Politics of Gaming – Soothing the Sore Loser

Everyone likes to win when you’re playing a game. It’s gratifying to feel that either you played well or that luck was one your side. The only downside to winning when you’re playing a competitive game with other people is that there will be at least one person that is a loser. Some people are ok with losing. They accept it gracefully and with a degree of good humor. Other people can’t stand to lose and the moment the game is seemingly not going their way, they are liable to begin complaining or completely lose interest in the proceedings. This time around, we will be looking at that second group of people and ways you can stop or at least curb some of the problems.

Nothing can sour the fun of playing a game like someone sullenly complaining about how the game is bullshit and why are they even playing anymore. It makes the people playing put into the uncomfortable position of either coddling the player, making them feel even worse if they notice it, or beating the player and having them sit around being grumpysad. You can try to mitigate this by either changing things before, during or after play. Generally, the before play options would be better since it helps to avoid it at all but the others are good for when you find yourself unexpectedly confronted with a sore loser.

This is the definition of grumpysad

This is the definition of grumpysad

One of the things you can do before play begins is to look at the type of game you are going to be playing. If you know that one of the people you will be playing with doesn’t handle losing well, then try to select games that don’t play into the standard winner/loser dynamic. If he or she simply has an issue with it being a competitive thing and they don’t like losing to other people, the best bet would be to play in a cooperative game. Something like Pandemic or Ghost Stories where the game is challenging but the players win or fail as a group. If looking to play something together online, MMOs provide a great space for cooperative play that doesn’t have to be about winning or losing. If it’s more that the player gets discouraged when you can tell clearly who will win or lose, try looking into games that end up abstracting out a lot of the point totals such that you can’t really tell who will win until the very end. Classic games like Clue can work for this or more modern games like Bang! where there is less of a slow decline towards loss.

During play, there aren’t many options for changing things that won’t look like you just trying to placate the upset player. I talked last time about the role of house rules in certain games. The implementation of some of those rules may just be a way to level the playing field without it appearing to just be pandering. Putting things like limits on how much one can do in any given turn or what weapons players can use can help stop a snowball effect of whoever is winning from being unbeatable. You may just be able to turn one player’s griping into an actual benefit for everyone playing the game. Since it would be changing the rules for everyone, it also avoids the feeling like you are trying to give some sort of handicap advantage to the person that’s complaining.

Oh my god fine, we can play a match of 'pistols only' if it will get you to stop saying "wall hax"

Oh my god fine, we can play a match of ‘pistols only’ if it will get you to stop saying “wall hax”

Sadly, most of the ways of dealing with a sore loser after play are just trying to apply a balm to the player’s wounded ego. Quickly moving on from the offending game and playing something else or doing something else like getting food can keep them from dwelling on it too much and souring any further attempts to play. You can also let them pick what the next thing you play is. If they felt that a particular game or map was one that they weren’t familiar or comfortable with, then perhaps letting them pick one that they feel more accustomed to can help them feel more at ease. Even if they aren’t winning at the game they picked, they at least should be playing something they wanted to.

Of course, at any stage of the game, one of the best things you can do is actually communicate with the person you’re playing with. Try to figure out what the problem they are having with the game is and what issues accompany that. Maybe they aren’t even upset with the game but something else is going on and losing is just compounding the problem. Finding out the exact reasons can help you avoid issues in the future. If they just don’t like first person shooters, now you know not to invite them over for a Call of Duty marathon. If they are frustrated at just not knowing how to play the game well, offer to play friendly games where you show how the strategy works. If it turns out that they really do just hate losing and can’t handle competitive gaming, at least now you know what you should and shouldn’t play with that person.



I’d also like to just throw out the reminder that the games are being played to have fun. If you find yourself in the position of just not enjoying a game that you are losing, try to really figure out what it is that is upsetting you. Is it the fact that you are losing? Are you just feeling frustrated at not having fully figured out how to play? Don’t be afraid to bring up some issue you might have with the game but don’t become accusatory when you do so. Nothing can ruin a gaming group’s good time like one player constantly bitching about how such and such rule is “total bullshit” while frowning with their arms crossed. If the other players know why you aren’t having fun, they can help you to change that. You can also soldier on, finish the game, and then suggest playing one you like. Just remember that passive-aggressively sighing and mumbling about how you might as well not even be playing isn’t going to make you have any more fun and will only serve to make sure nobody else does either. Don’t be that guy.

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