The Gassy Gnoll: A Perspective on Setbacks

How do you feel about winning?

Some folks seem to believe that winning is the only thing worth doing. Vince Lombardi, football legend, was often quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown is quoted as saying “Nobody remembers who came in second.” And modern heroes like soccer star Mia Hamm have weighed in on the topic with quotes such as “The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.”

Others believe that to win requires you to learn how to lose gracefully. Austin O’Malley, author of Keystones of Thought, said “If you learn from a loss, you have not lost.” Mike Ditka, football coach, said “You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” And even Jim Palmer, pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, said “Losing is no disgrace if you’ve given your best.”

This weekend’s loss by the U.S. Women’s World Cup Soccer team to Japan in the final game of the World Cup was heartbreaking to many people. Though I was disappointed that our team couldn’t quite pull things together during the shoot-out, I found myself strangely at peace about it while other fans in the bar we were in left with frowns and scowls, angry words, and resentment that the team that got within minutes of winning the prize couldn’t seal the deal.

But look at it from the Japanese point of view for a moment. In March 2011, they experienced a natural disaster two-for-one special in the lottery. Not only did they experience a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off their coast, but the quake triggered a disastrous tsunami that killed possibly as many as 20,000 people and injured thousands more. To add insult to injury, the quakes damaged nuclear power plants that eventually leaked radioactive materials into the soil and water, with untold ripples we have yet to figure out. Repair and rebuilding efforts will be continuing for years to come costing billions.

They needed the win. Something, anything to take their minds off the destruction at home for the briefest moment and once again fill themselves with a smidge of national pride. The Japanese Women’s Soccer team won more than a victory against the U.S. for a trophy. They may have helped rebuild a bit of hope for a nation that could really use it about now.

So you’re probably wondering what the heck the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament has to do with gaming.

For me, it comes down to learning how to look at the big picture.

In gaming, I feel sometimes people get too wrapped up in winning and losing. Even though it’s less a competition and more a collaboration between the game master and the players – every monster, every puzzle, every adventure finished counts in the win or loss column. And whether it’s gold, magic items, or simply the pleasure of the kill – the reward for winning is intrinsically built in to RPGs as fodder to further develop a character.

But it’s how we as players and our characters deal with those setbacks like losing a battle that offers some of the richest roleplaying experiences. I was reminded of this as I wrote my review of Caladon Falls this week. That whole book deals with a country facing a superior enemy and having to abandon their homes to fight another day or die fighting an unwinnable war. Talk about pressure.

So you lost a battle. Big deal. You’re still alive. Or maybe your character died in the battle. Character death is always tough, but it often leads to bigger and better things – exploring new avenues and ideas, growing as players and as human beings. Each setback offers an opportunity to try something different.

Sure, the U.S. lost in the Women’s World Cup. It’s not the end of the world. They will regroup, train harder, and focus on getting to the 2012 Summer Olympics scheduled to take place next summer in London. Do you think they’re just going to quit? Heck no. They’ll learn from their mistakes and find ways to avoid them next time.

Why should gaming be any different? Embrace your failures as well as your successes and use each to further your journey as characters and as people.

Agree? Disagree? Have a story to tell about “winning” or “losing” while playing RPGs? Leave comments below or drop the Gassy Gnoll an e-mail via the contact page!

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3 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: A Perspective on Setbacks

  • forged

    In my mind, there are a few aspects to this in my mind that can all lead to traps.

    Generally when playing an RPG (in particular with one like D&D) you tend to start with the “I’m going to build a heroic character.” Well, what is heroic in being defeated (even if solely for just one combat)?

    The second is that most people initially associate playing a game of any sort with winning and losing and not just about how the game is played. If you are stuck in that former camp, it means a big deal having a character that is one the winning side.

    Lastly, due to #1 and #2, you tend to come up with character concepts that should be competent to excel in their chosen roles. Thus, if the character turns out to not be as competent as you envisioned, this too can lead to feeling like you are losing.

    So the big question becomes, how do you change that mind-set?

    For me, one of the biggest ways to not fall in these traps is to not dwell on #2. Instead of looking for a win when role-playing, I am looking at trying to tell a good story with my friends. If that means my character ends up being more inept that I really would like, so what? If that means, my character has to fail spectacularly to move the story forward in unexpected ways, that is fine too.

    My two questions for the community out there are:
    1) How do you avoid the trap of feeling your character is only successful if you are winning at what you are doing?
    2) As a GM, how do you encourage your players to not fall into this trap and to get enjoyment out of facing setbacks?

  • Fitz

    @forged – Berry berry interesting… So let me work through this a bit.

    1) “Well, what is heroic in being defeated (even if solely for just one combat)?” Even heroes fail. Without failing, what makes one success any different from any other? For me, failing makes the successes that much sweeter.

    2) What is the winning side? Hopefully the heroes are on the winning side – but sometimes they must be tested to see if they truly believe what they truly believe… Testing those beliefs is just as important as “winning” in my book.

    3) And you definitely want your heroes to succeed. But measuring successes has to be a big part of gaming. And if everybody succeeds all the time, how do you determine what actually matters?

    It’s definitely tough to retrain folks to treat gaming (RPGs) as more of a collaboration and less competition. I’ve seen some efforts lately towards “team roleplaying” where you have two teams attempting to out-maneuver each other, but I think that goes the wrong way. So I don’t know how to encourage it – obviously we’ve seen issues even in our gaming with encouraging that sort of behavior…
    Fitz recently posted…Interview: Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips and Gamer LifestyleMy Profile

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