The Dharma of the Game

This is the first in a series of posts on the ethics of competition that I've been working on...

Hi. My name is Linus, and I'm competitive.
[Hi, Linus...]

It's sort of a running joke in the local Flock. I'm the guy who will shove you out of the way and then throw himself into the wall head-first to hit the handball. I will gladly smash a shuttlecock directly at your head to win the point. I frequently want to keep going when everyone else is done. If there is another opponent available, I will continue long past the point of general fatigue - I'm famous for writing checks that my body can't cash.

Some have suggested that perhaps I do this because I don't know how to play "just for fun" or that I'm trying to compensate for failings in other parts of my life. Others say that it must be my ego that drives me to play so hard, or perhaps it's just that I'm trying to impress the ladies with my prowess. These sentiments usually come from those who can't beat me, but snarkiness aside, I maintain that competitveness serves a higher purpose.

I contend that the ultimate point of competition is the spiritual betterment of the competitors.

There are a multitude of other reasons to play sports - fitness, excitement, entertainment, camaraderie, etc. All of these reasons are valid, and most people begin playing sports for one or more of them, but the diligent pursuit of any sport eventually begins to reveal its greater qualities. When the golfer, for example, comes to the end of a lifelong pursuit of the game, he has learned much more than how to strike the ball. Ideally, he has learned to deal with others, in good times and bad. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, how to handle pressure, and how to accept the seemingly cruel dictates of random events. In short, he has evolved - and golf was the catalyst for that evolution.

Sport is the one place where there exists an opportunity, however fleeting, for all to actually achieve some kind of equality. With due diligence, the rules of a game can remove politics, race, and class, and the outcome of such a contest is as purely based on the skill of the competitors as it can be. In that situation, sport becomes a pure test of that limited set of skills that the game is designed to measure. For example, a foot race is a simple check to determine which of the competitors can cover a given distance on foot in the shortest time. At the finish line, the person who crosses it first is the fastest, at that distance, on that day. If the rules of the contest have been diligently created and applied, then that racer can feel justifiably proud of his accomplishment, and the race remains pure.

Suppose however, that you add in other variables that lie outside the rules. One of the runners has a performance-enhancing drug in his bloodstream, another has special shoes with rocket assist, and a third tripped another runner when they were out of sight on one of the back corners of the course. Obviously, if one of these three runners is the winner of the race, it could be considered to invalidate the outcome. As we stated above, the purpose of the race was to see who was the fastest - not who had the cleverest doctor, or who had the best shoes, or who was most devious. Because these three runners have introduced other variables into the test, the test is now broken, and the results are not valid. The winner, the other competitors, and the spectators, if there are any, are all cheated out of the pure result they were promised by the agreed upon test.

Even if the winner is not one of those who introduced other variables, he is still cheated by their behavior. His victory is now invalidated, because how are we to know that the illegal behavior of the others has not altered the outcome of the race, and artificially placed him on the winners pedestal? A strict adherence to the rules and a dedicated effort to win are required of all contestants if the test is to remain sound. Even if one of the other racers simply doesn't do his absolute best to win, he has skewed the outcome of the race. Remembering the original purpose of the race - to find the fastest runner over a given course on a given day - it becomes clear that in order for the test to be valid, everyone in it has to be putting forth their best effort.

Next installment: different levels of competitors.


Mayren said...

so far i agree and the point is well-reasoned. It's not fun to compete with "cheaters".
The fleeting moment of "equal-footing" is essential to give hope and spur on even better play.

for the other bits about you and what others say about you..
Are you sure you're not just exaggerating it a smidge? Surely you are not that bad.

His Sinfulness said...


Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. Members of the local Flock will have to weigh in on this topic if we are to have a clearer picture of my competitive habits... :)

Flynn said...


Sorry hun, it's true. The Pontiff takes competitiveness to a new, terrifying level. Then again, I have been known to do that myself...

The men of the BV enjoy a good challenge, be it sport, game, or video game, we're always up for a match... and we both always want to win.

HSBPs argument is good enough, the point he and I often argue it weather or not is must always be an all out test of ability and resolve. While those are good, I maintain the score isn't always there to decide who gets to bragging rights. There are times I think, when the score is there to decide when the round is over, so you can give the racquet/ball/court over to the next person in line. Letting you return to side lines to cheer while someone else tries their hand, and has a good time while they play. The Pope maintains that winning is fun. And it is. But I refuse to accept that it is the only thing that can be fun. There are times when winning is all a competitor can, or should, see. Likewise, there are times when the game being fun should be the goal, and the 'winner' should just be the guy that keeps the court, or laughs the loudest when both people trade off with friends on the sidelines.

His Sinfulness said...

As for it being a test, it is ALWAYS that. Any kind of game with objective victory conditions is, by definition - that's why you keep score. The game is what it is, without any emotional baggage - I think what you are getting at is behavior on the court. I maintain that you can be highly competitive and still be a polite, noble, and enjoyable opponent. I have known many such players in my time studying various martial arts.
I plan to address the issue of being gracious about the outcome of the game in a future post.

Also, I have never said that ONLY winning is fun. For example, I have never beaten Maggie in magball singles, and yet I maintain that playing against her is one of my favorite matches.

Teh Dr. said...

You remind me of a character from old videogame fame. Akuma from Street Fighter. He was about the most badass fighter in the game, super competitive. Live by the sword die by the sword sort of guy. The thing that you have most in common with him, in my reckoning, can be summed up with his catch phrase...."every opponent I defeat is a lost opportunity to die." He is not seeking opponents in order to beat them and prove his superiority. He seeks out the fight he cannot win, that is a better experience to him than being the best. He wants to relish that fight, where he has to give his all and it's still not enough.

I'm not sure that makes any sense to you, but that's how I picture your competitive nature. You aren't trying to win, you're trying to see just how much you have in you, and the only way you can do that is by finding someone who can do more.

His Sinfulness said...

Doktor Smith,

WORD. "It's a good day to die."

I think you hit the nail on the head - clearly, you get me. If you were a girl we would totally be a great couple.

...ok, that got weird.

Bunny said...

Pope... If you touch my boyfriend, I'll bite you. Not in any good ways. In the ways that bleed and hurt entirely too much.


I see your point about competition, though. I've been accused of being way too competitive more than once. It's toned down in recent years, but I do seem to remember a very strong drive to be good at EVERYTHING. And I agree that the results are changed if all the competitors don't give one hundred percent!

WNG said...

I started to comment here,but it got a little I posted instead :)

Nerdygirl said...

Doktor--Does this mean that Linus is also Kenpachi?

becca said...

Competition is something I have thought a lot about especially in relation to team sports. I have never been on a winning team. Not winning didn't really bother me until this year when I felt like the rest of my team wasn't really trying. Just like using performance enhancing drugs, if someone gives up then I feel like it is not really a good game. Feeling let down by a team that is not putting their all into the competition was really hard for me. I didn't mind losing as long as I was losing fair!

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