When you have a child, you very quickly learn a fundamental, ugly truth about other people; they really do believe that they are right one hundred percent of the time, and that most importantly, you are probably wrong.
There is no greater sense of entitlement than that of the responsibility of child care. Even though it is the most biologically natural thing we can do on this planet apart from pooping, child birth and rearing is considered one of the most difficult and commendable jobs anyone can take upon themselves; and I do understand why. With the generally praise laden attitude people take towards those pumping out slimy brood, criticism is hard to come by, and with some parents taking on a not-so-humble or objective view of their perfect ubermensch quality spawnlings, too much adoration can quickly turn into a bad thing when they begin to look at their children as perfect snowflakes, and not as the growing, flawed-by-nature creatures of cruel innocence and curiosity which they actually are.
In shorter terms, the next generation is one conspicuously full of "winners", even though a significant portion of them will eventually succumb to the oppressive weight of the world eventually, and will resign to watching TV and eating Cheetos for a fairly sizeable period of their lives when they realize just how much they have been lied too, and how much the world really sucks.
Life is a series of crushing defeats piled on top of one another until you just wish that Flanders was dead. Happiness comes in generally short, restrained bursts, usually in the form of simple pleasures, and it is all we, the amazingly resilient products of the human genome really need to survive it for several decades before we finally give in and take on new full time jobs as soil displacement units. Those small, fleeting moments of victory teach us almost nothing except, occasionally, that we CAN be rewarded for hard work, patience, or so many other cliches your mother told you about. However, and far more interestingly, it is the constant onslaught of obstacles we face who really shape us into real, interesting people, and as the modern world keeps pushing on forward, these character building experiences are becoming more scarce for some.
Think about it; how many people working through The Great Depression would have had the balls to complain about working on a Saturday, how many people would have their asses kicked because they bitched about "first world problems" in a time when food was tough to come by? We are living in a golden age, a bunch of modern Caligulas by most standards, and there is a good chance that most of the people reading this are living in a Democratic nation where a "bad day" usually equates to specialty coffee being a a degree lower in temperature than expected upon point of purchase. We got it made, and it becomes more and more "made" every day, especially for kids. This hand holding mentality has made its way into games over the past decade as well, in a big (but substantially less important) way.
It is my theory however that, despite the constant insistence of new games to give is a constantly railroaded, digestible experience, that "losing" is not only a positive experience even in a distilled, entertainment related form, but that it can actually be fun as well.
I got the term "Losing is Fun" from a game called Dwarf Fortress, a title which I have talked about quite frequently and one which is notorious not only for its grand complexity, but also for its enormous wall of difficulty. The reason the term was adopted is simply because, in that grandiose simulation of Dwarfenomics, the inevitable end to the otherwise endless experience is very simply a painful death due to the many thousands of random, mitigating factors that can endanger a Fortress at any given moment in time. Despite this problem, fans of DF have persisted for years, spending many hours building up new creations only to see them come tumbling, often brutally, down to the ground.
Despite the games borderline nihilistic treatment of its players, people continue to play and love the game, with some especially reveling in the "losing" part. Simply put, the experience of the game revolves around the journey, not the end, and seeing something unexpected and quirky put a quick end to all that hard work is a tongue in cheek reminder of how one little event can literally be life changing, and how there is something amusing about that kind of orchestrated chaos. Since the game does not allow the player to win, the real fun comes in the wake of the experience; sharing stories of the time your grand magma fortress was invaded by goblins, how you defended it, but how a simple thing like forgetting to grab water before it freezes was able to throttle you into oblivion due to your poor little colony dying of thirst.
Another game (and both were brought up in another blog which is why I am mentioning them, as they are both great examples of this) which forces death upon the player is Dark Souls, which has such a reputation 'round these parts that I don't even need to offer exposition into what a grueling experience it really is. Victories had in that game come with tremendous value attached just due to the sheer difficulty hurdle you are required to leap over in order to attain them, and players are brought together to form strategies, leave tips behind, or occasionally to team up and overcome parts of the game which are otherwise nearly insurmountable.
In both experiences, something unique is happening; people are being brought together. The sheer adversity of each of those games forces players to work together, or at least to share their experiences with one another just to be able to relate, to say "I did it, too." When you play most MMORPG's these days, there is usually an option to solo up until the highest levels of the game, and seeing anyone get into groups below level 30 is not only quite rare, but is also laughed at. I was playing WoW, and just looking for some camaraderie, put out a notice looking for another level 15 player to quest with. I had no less than three people tell me I was "stupid" to start grouping together, and that I could solo up until level 60 no problem without needing the help.
I was stupid for seeking companionship, in an online game.
In the earliest days of games like Everquest, you had no choice but to party, and that was what made the games so fiendishly addicting. Even with a group of three other people, you would still be facing death quite often especially in the more dangerous areas, but it was the difficulty of the situation, and the high stakes of death that kept people huddled together in a proverbial cave, fending off the approaching wildlife with makeshift spears; again, companionship, friendship, and camaraderie, all in the face of massive adversity.
You can teach things with games, but nothing teaches us more than loss. If you win a thousand games of chess against a player at the lowest skill level, all you have done is bored yourself to tears playing pointless games against an unskilled opponent, and the likelihood of you actually learning from that and being able to improve becomes effectively zilch. Play against someone on your level, and not only will it be much more thought provoking and enjoyable, but the losses you sustain will teach you to adapt, to change your strategy, and eventually, to actually improve and become better.
When we sit kids down in front of games which are now effectively a 60fps slideshow of neon signs pointing them in the right direction so that they don't accidentally get confused and actually *gasp* spend time exploring the game world and looking for solutions on their own, they have no choice but to eventually win. They aren't being challenged, and therefore are not learning, and I personally think that even entertainment and the people who create it have some small sense of social responsibility to uphold and be accountable for. This isn't a serious problem, of course; there will always be challenging experiences, and will always be a sustainable supply of well crafted and difficult games out there to enjoy. It is up to us to make the right choices in the kinds of experiences we are absorbing, much like it is an unhealthy persons responsibility to watch what they are eating, and make sure they are getting enough exercise to go along with it. Eating at McDonalds every once in awhile can be fun, and it's a hell of a lot easier than cooking a really good meal. But the time and energy put into that meal is eventually rewarded with a much more fulfilling payoff than a hockey puck burger and ultra preserved potato sticks could ever be.
Losing is fun because of that eventual feeling of triumph we get when we finally win; and even in games where it isn't possible to do so, it's a hell of a lot more interesting to talk about how your fortress was flooded with lava than it is to talk about how you successfully killed ten wolves three levels your former and harvested their claws for a couple hundred experience points in your favorite WoW clone.
So go ahead; be a loser. You will also be a lot wiser and more humble for it ultimately, and you might actually learn something every now and again.
I purposely left pictures out of the blog in the spirit of offering a less aesthetically pleasing experience in order to cut the bullshit and get my point across.
It probably just made this worse.