I’ve never considered myself a competitive person. When I try to explain this to people who know me they usually scoff, but I really don’t. Obviously I enjoy games and I always try to win (and also have fun of course!) but I don’t think that makes me “competitive” in the sense people usually mean. I it’s a problem of definition. Of course when anyone says that they really mean “I’m using the word correctly and you’re not” :p
Usually when people talk about others being “competitive” they mean people who want to win above all else. People who can’t stand to lose, and will do anything to come out victorious (usually short of cheating, but not always!). It’s like a maniacal zeal, almost an irrational obsession. I remember hearing about Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver to ever play football, getting pumped up to play checkers with a little kid and destroying him. The stories of Michael Jordan’s competitiveness are legendary. That’s the kind of thing most people associate with being competitive, and it’s not just limited to high profile athletes; we all know a sore loser or two who just can’t stand it when they don’t win.
There’s this idea that a true competitor can’t stand to lose; you often see pro athletes acting like babies and throwing tantrums while the commentators excuse it as being due to their “competitive nature”. But to me that’s not being competitive, that’s just wanting to win. And yes, there is a difference in my humble opinion.
It’s kind of like the old “journey vs. destination” thing. Usually competitive people are all about the destination: winning. But I’m all about the journey: playing the game. To me winning or losing doesn’t matter in and of itself, but it can be an indicator of how well you played. Definitely not always though! For me the best gaming situation is playing a game at or near my best against an opponent who is at the same skill level or slightly higher who is also playing his or her best. Playing a great game against a good opponent and narrowly winning or losing is the best gaming experience for me because you get to utilize all your skill, and everything you do matters. At the end of such a game I’ll be happy whether I won or lost, because it’s such a fun game to play. And yes, I’d be a little happier if I won, but not that much! 🙂
Conversely, playing a lousy game against an inferior opponent and winning is my least favorite situation; victory is hollow and unearned, the game itself isn’t very fun, and you have no chance to increase your skill or grow as a player. Playing against a vastly superior opponent and getting your butt kicked is no fun either, at least for me. Some people enjoy that kind of uber challenge though. I remember my friend Shawn talking about a time he played pool against a professional and how the pro was basically taunting him (hard to explain). Shawn was all excited about it and thought it was great but I would have just been annoyed and definitely would not have enjoyed getting waxed by a pool pro.
I don’t mean to imply that I’m totally immune to any of this; sure I can get frustrated by losing over and over again just like anyone else. I just wanted to try to clarify the definition of competitiveness and how people often misuse the term. I’m sure anyone reading this who knows me will just say, “nah, I’m not buying it, you’re totally competitive” but at least I made my case 🙂