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Aces Full of It: On the Nature of Games

December 24th, 2016 by Justin Buchanan
The following is rated S for Soapbox. It contains strong opinions, passionate language, and melodramatic soliloquies. It is written for the purpose of advancing the author's views or giving advice that is intended to be taken completely seriously, and is fully open to debate and/or discussion. Reader discretion is advised.

The following is rated S for Soapbox. It contains strong opinions, passionate language, and melodramatic soliloquies. It is written for the purpose of advancing the author’s views or giving advice that is intended to be taken completely seriously, and is fully open to debate and/or discussion. Reader discretion is advised. ( Source: scot-buzz.co.uk)

When deciding on this topic, my goal was to somehow tie poker into the Christmas season, or the Christmas spirit. This was something of a poser, as poker does not lend itself to the Christmas spirit. After all, Christmas is the season of giving, and poker is basically all about taking. Yes there are people who play it just for fun, but for a more serious player such as myself, the way they play is less endearing and more frustrating. However, there is one thing I can say about poker that relates to Christmas. It has to do with what it means to compete.

Just what makes the difference in the phrase “friendly game?” What makes a game friendly or unfriendly? With too many games, I see an unhealthy fixation of winning on the part of too many people. That, I don’t call a friendly game. Not that I don’t like winning–I like it as much as the next guy–when I’m in the mood for that sort of thing. I certainly play to win in poker, but that’s because unlike most other games I have the possibility of actually gaining something of value (read: money) from winning in poker. Victory for its own sake just doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

When the game I’m playing isn’t poker, I don’t really give a heck about winning by whatever means I can. I just want to play. More precisely, I want to be AT play. I want to be in a state of mind that is playful–one where within the constraints of the game, be it video game, board game, whatever, I’m doing what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it, for no other reason than because I feel like doing it.

As a result, it’s just about impossible for me to play with anyone else, because what I want out of the act of playing a game and what they want are in conflict. I’ve long since given up on online PvP because of this. The people who want to win research ways of doing things that are INHERENTLY better than 90% or more of the possible actions that can be taken and methods of taking them within the game. So the poor sap who just wants to bloody well play tends to wind up getting annihilated without really affecting the outcome of the game one iota.

Call me crazy (not that you’d be wrong) but when a game would have largely happened the same way if I hadn’t participated, I don’t call that playing a game. I may as well leave and go get a dang mannequin to put in the chair I was just using. It’d accomplish exactly what I had. But what does this have to do with poker and Christmas?

See that blue line? That's what I'm off on. (Quora.com)

See that blue line? That’s what I’m off on. (Source: quora.com)

Christmas, as a holiday, is purposed to bring people together. Playing games is also something that should bring people together, and I don’t think poker is an exception. But it appears to me that the human race is so damned fixated on separating everyone into all these different piles of “us” and “them” that we’ve managed to pervert both of them away from that to an unconscionable degree. How many of you reading this hold some kind of view on whether “Merry Christmas” is more or less acceptable to say than “Happy Holidays?” Christmas the holiday may be just for Christians, but there’s no reason at all Christmas the SPIRIT can’t be for everyone on Earth.

Still, the spirit of Christmas is holding out relatively much better than the spirit of competition. The Olympic Games are supposed to be a ritual of peace, a statement of all participating nations that yes, it is in fact possible for all these different nationalities to come together and have some good, clean athletic competition. But like in it seems to me all games, those at the pinnacle of the Olympics, the countries with large numbers of medal winners–the US, China, and Russia, take it way too damn seriously. The media pounces on any possibility of cheating or unsportsmanlike scandal, and lately I haven’t seen them disappointed.

And, to finally tie this back in to poker, the WSOP broadcasts. Or indeed any televised poker these days. At any given table you see, how many of the players seem to be having a good time? Don’t count ones who just act boisterous to get under everyone’s skin. There aren’t many, are there? And frankly, I think that’s ridiculous, particularly when it comes to final tables. All nine or ten of these people have already won a really very good amount of money, yet they still create enough tension to cut with a knife over who gets the coveted–TOO coveted I think–number one spot. It’s downright saddening.

Yes, I'm basically being this guy, but in poker. I REGRET NOTHING! (Source: yugioh.com)

Yes, I’m basically being this guy, but in poker. I REGRET NOTHING! (Source: yugioh.com)

So I dunno about them, but if I ever get on camera while playing poker, I’m going to make a point of very visible enjoying myself. Even if I’m not. ESPECIALLY if I’m not.

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