This is a game
I spent my junior year in college attending a private Christian university in California. While there, I
enrolled in a speaking class and joined the debate team. The coach was an honorable man and desired
for the team to represent and uphold the values upon which the university stood. The debate team
participated in tournaments at and with both Christian and secular schools. Over the course of the year
our team had developed a rivalry, if not a disrespect for a public school team, primarily due to their
apparent need to make personal comments and take arguments off topic. We were instructed to hold the
moral high ground and be conscious of the example we presented. They were not corrected for their
behavior and in fact it was encourage by their coach.
It was not so much that they were immoral which several of them were or that their coach was immoral
which he most likely was or even that we and or coach were at least trying to be moral. The difference was
simply how they looked at the whole exercise. Their coach viewed it all as a game, where as our coach
viewed it at least as an educational opportunity and more likely as a serious discussion on the various
topics. As a result we were encouraged to and did developed a style of argument that sought first to
understand the topic, then find the correct position, and then explain that position. Viewing it as a game,
they were encouraged to win. Not having the need of or concern for what kind of example they would
project. Winning, became win at any cost; any way you can. (Note: least common denominator) As a
result they developed an argumentative style that could provoke, distract, confuse, blur, and overwhelm
not only the topic but the other team and the judges.
During the last tournament of the season, I was pitted against this same team which had frustrated me in
earlier contests. I got up; presented my logical, well thought out, and supportive arguments based on the
topic of discussion we had been given. Their first speaker got up and faced with what was a very strong
explanation of the best position on the topic, he decided to spam (the act of presenting as many short only
slightly related counter agreements in an attempt to overwhelm the speaker’s position) knowing that I
would have half the time he did to respond and if I did not counter all of his points I would loose the
debate. He quickly throw up a simple response to my three or four points and then as if in a speed round,
began to spout out and site proofs for arguments as far fetched as the fact that Buddhist don’t believe that
the world is real so nothing I said was real or had meaning. I listened is amazement until I noticed that
judge was dutifully writing down each of his points. Then I grew inflamed. I realized that the judge also
believed in the game theory and that it was all a matter of tactics, manner, and strategy.
When my turn came, I laid into it with speed and passion. I ran down every point I had noted until my time
ran out. At which time I sat down and waited. After the match was over the judge explained his decision.
He praised the strength and clarity of our position saying it was the best argument he had heard on the
topic all season and that was why it was a shame that we had lost. It turned out that in his reply he had not
only answered my points but also countered with 23 points of his own and in my rebuttal I had only been
able to reply to 20 of the 23 before I ran out of time.
I have gone over that season and that debate in particular numerous times. It doesn’t bother me
much anymore partially because I accepted the situation and moved on but mostly because I understand
the situation and have learned from it. I still believe in debate as a serious vetting of a topic and as an
educational exercise but I also see the point of the game theory. I see it not so much as an expression of
collegiate competitions being unimportant or an acceptance of trickery and questionable ethics over sound
moral action. I see it now as a basic desire to succeed. Thinking of it as a game does not eliminate the
rules it forces you to explore the activity to the fullest extent possible in order to accomplish the task. It
opens the field up; creating possibilities. It forces you to get out of the box and explore uncharted
territory. It does this for the sole purpose of winning. I know you might be thinking, ‘that’s not right.’ And
your response as was mine is a product of wrong thinking and effective socialization. What’s wrong with
winning? I mean that is the point of any competition…to win. And winning is better then loosing (refer to
happiness). We have fallen into a hole as a culture that winning is somehow bad or wrong. People do win
and we go crazy about it and praise them. We all secretly strive and hope for a victory but it has become
unfashionable to win personally. And loosing has lost it stigma as we have all been driven into mediocrity.
It may seem a far reach but in our attempt to include everyone, exclude no one (except those who don’t
conform), and be sensitive to everyone’s feeling we have perverted the basic drive of man, to succeed. In
time past winning was part of our genetic make up as Americans. We were the poor, the tired, the huddled
masses that boldly stepped out into the unknown in an attempt to make it better, to succeed, to win. We
valued winners and we looked down on losers. This is what helped make us great as a people. The line I
always think of is from the opening of the movie Patton with George C Scott. He stands alone on a stage
in font of an enormous American flag as he addresses the unseen audience of troops about to go to war in
Europe and at one point says, ‘I wouldn’t give a damn for someone who lost and laughed.’ You see we
have been trained to accept winning when it does not matter and to reject winning when it does matter. It
is ok to do what it takes to win a game but not when it is real life. The idiocy of this should be clear to you.
It is backwards. It should only be important to win in a game because games are training for real life. It
should be ultimately important to win in real life. (How we define winning makes all the difference but that is
the subject of another story) That is were it makes a real difference. The difference between having a job
or not; being able to support your family or not; being free or not and in the very end between living and
dying. That is why we have to look at this, all of this, everything as one big game. Not because it is
unimportant but because it is the most important. We have to be willing and able to compete and do
whatever it takes to win. This is all a game or at least you have to view it that way. It is a game that has
some intense penalties and punishments. It is a game that must be played to win. It is also a game that
everyone must play wither they like it or not.
We seem to have lost our will and desire to win. We have been taught to let it go and be nice. We have
somehow associated doing well, being the best, and pursuing success as character flaws. We have been
taught that pursing victory is a greedy selfish behavior; that it is bad and makes you evil.
The Lesson to Learn:
Someone has to and will win and everyone else will loose. If you don’t do what it takes to win then you are
not going to win. If you don’t try to win then someone else will win and they will probably not be as nice
about it as you. So do what it takes to win and then don’t rub it in.
The Brutal Truth:
It is better to win then to loose.