To Win or to Play

Green Die by Steve JohnsonA group of friends really loved playing a game.

I’m not going to use the name of the game here, but you’ve probably seen it and you’ve probably played it. It’s the one where you’ve got these pieces that move around an outside track, and then they go up toward the center of the board, and when you’ve got all your pieces there you’re the winner. You roll dice to see how far your pieces can move, and sometimes you can make your opponents (or they can make you) send pieces back to the beginning.

These friends loved to play this game. But one of them, I’m afraid, was something of a cheat.

He wasn’t a bad person most of the time. He shared his cookies with his friends, and he’d help them out when they were struggling to climb something. He didn’t call people names, and he did his homework with minimal reminders from his parents.

But he did like to win.

While the group was learning the game, he would play merrily along until it started to look bad for him. A few times, he stuck it out until the game was over, but at other times, he’d walk away. A couple of times, he jogged the table enough to displace all the pieces.

That didn’t go over well with his friends.

Since he still wanted to be with them, and he still wanted to play, he had to find some other way to be there. Some way to make sure he ended up winning.

That meant cheating.

He learned how to miscount his moves so that he could land on the “safe” spaces. He’d miscount other players’ moves so that they wouldn’t land on his pieces and send them back. He’d even try moving pieces while the others weren’t looking.

Sometimes he’d get away with it, but mostly he did get caught. They’d make him do it right. But that was nearly as dreary a way to play a game as with someone who’d give up when things looked bad.

Finally, one of them said, “Look. I know you want to win. I know you really don’t want to lose. Here’s the news flash for you:

“None of us wants to lose.

“More than winning, though, what we want to do is play the game. Just play the game. Winning is better, and losing is worse, but what we want to do is play the game.

“And if we’re going to play the game together, we’re going to have to play by the same rules. That’s what makes it a game, and not a fight.”

Well, he settled down. He had a few relapses, but fewer and fewer as time went on.

Because he really did want to play.

Photo by Steve Johnson, used by permission under Creative Commons license.

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