How Tabletop Gaming Can Help You Succeed

Month 2 of 2017. Is it really that different? I hope it finds you in good spirits and not wrung out already from re-entry into the work place. What does this year have for you that last year could not offer? We previously discussed New Years resolutions and what genuine optimism is about. It is a funny thing starting anew. Everything can feel hopeful and exciting until the holiday ends and the drudgery of work sets in, as I am currently experiencing now. At some point our year of expectations and good intentions turns into a replica of last year moving from day to day waiting for the weekend. What then? Last year I set myself the challenge of playing 10 games 10 times. It was a good experience with a great deal to show for it. I learned about getting to know the ins and outs of certain games, as well as realising when you have learned enough and can just enjoy the experience. Yet there were some games I played that I never quite solved. A couple that I did not win despite my many times of play. Was it all for naught? I think that the games that are well known favourite and the challenging (or not easy to win) games both have a valued place in my collection.

Ghost Stories board game ten by ten challengeGhost Stories… it ain’t easy.

It is easy to open a game I have mastered and know what I am in for. Win or lose I have a strategy and plan and can anticipate some fun drawing on my experience and familiarity with the game to get me through. They are fun and I often pack up the box refreshed and invigorated. But what about those games I am yet to win? Those games provide me with a much harder challenge as I know they are fun, but to win them is something that drives me to actually work harder. It seems silly that a hobby that is designed to help me have fun and relax can almost generate the opposite response in me, but it is one I actually embrace as part of my growth. It is not a bad thing that I have not won certain games. It is just a matter of time, effort, and deliberate practice.

While there are some games that will take many attempts to beat it is not always a matter of simply playing them over and over again to improve. There is a misconception that if one can just put in the hours of practice he or she will eventually get a good at anything. Sadly this simply isn’t true. I could run every day and surround myself with the best motivational posters and still never come close to winning an Olympic gold medal in long distance. If this example is a bit abstract allow me to bring it into a more familiar realm. I could play Magic the Gathering every day for years and never come close to getting into the hall of fame. Some things take more than just hours of work. The reality is that if I want to improve I need to set goals, focus on what I am doing, and actively seek to fix mistakes, and often with guidance from professionals. This is true of anyone who hopes to grow and develop skills. Anders Ericsson spent his career researching what sets apart professionals and experts from amateurs and hobbyists. He believes it comes down to what he calls deliberate practice.

deliberate practice in the board gaming hobbyA little deliberate practice

His research led Ericsson to look at professional and amateur singers and compared how they practice. He found that those who engaged in practice reported higher instances of feeling fulfilled and happy in both the professional and amateur groups. But it was ONLY in the amateur groups where people experienced feeling elated after their practice sessions. The difference was that some amateurs would go to rehearsal and sing to express themselves and have fun. But professionals used practice sessions as moments to intensely examine and evaluate what they were doing and used these moments to work on areas that needed improvement. They were always focused on what they were doing. At no point would they allow themselves to get caught up in the moment because doing so would hinder their ability to see where their technique was improving or where it was lagging.

This was obviously more exhausting and a main reason why professionals did not report feeling elated after practice. Yet this intense focus paid off when it came to performance and competition. It was when they could perform that they were able to experience elation. So if the amateur and hobbyist experience elation more often it is worth asking why anyone would bother being so committed as a professional? I guess that depends on what I am trying to achieve. If my New Years resolution are genuinely challenging me to grow, then I may need to work and think like a professional. If my goal is to just add value to what I already do then perhaps I just need to think like the amateur. Both are rewarding, just in different ways. Say I want to get onto Magic's Port Tour. I will need to work intensely on my game, looking for flaws in my play, card selection, ability to manage new and a variety of situations. The Pro Tour can be a lot of hard work to get on. But say my goal is to relax more and find more opportunity to play games. Clearly intense practice is unwarranted for such a goal. Yet both goals are about adding value to your life and well worth pursuing.

Magic the Gathering World ChampionshipsMtG World Championships.. and those Volpin Props trophies. Now there’s a guy who practices his craft.

While reading Ericsson's research I felt the same with those games I have been working on to perfect through the ten by ten challenge. When I play I am constantly looking at the outcome of my decisions, the positional heuristics and directional heuristics, the risk and rewards, and so forth. This way I'm edging my way forward. This is until I do eventually learn how to win the game. Well, as far as one can with competitive games. But I do not approach every game the same way. Some are just for fun. Both have value to me, and both are rewarding in different ways. But honestly, nothing beats working through the challenges of a big task and finally seeing your hard work pay off. This year I hope that you see success in whatever challenges and New Year's resolutions you have set. And if it is a challenge that you are seeking I can recommend giving Ericsson's work a look at. If you are looking to just ad value to what you are already doing, I hope it leaves you feeling elated. All the best this New Year.