Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is Competition Necessary for Something to be a "Game"?

I think that is probably the telling point and possibly the most important one. A hobby or entertainment without competition doesn't require rules because it is either a completely collaborative experience, such as acting, or simply "play", like freeform "making stuff up" - mutual storytelling.

The only reason an activity requires rules is because it involves competition and/or challenge, and the outcome and fairness become important. Even in "soldier" or "cowboys and indians" completely imaginative play, it becomes competitive and the "I shot you"-"did not" issue arises, leading to usually an improv set of rules to make things equitable ("I'm safe if I'm touching this post").

Competition doesn't necessarily mean conflict or violence or non-cooperation, however, and it shouldn't be seen as inherently bad, as this aspect of games teach valuable skills and ideas and interaction, and inspire useful or vital emotions or drives, which have much more important real-life counterparts. Competition, teaches how to mutually agree to share a set of values for a common goal, even if it means you may "lose" if you don't meet it (before or instead of your opponent), and especially in the case of RPGs, the GM is given a powerful responsibility - the other players are placing trust in his judgment and fairness and creativity and empathy for their enjoyment, and he understands that he must be fair and is not in direct full opposition to the players, but a coach of sorts, or trainer, challenging them to overcome obstacles, to rise above the mundane and become heroic and memorable, entertaining and exciting. This is competition to be sure, and the consequences can be harsh, depending on the game and GM, but the play itself is its own reward, besides the in-game mechanics for the characters themselves - the players get to see their own creations improve and gain in various aspects, and the GM gets to see his work enjoyed by others and how his moderating has helped shape and allowed players to bring their creations into active, dynamic realizations, and evolve.

And that, in the real world, is what competition is - challenges and obstacles to be overcome, direct opposition by others, sometimes violently, sometimes in relationships or careers or simple play, that hones and strengthens those drives to push and succeed, that teaches people how to deal with success and failure, to think differently, approach problems, come up with solutions or ways to entirely sidestep large issues with cleverness - this allows people as individuals, and as a species, to also bring themselves into active, dynamic realizations of their own creation, and evolve.

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