Confessions of a Loser

Games GeekMom
Image By Luke Maxwell


I learned early on not to play games of chance. My name was never picked from the hat, the dice never rolled in my favor, I rarely picked the good cards. I wasn’t oddly unlucky; I didn’t have random horrible things happen to me, but I was not a winner.

At eighteen I went with a group to Atlantic City. Unfortunately, you have to be twenty-one before you can be on the gambling floor. I spent the time looking into the casino shop windows instead of playing. I suppose that was lucky for my wallet.

Games of skill weren’t my forte either. My father and sister were my most often partners, whether it was Monopoly or HORSE on the basketball court. I would get out early in the game and sit around waiting for the winners to finish. This is how I came to learn completely useless skills like braiding intricate patterns into rug tassels, blowing spit bubbles, how low can I keep the basketball to the ground while still dribbling, etc.

I was a practiced loser, and would smile and shrug, despite the lump in my throat at yet another defeat. I tried to steer play-dates towards creative pursuits like putting on a show in the backyard. But if everyone wanted to play Parcheesi, I never put up a fight since that would be a form of competition, but instead spent my energy making jokes and trying to enjoy game time in a different way. I do remember winning a few rounds of “Dinosaurs Alive!,” a board game with cool figurines and volcanic tile pieces. Amazingly, I couldn’t find it on the web. My sister and I used to play a no-mercy version with our friends, Leon and Jason, where the object was to take every opportunity to crush your opponents.

Wait, you are wondering, isn’t that the object of most games? Yes, but in my house, people’s feelings got hurt if you were “mean” in a game. It was only when we made a pact to all be equally mean, that it was fiercely and entertainingly competitive. We laughed a lot. Maybe that’s why I had a shot in that game, I wasn’t afraid of winning.

Being a life long loser and a psychology major at one point, I started wondering when I not just accepted my loser status, but was comfortable in it. Perhaps it all started with my older sister. I adored her as a child, but she cried a lot. I wanted her to be happy. Winning made her happy. Did I not want to compete and possibly make her cry? Maybe.

Or maybe it started when I was around six and a family member caught me cheating at a card game (hey, maybe I could win) and then way until my teen years would inform everyone I ever sat down to play a game, “Watch out! She’s a cheater!” And not in a kidding way. Perhaps it was easier to lose than to win under suspicion? Maybe.

I do know my comfort with losing escalated to a fear of winning the first year of high school. There was an end of year ceremony where they awarded those who had the top grades in each subject. Unfortunately, I had the highest score in every subject, so I had to keep going up on that stage, cross it, take my award, go down the steps, sit down, hear my name, and go through the process again. After the third award, my sister and her friends started teasing me every time I walked past. I fully understood how ridiculous it all was, and they were having fun with it, but I was humiliated and vowed to never be in that position again.

I was able to keep that vow because the one game I was good at was The Game of School. I kept my average high enough to get into college, but never enough for unwanted attention. I knew how to be on good terms with my teachers, but never teacher’s pet. Not especially popular, yet avoided any negative labels. However, I was known as someone who hated competition. I refused to do my best when a prize was on the line, would bow out quickly if any kind of debate came up, and avoided people who took anything seriously. At graduation I was shocked to hear my name called for the Theology award (’cause I’m so deep, yo). I raced up the steps, grabbed the thing and went back to my seat, confused and embarrassed.

This continued into adulthood. My fencing instructor (a great way to relieve the stress of new motherhood) quickly understood that she could never point out I was winning, “because if I mention you are winning, you lose.” If I focused on the bout without keeping track, I often trounced my opponent with my gorilla-reach arms and quick foot work. But then they would take off their mask and look sad, or mad, or in the case of one person, would illegally stab me after the bout when the coach looked away–to purposely leave a bruise. The competitiveness made me quit the sport.

Then I met my friend Tim. He’s a gamer. He is the one who pleaded with me for two years to try RPGs until I finally tried a game and loved it. Cooperative play! Everyone won or lost together! I found other Cooperative Games to play with my kids and started really enjoying games for the first time in my life.

Strangely, this led to play other games–ones of skill and complexity from obscure companies gamers found at conventions. I realized that I learned by doing. My first time playing a game would be how I learned the rules. The second time I would figure out strategy. The third time, I might even win. And I was proud of it because, like “Dinosaurs Alive!,” everyone was both trying their best, and having a good time.

I learned that gamers are thrilled to teach a newbie games they love. And they will play it many times until you are up to a level to really have a healthy competition, where even if you lose, it was a good time. My odds of winning started going up in life.

Perhaps it’s not coincidence that this is also around the time I started performing music by myself. I had to get over my fear of attention, of getting praise. I learned how to look someone in the eye and say, “Thank you.”

I recently won my first ever Monopoly game. I posted it on Facebook with many exclamation points!!! When I received that Theology award, I threw it out the same day. Two years ago I won second place in a Chili Cook-Off competition. I still have my trophy in the kitchen.

I still lose a lot. But I try my best, and sometimes I win.

I thought of this post while playing Munchkin with my family. I won.


A version of this article originally appeared on GeekMom in 2011. 

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15 thoughts on “Confessions of a Loser

  1. This meant a great deal to me on all sorts of levels Rebecca. Your experience is fascinating, sad, and probably a metaphor for societal issues. It reflects my experience in many ways. Thanks for writing this.

  2. This really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing it!

    (I don’t know that it’ll make games with my extended family over the holidays next year any more fun, but it gave me some insight into why I like playing games with my friends and hate playing games with my family.)

  3. Fascinating article! I too have rotten luck. My thing was that I was always really good at school, so much so that I got used to winning. Because I never wanted to lose and that was highly probable for me in games (well, anything but word games), I never played. I went into English in college instead of art because I might have gotten a B in art, but I was assured of As in English. I often wonder if I’d have had more fun if I had given myself permission to “lose” with art.

  4. My husband says I play not to lose instead of playing to win. He’s right. I hate losing, but I also want everyone to win. That obviously doesn’t work. I love this article. Gave me a lot to think about.

  5. Cooperative games are the best!! Everyone we introduce to these types of games loves them! They are great for a family too because the whole family works together to beat the game. I encourage anyone to try this type of game – they are a lot of fun!! If you have not tried already the following board games – try Pandemic, Shadows over Camelot, Forgotten Island (all cooperative board games) – My favorite is Arkham Horror but that is a level 401 game – not as easy for a beginner but completely addictive!

    As far as the rest of your article – very honest and true – and speaks to childhood struggles of many in the “geek” world where society did not view us as winners.

    1. Here here, Tammi! I dread “backstabbing” my friends in a game a lot more than losing, so I really dig Pandemic and Arkham Horror. When a girlfriend and I discovered that we were Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, we were so worried about defeating our ‘human’ friends that we didn’t make a move or reveal ourselves the entire game and of course they won, wondering how it happened so easily! Are there any other co-op games recommended? My husband and I just received Munchkin for Christmas – looking forward to trying it…

  6. I’m glad your experience wound up positive in the end, Rebecca, but… I guess I can’t share the sentiment. It’s different for guys (because too many boys and men define themselves by bitter competition, still), and I must disagree– some of the poorest winners and losers I met were gamers. I sometimes could get marginal respect when I found a sport I liked (rugby for one), which was not often, but still more than in most “games”.

    I started writing up a much longer reply, but… well, it’s easier and politer IMHO to save it at my own blog.

  7. Oh, that’s about me too. I’ve always been a looser in any games. But we have a proverb ‘Looser in games is lucky in love’ – so I even boasted with my defeats, saying ‘Ha! Therefore I’ll be lucky in love!’
    And the thing that brought me to gaming was hot-seat cooperative mode of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 with my husband (actually, he was just a friend those days ^_^). And, you know, when some people talk about romance, I say ‘One of the most romantic things ever is playing hot-seat cooperative mode’. Some people even agree :). I wonder how many couples found they’re in love while playing that mode =).

  8. Wow! This is me, too! While I have actually started to get over “trying not to lose but trying not to win at the same time” in the last year, I’m still not quite there. I hate making my friends and family unhappy by beating them. (I think they know this, and use it to their advantage.) Cooperative games will probably remain my favorites in the foreseeable future for just this reason. It’s nice to know I’m in good company here, though!

  9. Get out of my head!!! Perhaps I should look deeper in my own head as to why I hate playing games with others….I’m sitting inside on a Saturday night reading posts about games while my family is outside playing the one that I created.

    I can’t remember the last time I ever had any desire whatsoever to playa game with anyone else…. I too remember kicking up stones on the play ground and pacing talking to myself like señorita crazy pants and I’m pretty sure that sums it up right there.

    Thanks for trekking me about your blog. I love it. I’m hooked.

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