I am quite a sore loser. I’m not the worst sore loser I know (who shall remain nameless) but I do moan and sulk more than a grown human should. I get frustrated because I see myself as a great strategist and tactician so when the plans fail I feel as though my intelligence is being challenged, or ‘life is being unfair’.
Neither are things that actually happen when I lose a game but I still get frustrated by it. This is because we learn from our parents and my father is quick to anger, slow to apologise. I realise my mistakes and I also get frustrated by knowing when I’m acting as he does rather than acting as I should. So let’s look at my reactions from a Stoic Sage’s perspective: My feeling insulted by losing a game is the result of one of two things; either my strategy was beaten by a superior strategy, in which case my strategy wasn’t successful but I now know more about it’s weaknesses and the failure wasn’t fatal so I can always try again; or I was unlucky, in which case the random chance that resulted in my failure could easily have gone the other way and there’s no reason to be frustrated.
One reason I may feel frustration at my plans being foiled by those meddling kids might be because when I construct the plan in my mind, I assume success after success, nothing in my plan can possibly go wrong in my mind. This is of course ridiculous, so when planning I need to include contingencies for possible failures. Looking back on the computer game battle I lost on Sunday. The plan involved always hitting with mortars and that once a unit broke, that it wouldn’t regroup so when my mortars missed completely with a couple of barrages and the enemy cavalry unit regrouped, I felt frustrated and didn’t have a contingency ready. If I had included a second cavalry unit of my own, and an additional unit of infantry, I would have the additional men required to handle these failures.
This is what the Friday exercise seeks to get us to think about, sort of. Instead of having contingencies set up for when things go wrong, the exercise was about accepting the fact that things have gone wrong and not getting annoyed about things which I had no control over. So when the enemy cavalry regrouped and turned to charge into the fray, instead of being angry that this seemingly unlikely result happened, I would merely accept that it did and that it was beyond my control.
This stoicism can expand to other areas of our lives, apparently the original stoics used to contemplate their own deaths so that they could face it with stoicism. It was recommended we didn’t choose something so traumatic to begin with, but rather to build up to them beginning with small things that bother us. My sore loser attitude is, to my mind, the perfect example for this, it’s not supposed to be traumatic or a big deal in any way and so if I can work on accepting my losses in video games, I can build towards accepting my losses in day to day life, like that pile of rejection letters in my recycling bin.
Ever been played a game and then just screamed in indignation? “How on Earth could this have happened to ME?!” I was playing a well-known real-time strategy game last night and the battle was progressing well… until a disastrous charge, suffice to say my army routed and I lost the battle. I was enraged, the battle was mine, I should have won, why didn’t the enemy just die?
This morning, I realised it was time to begin the Stoic Week. An experiment run by members of Exeter University looking into how stoicism can be used or beneficial in the modern world. So off I went to the website and downloaded the handbook which was named after Epictetus’ Enchiridion…
Well, in a nutshell, one of the main things the handbook talks about is the importance of understanding what is in your control and what is not. The theme for today’s lunchtime activity is “What is in our Power?” and asks us to evaluate a situation in our lives using Stoic Mindfulness. If I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, it’s best if you go read the Handbook which you can download from the Stoic Week website.
Now the situation that I am going to use for this exercise is one that occurred before Stoic Week, however I think it’s more important to simply be able to practice this exercise than when the actual situation occurred and this example allows me to say what I want to on this blog.
So, back to the point, I got extremely frustrated by the battle not going my way and thus complained about the game mechanics “Why did those guys just break and run?” rather than assess the situation properly. What was actually in my control here? Well I decided what forces to take into the battle; how to direct them during the battle; and the decision to play this particular scenario in the first place.
What wasn’t in my control? The abilities and capabilities of the units (both friendly and enemy) in the battle and the terrain on the battlefield. I chose to take a force almost equal when I could have taken a larger force to be more sure of victory, I chose how to direct my forces and my plan failed. I could have chosen to learn about the capabilities of all the forces on the battle before engaging but I didn’t. These were ways in which I could have effected (sorry everyone who dislikes the use of effect as a verb) a different outcome.
But once the results were in, the only things in my control was my response to it. I chose to whinge and moan and to send a second force to finish off the enemy but the frustration stayed with me. The point I am making here is that a stoic attitude may be more conducive to a healthier gaming environment, especially in multiplayer games. Instead of hurling abuse at other players, or criticising the game mechanics, stoic players would instead be able to assess the results of games and their reactions to them and determine whether they are acting virtuously or are instead becoming angered at things outside of their control, or even blaming things outside of their control for things that are entirely up to them.
Stoic Week has also affected me in other ways, when this is published, it will be linked to on my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Something I had avoided in the past for fear of criticism or friends being able to spot flaws in my reasoning. Stoicism says that people’s reactions to my blog are entirely out of my control. All that is in my control is what I choose to publish and how I react to people’s responses and if someone has something constructive to say, it will improve my blog and I should embrace that, not hide from it.