I’ve always been a highly competitive person. I’ve been quite a football fan, too, and for a good many years I idolized Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. I quoted him often, especially when the topic game to winning. “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing,” he said.
At least, I thought he said it. As it turns out, Coach Lombardi wasn’t the first to utter those words. The true source of the quote is “Red” Sanders, the AFCA “Coach of the Year” in 1954.
OK, so I’ve been wrong all through the years. I’m wrong on a lot of things, and maybe a few of my thoughts about winning have been a bit off, as well. Maybe there’s a lot more to life than winning all the time.
Since you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a “simmer”, too, and it won’t surprise you when I say that I learned a lot about competition from playing “The Sims”. You’re right. The game has taught me many things, not the least of which is the importance of enjoying life without making everything a contest.
“The Sims” has never been about winning and losing. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a trend these days toward more “achievements” and “challenges” in the game, more little “scoring systems” for dates and parties. Even for weddings, too. In that sense, it is possible to win or lose while playing, but that’s not what The Sims was all about when it first appeared in 2000, and that’s not why it became the all-time #1 best-selling computer game. I hope in time the developers realize that winning, losing, and scorekeeping aren’t intended to be a major component in a life-simulation game.
Having said all that, though, let me next tell you that my thoughts on winning and losing weren’t actually inspired by the “open-ended” concept of the original game. What I learned about competition in life came from a family that’s probably very familiar to most players. It was the Pleasant family. Remember them?
Mr. Pleasant was in the sports career, incidentally. In my game, he was actually a football coach. Again, though, the lessons I learned had nothing to do with Coach Pleasant.
I learned about winning and losing from the two daughters of the family. Angela, the angelic one, and Lilith, her evil twin. The Sims franchise has never been too subtle when it comes to naming pre-made characters, you see.
Angela and Lilith were day and night and playing these twin girls was to act out a true morality play between the forces of good and evil. Of course, as the daughters of one of the most famous football coaches in Simeria, both girls were raised with a healthy dose of competitive spirit. In fact, I’m sure more than once their father spouted off that adage about winning being the only thing that really mattered.
Now, as a rule, I don’t usually play pre-made families — if only because I don’t care for EA’s hit-them-over-the-head-with-names approach. Please, EA, stop trying to make things so obvious for us. Let us decide who our characters are. OK, quick rant aside, back to the post. I usually delete or ignore pre-made families, but in Sims 2, I did play a few, including the Pleasant family.
I watched Lilith and Angela grow up, and I sent them off to college. They didn’t go to the same university, however. The two girls never got along all that well. There had always been a bit of rivalry between them. Now, I wanted a chance to focus on them individually. They were probably as tired of the “Oh, look, they’re twins!” reaction as real twins must sometimes be. Each girl deserved a chance to live her own life, I decided.
Angela did well. She studied hard, made good grades, and met a wonderful young man. But life wasn’t so easy for Lilith. Somehow as I played her character, the competitive spirit — hers and mine both, I guess — kicked in. Anything her sister did, she wanted to do better.
Poor Lilith knocked herself out. She burned the midnight oil and got straight A’s in all her classes. She went on a desperate search for “Mr. Right” and after a lot of late-nights and a string of bad dates, she finally found him and was soon engaged. She had out-performed her sister on both the academic and social fields, and she couldn’t wait to rub it in the next time she saw Angela.
“I did better than you.” That’s what she said. Over and over. It became a mantra for her. Always she had to do better. And you know what? Angela didn’t care…and that’s what upset Lilith most of all. Why wasn’t Angela willing to play the “one-upmanship” game? Didn’t she care about winning? Did she want to be a loser all of her life?
Honestly, I felt Lilith’s pain and confusion. At the same time, I felt a strange sort of peace surrounding Angela. I could hear her voice inside my head asking, “Why does it matter so much?” And I realized the truth. It didn’t matter. Angela was happy. Even though she hadn’t made straight A’s in college, her grades were good. Maybe she wasn’t engaged yet, but she was in love and why rush into marriage while she was still in school? Angela knew better than to get caught in a competitive trap of always trying to out-do someone else.
She turned to Lilith and I heard her say, “If you want to play the game, that’s fine, but I’m not playing any more.” The rivalry was over, and ultimately I knew Angela had been the real winner.
In so many ways, it went against everything I’d always believed about life, all those quotes about the importance of winning, all those struggles to always be the best and excel at everything I did. How much of it really mattered?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with winning. We all feel good when we win. We even feel good when our favorite sports teams win. When winning comes at the expense of happiness, however, it’s time to step back and take a look at what an overly-competitive nature can cost us.
I’ve now re-phrased that famous quote for my own life. What I’ve learned is this:
Winning can be good, but it’s not what matters most in life.