it isn’t and happiness follows.

Yeah saying gg is nice and good etiquitte but assuming the best in people is also nice and if someone doesn’t say it I’m more likely to assume they were lazy/busy than trying to be mean or insulting. Unless, you know, they were insulting me at other points in the game.




Let’s call a spade a spade: If you can’t bother to respect the people you are playing with or even acknowledge their presence to the degree you think that “gg” is “frivolous and annoying conversation”, you should not be playing this game or any other game.


I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, though I agree with you more than not. @PizzatimePlayer lays out a pretty clear perspective of how he views what he wants out of games on Post #5, and should he and I play online, I can (more or less) understand his point of view.

Though I’d wager he’d not enjoy playing with me because I skew FAR on the other side of the convention. I often chat a bunch, joke around, make comments during the game and generally try to be playful–and that’s a lot of fun for me. I probably take it a bit too far (not that I go into “role playing”, but I’ve also described the sounds of incoming missiles when I was about to be scorched).

Further, I do get a bit ruffled when a game ends and the other person just leaves the room. There’s human connection to be made–especially when doing an activity in a shared space for 30ish minutes. Especially when it’s extremely niche, like netrunner is. [seriously, I could talk about netrunner for hours on end, but can’t because my workplace doesn’t lend itself to that…so to go to a “location” where EVERYONE knows and plays the game feels like a breathe of fresh air for my brain]

So, to just “log-out” after a match makes me feel, well, used. THAT SAID, we could say that’s more on me (and my own feelings and needs) rather than the other player.

Final two cents: I’m all for conventions that promote human connection (otherwise, I’d just do crossword puzzles and Suduko for mental engagement). I also don’t think Pizza is “behaving” out of disrespect. He seems to know how folks will feel about the choices he makes and he’s okay with folks having these particular thoughts about those behaviors.


When you play people in real life - for example, in any kind of tournament, do you shake hands before or after a game, and say ‘well played’ afterwards?


To be fair, even though I’m on the “etiquette is universal and immutable” side of the the discussion, to be perfectly honest I prefer not to shake hands because I’m a massive hypochondriac. I try to find some other way of introducing myself to my opponent (waving, thumbs up, etc.) and then saying goodbye to my opponent (prayer hands, a Jeeves-like bow, etc.) Seriously, card games are a good way of transmitting the plague.

So if someone expected some exact in-person hand-shaking behaviour from me I would be on Pizza’s wavelength because I just couldn’t do it.

How do we differentiate online etiquette from in-person? Is there a difference?