And the Prize for Sulkiest Player Goes to…

Hi all! Welcome back from the Thanksgiving break. I hope those of you who had uncomfortable family situations and the like were able to get through and find enjoyment away from the dinner table. For those of you lucky enough to enjoy going home, I hope it was another good year of feasting and family. Mine was another delightful combination of family, friends, and food, and I took advantage of my parents’ TiVo for a whole lotta 30 Rock. Good times all ’round!

But there were a few times I squirmed a little, though they had nothing to do with the holiday. My friends and I met up Friday and Saturday nights, and both nights we played various word games — Pass the Hippo, Scattergories, Catchphrase. My high school friends and I all happen to be smart in a wordy kind of way, so these nerdy games are just our kind of fun. But in addition to the 6 or so of us gathered around the coffee table, an extra guest snuck in: competition.

I don’t like losing, but more importantly, I don’t like looking the fool. If I’m doing well, just not as well as the other team, that’s fine. I might get in some smack talk and will probably feel energized by the good feeling a well-matched competition engenders. I’ll groan about losing and probably nitpick rules a little, but generally, I enjoy myself even if I lose. It’s when I’m losing badly that I get defensive and grumpy.

This type of competitiveness has nothing to do with playing a good game, or putting skills to use, or enjoying camaraderie with friends. It has everything to do with pride, that little jerk. I don’t blame myself for feeling like this; nobody likes to have their pride hurt, even if it is among friends who won’t judge you. I do blame myself for how I react. Afterward, I always think, “geez, it wasn’t that bad, I should’ve just laughed it off” or “eh, next time have another beer and blame it on that,” but at the time, I get tense and sulky. I blame the Catchphrase gamepiece for running out of time on me every single time, or I say I have too many vowels when I’m playing Scrabble. I grumble when people call for another round and say we should switch games.

I don’t think my behavior would improve if I admitted to a competitive streak upfront, as most of my friends do, because I think it’s different from the drive to win. Part of it is, sure, but it’s more the drive to save face in all situations and avoid being laughed at at all costs. Sorry to get a bit psychoanalytical on you, but probably five miserable tween years being mocked for just about everything had more of an effect on me than I’d like to admit fifteen years later. Unfortunately, being bullied didn’t make me nicer or more easygoing; it made me harder and more defensive. That’s something I’ve been working against for years now, and I do well most of the time, but put me in the ring with better opponents than I, and those nasty, scared tendencies shoot right to the surface like hidden claws.

Anyway, that’s something for me to think about the next time someone busts out Taboo and I try to remember that it really is just a game, and a fun one at that.

How about you? Do you get involved in the game no matter how well you’re doing? Do you find yourself blaming external forces if you’re doing badly, or do you admit you’re just not doing so hot?