We use them in metaphors, often negatively. Granted, there’s the whole “man’s best friend” business, but otherwise we’re wading through piles of thoughts like “sick as a dog” or “puppy love.” They aren’t necessarily the most flattering of comparisons. Among this stack of idioms is the well-known “like a dog chasing its tail.” When we say this, its most often to imply that the subject is acting in such a way that yields no fruit. They are acting pointlessly, spinning in circles. This is, in almost all circles, a bad thing to say to a person. It’s insulting.
Bad News: Cooperative gaming — in board, card, and video forms — is a lot like a dog chasing its tail.
Good News: I think dogs are brilliant.
At the heart of most games is some form of competition. Whether it be against the difficulty of a game or against another player with a similar set of objects, games need something to “beat.” Even if the game doesn’t end, there has to be something we’re working against to achieve our desired ends (points, kills, apples, whatever). This is often another human being. In League of Legends, The Olympics, online shooters, most sports, and trick-taking card games, the opponents are other humans. They see you as an opponent, actually. This seems to me the most pure form of competition; skill against skill.
The problem with this sort of competition is that someone has to lose. Now, losing is not a bad thing. Losing hurts. That pain can — and often does — propel us into success, and it very well should. Life is, after all, filled with failures and responses to those failures. However, losing hurts even more when you get to see your opponent, that person standing on the other side of the field, glowing with pride and satisfaction upon their recent victory. Or, if you’re playing any online game, mocking / shaming you with the intensity of a really sweaty guy asking you “for a glass of water, or some gatorade, or something.” Not the spirit, but the intensity.
This mockery sucks. I hate it. I hate it when I’m tempted to do it, and I hate it even more when I’m subjected to it. Losing is bad enough; losing to sore winners is one of the worst things that happens to me on a daily basis. But I love the shared experience of gaming. I love losing with a team, or winning with a team, or going through anything as a team. So I kept playing online. I kept being ok with the mediocre, less than dream-like state of competitive gaming.
But then, I started discovering video and board games that had cooperative mechanics. I was thrilled. Finally, we had figured out a way to eliminate most of the potential for Loss Shame.
See, cooperative games are like tail-chasing, because we invent opponents. Humanity, in its flawed but eager ambition, found a way to simulate strategy. Those simulations then act as our opponents. It’s amazing. When we win, we feel great, and nobody feels bad. When we lose, we can curse at the game as much as we please, and nobody feels bad. There are the occasional situations in which a teammate can feel as though they let down their compatriots, but other than those, cooperative gaming is one of the best ways to have a shared experience while still being able to feel the thrills of victory. Basically, if you take away the real opponents, you greatly diminish the chances that somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt.
Co-op gaming isn’t the end-all be-all, and competitive PvP is still absolutely a legitimate thing. But the ability to avoid pain while maximizing pleasure — the ability to chase my tail — is why co-op gaming has such a special place in my gaming ideology and my heart.