The Dangers of Treating Life as a Game

Late last year I wrote an essay titled Are You Playing to Play, or Playing to Win? which seems to have haunted a great many people. I got a fair amount of reader feedback in the weeks after the piece, and I thought one argument in particular was worth examining in further detail.

First, a quick recap — in my original essay, I introduced the concept of a ‘scrub’, citing Street Fighter tournament player and game designer David Sirlin:

«Scrub» is not a term I made up. It sounds like kind of a harsh term, but it’s the one that was already in common usage in games to describe a certain type of player, and it made more sense to me to explain that rather than to coin a new term.

A scrub is not just a bad player. Everyone needs time to learn a game and get to a point where they know what they’re doing. The scrub mentality is to be so shackled by self-imposed handicaps as to never have any hope of being truly good at a game. You can practice forever, but if you can’t get over these common hangups, in a sense you’ve lost before you even started. You’ve lost before you even picked which game to play. You aren’t playing to win.

A scrub would disagree with this though. They’d say they are trying very hard. The problem is they are only trying hard within a construct of fictitious rules that prevent them from ever truly competing.

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