Like Hell I lost, I was trying to feed the mushroom creatures!

Have you noticed that sometimes during video game play, players try to redefine the goals?
This can happen verbally or it can happen through actions as when a player starts shooting his team-mates for the heck of it.

Often, I think, it is related to certain future defeat. The losing player tries to redefine the goals to signal that he wasn’t really playing that game after all. When he loses, he will not really have lost.

Do you agree? Do you recognize the phenonenon?

Anyway, I wrote a brief section for my dissertation on the topic. Redefining game goals
Although an infrequent occurrence, players sometimes toyed with the idea of redefining the game goals. As mentioned earlier, Lazzaro (2004) observed how

To have more fun newbies ‘act out’ when paired with better players. In multiplayer games beginners use gross motor control to run into, shoot at, and push over more experienced players. They often ignore agreed on game goals and do something surprising for a few moments of laughter. (Lazzaro, 2004: p21)

At no time did such strong telic redefinition occur in my study. Indeed, I use the verb “toy” since the redefinition which did occur was mostly playful; partly ironic ways of saving face following defeat either personally (in the case of Mashed) or collectively (FIFA). Redefinition did not occur during CoN play.

In Group 5’s Mashed session, William has just crashed into a mine and says jokingly that

William: It’s not about winning, it’s about having fun.

As Maria is leaving the other two players behind and rubs their noses in it, Daniel takes up the theme, echoed by William. Maria ironically concedes the point and William makes fun of Daniel’s and his own attempt to save face:

William: It’s not about winning or losing, it’s just about having fun
Daniel: YEs. It’s not about winning, it’s about participating
Marie: No, that’s right
Daniel: It’s not about winning, it’s about participating. That’s the kind of thing, that’s the kind of thing Brøndby [soccer club] fans would say.

In Group 1’s session, Lars encourages Mikkel noting how he is the only one to have scored a “kill”. Mikkel replies

Mikkel: Oh. Oh well, that’s was what I went for [smiles]

Later in the game, Lars ironically uses the same technique on his own behalf:

Lars: I had the most unforced errors. That was me.

Neither player is certain what constitutes an “unforced error” but they are well aware that errors should be minimized not maximized. Lars’ comment is a joke playing on the convention that counted achievements in games are positive.
A variation on the theme is evident in Group 6’s session in which two comments hint at aesthetic dimensions. Carl indicates that style is a factor:

Carl: Oops! [points] I won in a cool way [laughs]

Later, Anne hints that while Carl may have shown himself to be the best player, he has a fault:

Anne: But you have no style, you are wearing a white helmet in a black car like that.

In FIFA, redefinition generally occurs once frustration sets in at the difficulty of the exercise. It seems a consequence of the players being virtually forced to abandon the idea of actually winning matches. In Group 4’s session, Adam soon comments on the players’ lack of success by saying:

Adam: (). That’s right [the players pass to each other]. (). We got past the mid field, that’s pretty good.

And he later displays satisfaction at actually coming close to scoring:

Adam: Yes, that was a shot at their goal.

Similarly Group 5 members joke about lowering the bar:

William: The first shot at their goal
Daniel: A victory in itself [just after Wlliam’s statement]
Daniel: Our goal must be to only lose by two goals this time
Daniel: Now he can chew on that. Now the goal must be to injure as many as possible in the time left.

It certainly is the case that players who are doing poorly occasionally talk about redefining game goals. This is consistent with the idea that some players attempt to avoid losing (or minimize the importance of formal defeat) by declaring their non-adherence to the objective goals. But it is crucial to acknowledge that this behaviour only occurred in a playful or ironic context in the study. The difference between the “strong” redefinition reported by Lazzaro and the tongue-in-cheek version reported here may be explained by the more formal nature of the study setting, perhaps encouraging players to adhere more closely to the game contract.

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