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The myth of "I Play To Win"


You won’t catch the plague?


Sure, your point is fair - I should rather generalise my question to ‘when you are playing in real life, do you acknowledge your opponent’s presence, wish them luck, and when the game is concluded, say ‘well played’, or good luck in your next round’, or otherwise. I’m not focussed on the ‘shaking hands’ as much as I am on acknowledging the presence of a worthy opponent. Obviously, most people do this, I’m interested in whether Pizza does or not.


I think @PizzatimePlayer has a point that “glhf” and “gg” are just rote exercises which have lost much of their meaning. I think I am especially sensitive to poor etiquette in online gaming, but I don’t think any less of an opponent who doesn’t type “gg” after a game or doesn’t stick around to chat. I think the discussion of proper etiquette is less interesting than the discussion about the original article that started this thread though.

I’ve encountered a lot of the “win at all costs” mindset playing different games over the years. Sometimes people take it too far and cheat to win, but most of the time they simply prioritize winning over things like sportsmanship. The best case for this mentality, and I suspect a reference point for Nate French’s article, is David Sirlin’s “Playing To Win”. Sirlin argues that people let concerns like “not spamming ‘cheap’ moves” and “it’s rude to try to psych your opponent out” get in the way if their primary motivation is winning. He advocates using every tool in your toolkit (ie, the rules of the game, so no cheating) without reservation if winning is your goal. He points out that many people say they want to win, but erect artificial barriers to winning like not playing the best deck because they think it is NPE or overplayed. This is the kind of mentality that leads to strategic fouls in basketball. Theoretically, foul rules are in place to protect players from injury and the game from devolving into a brawl, but in practice, they are a system to be gamed for an advantage.

Practically, I think this mindset doesn’t always work out for the best as explained before:


One interesting point I’ve heard from the sports world is the idea that “winning at all costs” or focusing just on winning only makes sense if the level you are competing at is the highest level you’ll ever attain - otherwise you should just focus on progress and personal growth. The idea is that you want a growth mindset until you reach your potential - then focus on winning. I think the competition will only get better in netrunner since it is such a young game so everyone should be focused on growth over winning.


Again, if one disagrees with me, go with peace. Just don’t play with me again, it’s all good.

For the recurring argument that if the game were played in-person one might shake hands or exchange different pleasantries, I would say the internet just has different etiquettes. For example, if I were to play in person, I would not be slouching in my underwear, half-watching a youtube video, facebook chatting with old friends, reading twitter, ‘privacy browsing’ etc. I would also not be going by a silly nickname.

if I were playing against a guy in his underwear who was watching a youtube video, reading twitter and occasionally ‘privacy browsing’ ending with a handshake would be the least of my concerns.

If you like, say it. It’s all good. But if I don’t, it’s not some passive aggressive, rage-fueled personal attack.

And here is what I find the absolute worst. Some people are so obsessed with the idea that I have metaphorically spit in their face that they come into my next game and start swearing at me or saying horrible things or ranting. No matter your attitude here, losing it on someone long after the game has ended is not very zen.


I wouldn’t mind getting back to the topic of internal motivations and the lies players tell themselves as I feel like we have beaten the “to gg or not to gg”-thing to death.

In poker there is a term called ‘fancy play syndrome’ (aka FPS). Some players get so caught up in the strategy and out-guessing and reading that they sometimes execute overly complicated moves when a simple play would have been best. Even the very best players fall prey to this trap and it can be agonizing to step back and re-evaluate a spot later and admit to yourself that this was the case. Because no one really likes to admit that they have the same egos and flaws that we all have. No one likes to even admit they have an ego but we all do.

I can fall into the FPS trap in Netrunner myself sometimes. Lately, if someone turn 1: install-advance-advance an asset in a naked remote, we all know that it is an NGO 99 percent of the time. But in my head, I think what a good play it would be for it to be something other than an NGO, like an SSL, and waste an important first-turn click checkings it way, way too often. In my heart, I want them to be these crazy tricky players going for the big moves but that is me projecting what I want from the game onto them. FPS.

Understanding your own reasons better is a great thing to do for yourself. Although as anyone who has suffered from insomnia knows, sometimes looking deep within can always get a bit agonizing.


Then please, for the record, state your Jnet username or names. I’m pretty sure I know who I’m avoiding, but I’d hate to exclude an actual lonely middle-aged single parent who is playing Netrunner as a coping strategy.


And I had so hoped we had moved from aggro demands and back to game-psychology.


Could be this was prompted by that “NPE decks in casual” thread in Dorks?


Sirlin’s article has been blamed for some pretty dickish behaviour, but at no point does he talk about politeness/etiquette. He only talks about the kind of “inverse snobbery” that some people have, that causes them to say “oh my opponent only beat me cause he used the most powerful deck/character/gear/whatever”, which kind of becomes a self-reinforceing excuse people use to explain why they lose all the time and prevents them from improving. I think part of the reason why the article is blamed for all sorts of atrocious douchebaggery is because Sirlin uses the unfortunate term “scrub” to describe people with that attitude, although he uses it in the narrow definition of people with that mentality, not in the commonly used sense as an insult.



He does. He talks about the “way of the snake” or, in other words, being a dickhead and insulting your opponent to throw their game and win. He uses a well-known Street Fighter player as an example. He considers this “playing to win” and does not entertain the idea of “hey, this is bullshit and should be banned in all tournaments”.

Personally, I think anyone who abuses other players should be banned and not allowed to compete in a tournament. In fact, I think this kind of people have no place whatsoever in games, no matter the kind. I don’t want my games to be a matter of hearing people calling each other “faggots” and using racial slurs to “psych the opponent”


Preach. If that was the community I played in, I’d happily light all my cards on fire and never look back.


Sirlin does advocate metagaming behavior in order to tilt your opponent as @ErikTwice mentions.

That’s true, people do bring the negative connotations of “scrub” when they read Sirlin, but his definition is specifically not the colloquial one. I do think it’s correct to assign some blame to Sirlin’s mindset when people try to metagame in a way that makes for an unwelcome environment. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong that might be the best way to win, but if that is what it takes to win, I will be a happy scrub.


Hey @Zebadiah,

Is this true? I can’t tell if you are goofing or actually owning this position. Hmm…(mentally argues with self for a few minutes as to whether this creates a tangent or not).

Would you be willing to be socially cruel to win at Netrunner? Like, if you and I sat down to a game, would you be willing to be so mean to me that I might lose my ability to concentrate? Would you skate the line which leads me to try and figure out whether you are being unsportsmanlike, bullying, or “it’s just me being sensitive?”

Let’s say, in not so many words, that your answer is “yes.” (though I won’t put words in your mouth, you can respond as you see fit–I’ll just assume yes based on your previous comment).

If yes, then, I agree, you aren’t wrong. You are doing what it takes to win. (unless you create a situation where you get removed from a tournament due to conduct).

But if you create an environment in which “doing what it takes” is the mentality, then winning MAY come at a cost of folks just backing away from events and maybe the game as a whole.

I’m pretty close to making a Straw Man argument, so I don’t want to be unfair. I really would be curious to hear more about where you land on this idea.


You might have misread me. Sirlin’s scrub is someone who lets other things like social customs get in the way of winning. I am happy to be a scrub because I prioritize many other things over winning. I’m not willing to sacrifice things like sportsmanship and friendliness to increase my win%.


Ah, gotcha! I was wondering about that since I feel like most of our interactions have leaned the other way–it caught me by surprise (hence me wavering back and forth in my response).

Misread/Misunderstand I did. Sorry for the misdirection. And other words in this missive.


Oh… It’s been years since I actually read that article, I’d better go read it again before I go around misquoting people! :smiley:

While I don’t think that dickish behaviour in order to tilt your opponent is acceptable, we fortunately have rules prohibiting it so we don’t have to debate its morality. :stuck_out_tongue: And tbh I don’t think it invalidates his point about people who refuse to play the best moves/characters/decks/whatever because they consider them cheap/degenerate/“not proper {Insert Game Here}”


Just to check was that stuff in the full book? Cause I just re-read the blog post and didn’t see anything like that in there.


The book is really worth a read, it’s not that long and available in full.