Friday, April 13, 2007

Confessions of a Vengeful Gamer

In my very first blog for Gone Gaming I wrote about the role of spite and vengeance in gaming. In spite of my habit of seeking revenge on those who did me wrong while playing, I wrote: “I am not normally any more vengeful than the average guy.”

I was fooling myself. I am more vengeful than the average guy. You block my route in a train game, you take control of my area in an area control game, and suddenly my goal is not winning the game but stabbing you in the heart. Suddenly, a peaceful Euro game becomes a struggle to the death. Suddenly, the personal philosophy of Sweeney Todd seems moderate and reasonable.

At our last meeting of the Appalachian Gamers, I found myself in a game of Mexica. Mexica is an area majority game in which the players themselves create the point-scoring areas. In the first half of the game, I built a middling-sized area in a corner of the board and planted some of my buildings there. Travis swooped in from the other side of the board and instantly erected his own Meso-American apartment complexes and took control. Like a mother grizzly seeing a hiker fondling her cub, I roared into action.

The details of the conflict are unimportant. But the final result was that while Travis and I spent too much time playing offense and defense against one another, Charlie seeded the board with his buildings in a calm and rational manner and claimed victory. I don’t know for sure if my conflict with Travis kept him from over-taking Charlie, but it sure didn’t help.

The fact is that all too often playing for vengeance means playing badly. Not only do I end up in too many fights that I can’t win, I waste resources trying to defend my positions against counter-attacks that may not actually come. While I pile too many buildings into low-scoring areas just to insure my control, Charlie plays with the tranquility of a Zen master, seemingly indifferent to the fact that some of his areas may be vulnerable to conquest. He knows that the even distribution of his buildings throughout the board will win him first place in some areas, and second place in others, but that overall he will do just fine.

I could try to control my thirst for vengeance, but I think that might defeat one of the minor psychological benefits of gaming: getting to express impulses in the game that I wouldn’t or couldn’t express in real life. If you cut me off on the highway in real life, I will swallow my anger and slow down and let you drive away. Doing otherwise could have dangerous or even fatal consequences. But if you take my temple in Tikal, I will send my workers swarming over your excavation sites like conquering armies.

My only hope is that a reputation for vengeance-seeking behavior will eventually cause the other gamers to think twice before crossing me. Richard Nixon once said that he wanted other world leaders to think he was a little nuts because they would be less likely to provoke a nuclear-armed maniac. As Shannon Appelcline wrote in response to my first blog:

“…you're making your opponents think harder about trying manipulate you in the future, which in turn will give you advantages in that game. To look at it another way: The spite itself part of the game. You might even consider it a resource that needs to be managed.”

Remember that, if you find yourself across a game board from me. You may have more wood and stone and metal and gold and workers. But I have more spite. Beware.

1 comment:

smatt said...

Thanks, Kris. You brought up a happy gaming memory to the surface.

In one game of Mississippi Queen, two guys got in a mini-war over picking up one belle. What was hilarious was that one honestly didn't care about winning. This guy kept ramming the other. The other guy was extremely distraught, even resorted to pleading, but the first was determined to make his boat miserable. They literally didn't move from those few hexagons for the remainder of the game.

What your article made me think of more so than the vengeful gamer is the whiny gamer. I will sacrifice winning if it means not hearing a person whine more. I'm not talking little kids either. It's a meta-game.

Actually, it worked out quite nicely in my last game of Settlers. Someone whined about a brilliant play made by one of the players. Well, to hell with that, I thought. I don't want to cross this person just to hear more whining. So I built right up next to where she was going to put a settlement, then cashed in a settlement and put it elsewhere. My intended result occurred: she felt like the move was a pity move. When she won ten or so turns later, she didn't feel like she had "really won" because of my move. I'm a meta-game winner!