Everyone loses. It happens. Though it pains the most competitive, and depresses the more impressionable, loss is an essential aspect of life. To tell the truth, one of my greatest struggles growing up was learning to keep working at something, even when I was certain I would fail. A wise man once told me that he wants all his students to “fail spectacularly,” and though I would personally prefer not to fail at all, if I must fail, I will do it with style. So today, I would like to consider the art of “failing well”: How to turn a loss into a victory.
My goal here is to find a victory in a loss, not to stop a loss from existing. What do we consider to be a victory? Some people think that playing games, or working at tasks, or really anything else, is all about winning. They think that if you don’t win, then you should not play at all. These sorts of people tend to be rather impolite, and refer to other people as “losers,” “wimps,” and other unseemly names. Of course, many folks will tell you that this behavior is for middle-schoolers, but as I'm sure you can attest, too many adults never grow out of this behavior - age does not breed maturity. Rather, maturity is bred through difficulty. And surely this is a sort of victory? Indeed, growth is always a victory, and should be held in high regard. If we may find growth (and the goals of growth), we will have found a victory.
It is clear, then, that losing, if it produces growth, is a victory in itself. Yet what is the end (or goal) of growth? Is it only victory? I think not. At the end of the day, when all the chips have fallen, some people must lose. As the old adage goes, “you have to break a couple eggs to make an omelet.” Now, there is a natural limit to how much a person can grow. For example, I could study public speaking all my life, but if my friend Mitchell were to do the same thing, he would still be better, due to his natural predilection towards the art of rhetoric. Only one person can be the absolute best. Therefore, if victory is the end of growth, it would be pointless to work at a field in which you cannot be the best. Of course, this is clearly not the case, but I present this argument to make it very clear that victory should not be our primary end in growth.
So what is the end of growth? I have found at least three, which I believe to be better than victory. First, a fully grown individual is more prepared for the unexpected. By training in many areas, you are less likely to be caught off guard. You may not be the best, but often expertise is limited, and volunteers are needed. At Houseplant Games, I do not have a definite role. Technically, I am the administrative assistant, but that is a nice way of saying that I don’t fit any specific niche. So what do I do? Well, I want to help, and there is always work to do, so I choose a task and start working. Eventually, someone else will take over, changing and perfecting my work. Often they are able to carry it further than I could have, but my contribution laid the groundwork for their success. I was only able to do that groundwork because of the breadth of knowledge which I have acquired: whether it was watching my dad design his website, organizing surveys for the student body in high school, or designing cards for an amateur board game years ago, all of these activities gave me the knowledge I needed to be where I am today.
The second end of growth is maturity itself. I noted this earlier: growth only comes through difficulty. What I did not note was why maturity is so important. And just what is maturity? I shall answer these together, for it will be evident from the definition that I give why it is so important, and why it is so often lacking. Maturity is the state of putting the interests of others first, adhering to laws, and properly disciplining oneself to have a properly ordered heart and lifestyle. It is about both action and the intent behind action. Clearly, this property of maturity has a profound impact upon interpersonal relations. A look at any newspaper these days will make it clear that we need to be caring towards others and restrain our more depraved interests. And losing helps us with this. When we lose, we must naturally defer our own interest (winning) for someone else’s. If we can learn to lose well, being earnestly gracious in loss, we will grow in integrity, compassion, and wisdom.
And the final goal of growth through loss? Wonder. Now, I want to be clear with what I mean. Wonder, as I see it, is not simply the property of thinking that something, or someone, is great. Wonder is uninterested. A person may want a cool game, or they might like to hang out with a cool person, but this is not wonder. Wonder is content to behold, and be silent. It is enough for a person with wonder to simply appreciate that a wonderful person or thing exists; they do not need it for themselves. It is what C.S. Lewis refers to as appreciative love, and it is a rare and beautiful thing. And loss gives us this love. Loss, handled well, allows us to truly appreciate that which is truly beautiful and worthy of respect. Let us say that a man loved music and paid a musician to write the finest music ever heard. The night before the first performance, the man got into a terrible accident and lost his hearing. Tragically, he would never get to appreciate the music which he commissioned. Yet this man did not waste his money. He loved the music, and he realized that although he could never appreciate it, it was still beautiful and had value. He learned of how much the other people loved the music, and inspired by its greatness, he continued to pay for the compositions. Thus, by being deprived of his hearing, the man was able to reach a higher appreciation for music: not one based in his own desire to hear it, but one based in the magnificent purity and beauty of the art. Thus, loss can free us from our own natural inclinations, and allow us to love that which is most worthy to be loved. And surely, is this not a worthwhile goal? Indeed it is.
Well, I suppose I should give a takeaway, and a game-related one at that. So here’s to it: games are exercises in loss. When you lose a game, try to appreciate how you were outsmarted. Laugh. Enjoy the opportunity to give someone else victory. Never give up in a game - your actions always have impact, even if you only create the canvas on which the Mona Lisa of strategy is painted. Do your best - and when you lose, smile and think of what you can learn. In the end, it is just a game, but your attitude is your life. Focus on the more important of the two.