Posted by: maroonmaurader | November 2, 2010

The Competitive Tragedy

As Chris linked, there was recently a scandal in the competitive SSBB circuit regarding “match fixing.” Apparently it is common for the top players to split the victory pot from competitions.

I knew a pair of soccer players once who would regularly insult their opponents, foul them when the referee wasn’t watching, and generally do anything on the field they could get away with.

I’m sure everyone reading this has at some point played a board game with someone who found legalistic loopholes in rules or agreements made in board games to gain an advantage – a “rules lawyer.”

Each of these is chosen as an example of a situation where standards for competition have been “violated” by some of the participants, leading other participants to feel disgusted at the behavior of one of the participants. The simple explanation would be simply to say that some people are asses, but in my experience that only explains a small fraction of these.

The SSBB players referenced above see nothing wrong with their behavior, because they see it as encouraging a collegial atmosphere in which players are free of pressures and able to focus on enjoying their games. The soccer players I described would always go over after the game was over and shake the other players hand sincerely, and explain that it was nothing personal but just mind-games to try and throw the opponent off their stride… and were delighted when they were playing against someone who took the same attitude. The “rules lawyer” often views clear understanding of the rules and an eye towards the advantageous exception as a component of play which is not only fair game, but something everyone there is interested in and appreciative of.

The more common explanation in my experience is not malice or selfishness, but a disagreement over what standards should apply to “friendly competition.” In that sense, competition can give rise to an interesting counterpoint to an Abilene paradox. In the Abilene paradox, a lack of understanding about the preferences of the members of the group leads to general unhappiness because everyone assumes their preferences are in the minority when in fact they are in unanimous majority. In some cases of competition, a lack of understanding about the preferences of the members of the group leads to general unhappiness because everyone assumes they are in unanimous majority when in fact they are in a minority.

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