It Was a Good Loss

Gordon’s comments on my thinly veiled post about his FIFA quitting habits remind me again of the whole question of the “good loss” in playing a video game, particularly a sports simulation kind of game. As I said before, there’s this intense internal battle to allow yourself to lose.

While we could rely on sheer grit (and ground down teeth), in fact what we (as players) seem to do is layer rules onto the existing rules of the game itself. Gordon pointed out some of the rules he applied in being able to turn off the console when Malta was losing to Brazil in the World Cup: 1) distraction by somebody else being in the room; 2) lack of familiarity with the new penalty system; 3) allowed one lost match (to be replayed) anyway.

I have used similar rules myself, particularly the distraction one. Once, when I was playing the big final game in Tecmo Superbowl (hint: it was the Superbowl), I was on a train in Bangladesh and I think the tea guy came by, or Rilla needed to get past me to the aisle. At any rate, it was just enough of a distraction that the opposition scored a touchdown while I was incapacitated. Instant disqualification of that game from counting (lucky, since I was losing at the time).

However, I think the most interesting situation is when we’re able to use rules that literally let us lose the game and continue on without replaying it. Gordon’s rule #3 is an example of this – you just take one loss as accepted. On my best, most sporting days, I’ve managed to “just lose” football games in Madden, subject to no special rules. More recently, though, I’ve set rules about particular statistical accomplishments – I have to personally perform particularly well in the game in order to accept a loss overall. That is, I find a way to define a playing as a “personal victory” even if it results in a team loss. If I perform up to snuff, then I let the loss stand – after all, I did my part. It’s a bizarre piece of selfishness in the middle of a team sport – with the added strange layer that I’m betraying a bunch of AIs who don’t even particularly exist off the field.

Losing is an important and special experience, any sports dad will tell you that. In some ways, though, I feel as though it’s even more powerful – and thus even more desirable – in video games. There’s a sense in which you’re not “meant” to lose in a video game, and even more than this, you don’t have to (save, reload). The times I’ve suffered a good loss and stuck it through despite my ability to negate it were very good games – not necessarily well played, but simply good.

Go forth. Go forth and lose. If you’re brave enough.

19 August 2010
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