Co-opted: To Compete or Not to Compete

Hi, all. Aschenglut, here. I’m not one for lengthy self-introductions, but I will say: I like games. My wife likes games. My friends like games. So, when the chance came to blog about games, I jumped at it. And here we all are.

Let’s set the scene:

A Friday Night. After frozen yogurt across from our FLGS (friendly local game store), my wife and I picked up Ascension: Rise of Vigil. Ascension was how I introduced my wife to the wide world of gaming, so we were confident our pick would go over well.

And now, forty minutes later, she was schooling me in it. My machine faction cards succumbed to her tree-hugging, “life-bound” heroes. I ended with a deficit of thirty points.

“Did you have fun?” She asked.

I muttered something noncommittal, hoping she wouldn’t probe further: “the new expansion was really cool. I loved the energy shards.”

 

Well, they are cool...
Well, they are cool, to my defense. Drawing more cards=unlimited power!

 

Beneath the surface, I was mystified–not by the fact that I could lose–but by the fact that I could lose and feel bad about it. Was this how she felt when I won?

Enter Sentinels of the Multiverse, a co-op game. Win or lose, we were in it together. And together, we decided, was better.

At first, it was thematic and glorious fun. My hero took the damage from an exploding volcano for the team and redirected it onto the super villain, leaving my wife to deal the finishing blow on her turn. It was like a B-movie playing out before us.

Absolute Zero converts fire damage into ice attack power.
Absolute Zero uses fire damage to energize ice attacks.

But for every game that went right, there was a Pandemic, Ghost Stories, or Forbidden Desert game where we had great fun for the better part of an hour, only to watch our heroic effort fail under the relentless onslaught of the diseases, ghosts, or desert sands.

Red Ring of Death
The “red ring of death” in our first Pandemic game.
Who you gonna call? Um...somebody else?
Who you gonna call? Um…somebody else?
"Buried alive..." "Khaaaaaan!"
“Buried alive…”
“Khaaaaaan!”

After one particularly crushing Pandemic defeat, my wife interrupted my glum musings.

“I think,” she said, “I would have more fun if we made the game less hard.”

The word “but” died on my lips; whatever excuse I’d have offered in defense of the game felt small next to that same bad feeling from before co-op. “You’re right.” I said. “But I don’t want to break the game.”

Maybe losing together wasn’t all that great.

We slept on it. I scoured internet videos for solutions that seemed minimally invasive. If I could keep the spirit of the rules, then I’d feel better. In their Tabletop play-through of Pandemic, Wil Wheaton and company lost decisively, as well. Yet, they agreed that it was the most fun they’d had losing a game.

Well, my heart didn’t grow three sizes bigger, and I didn’t get over my “losing equals bad” hang up after Wil’s timely observation.

Still, one lesson I did take away was that everyone agreed the point of any given game is fun.

So I consulted my gaming mentor of sorts, and he replied: “if I won every game all the time, it wouldn’t be fun. There wouldn’t be a challenge.”

That was an idea I could get behind. Too many stunning losses were bad, in a sense. But the occasional loss might keep me engaged, looking for new ways to overcome the obstacle.

Time was, I could figure out a game–Clue, say–and mentally check out on replays. There was a Clue strategy that worked, and it came down to who could do it fastest and best. Now, the games I value are ones with variety, as if I’ll never play the same game twice. That variety comes at a price, but one I’ll gladly pay.

I discovered a truth fit for a Dr. Banner/Hulk meme, after my experiences. How do I have fun gaming in the face of the inevitable, occasional loss? “That’s my secret. I’m always competing.”

-Aschenglut
@dhimmelsgrau

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