Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Gripe 'N Win

One thing I've discovered in my few short years as a gaming hobbyist is that the boardgaming table is a great place to watch various fascinating aspects of human psychology manifest themselves. So, today, from the Psychology Department here at Games on the Table, I offer some feedback regarding a common gaming phenomenon which our well-trained staff has termed "The Gripe 'N Win".

I'm sure you've seen it before at your own gaming table. You're half way through a game, and Hank, trying to maintain composure as a mature adult, voices a complaint. He got hosed by one or more other players early in the game, which explains why he is in last place. In fact, his position is so bad (he claims) that there is really no point in staying in the game. But to be a good sport, he'll keep playing.

From here on out, Hank probably won't say much. He might continue to make statements about just how unfortunate his position is, or how he would be winning right now if things had gone differently. He might even be pouting, red in the face, or avoiding eye contact.

But about three quarters through the game, he makes a well-planned move and his prospects improve a bit. Wait, there's another good move. Hold it - he's not in last place anymore. Now, he's in second place. It's the last round, and . . . the game is over. Scores are tallied, and who emerged with a victory? You guessed it - Hank.

The look of relief is apparent on Hank's face, but he won't visibly celebrate. He's hoping that somehow, magically, everyone has forgotten his earlier whining. In fact, he might even downplay his victory. "Whew, that was a close one. Good game, everyone. I got lucky there at the end. If Charles had taken that space from me on his last turn, I would have lost. Nice playing, guys." With a victory under his belt, Hank is pleasant, genial, and ready for the next game.

So, here we saw two very different personalities from Hank: the grump and the humble victor. Hank's attitude is contingent upon his position in the game - his chances of victory.

Here at Games on the Table, our motto is: "Play for the fun of it, not just to win it." This has been my motto from very early in my gaming days because it quickly became apparent to me that breaking this rule was a good way to spoil the gaming session. In our example, Hank had succumbed to the false belief that "This game isn't going to be fun if I lose. Especially if I feel like someone hosed me." So he griped. Then he won. Then he ate a nice rich piece of humble pie.

This is, then, what we call "The Gripe 'N Win". Watch out for this. I'm sad to confess that I've done it. Anyone who can admit to committing The Gripe 'N Win can testify that it leaves you feeling childish and guilty. You might even wish that you had lost, so that you can better justify your bad attitude to others, and more importantly, to yourself. That brings up a good question: had Hank lost, how would he have behaved?


Tranberry said...

Indeed an interesting read.

Fabio said...

... interaction between players about everyone's move and about how the game is going it's a part of the game: i don't remember a match of risk played without someone complaining about being attacked by everyone.
More recently the dragon in carcassonne which is directed by every player just against you IS REAL FUN only if the player hit by the dragon begin to whine and shout ... ;)
We play, IMHO, mainly to spend good time with friends and, if they do not exxagerate with their complaints about bad luck etc., it's a pleasure to hear them complaining .. ;) expecially when they lose .. ;)
.. said that .. i agree with the fact that every player should be happy to be part of a good game, apart from the result .. and I admit to be a little guilty about that .. ;)