Think or Swim: Positive Habits of Gaming

We had all traveled to the farm for my brother in law’s wedding. My wife and I, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, a couple of friends, and the faithful farm dog Jessie all crammed under one roof for a week. Thank goodness one of us thought to bring board games. It is not like anyone was specifically into table top games, but my enthusiasm mixed with country television made for a convincing combination.

I sat at the table with my wife’s aunt and uncle, my sister-in-law and her friend. I opened up the box as I explained that we are all swimming in the ocean, trying to escape a very hungry shark. I pushed the box of “Get Bit” to the side and gave people an opportunity to play with their swimmers. Having explained the rest of the game we dove straight in. I lined up our swimmers and placed the shark at the end.

In “Get Bit” each player has a hand of cards numbered 1-7, which are colour-coded to indicate which swimmer is yours. Players select a card secretly and place it face down on the table. All cards are revealed simultaneously and the corresponding player’s swimmers are moved to the front of the line in order of lowest card to highest card. The swimmer at the end of the line after the movement phase gets bit by the shark and loses an appendage. The twist is that if two or more players play the same numbered card as someone else at the table those players do not get to move their swimmer. So even quite a low numbered card has the potential to avoid a shark bite. Last player to lose all their arms and legs is the winner.

Get Bit Card Game - Gameapalooza Australia InstagramGet Bit! Lose arms and legs, but have fun doing so.

“Get Bit” was a hit with the family. Early into our game however a rather tense situation developed between my aunt and uncle. Into our second or third round my aunt started complaining and getting rather grumpy at her husband for continually choosing the same card as her. Her swimmer was at the back of the line meaning it did not move and resulted in the loss of a limb. Much to the dismay of everyone else she protested that her husband was picking on her. We tried to explain that there was no way anyone could reliably choose the same card as her, due to the hidden selection process. This did not seem to satisfy and she looked and sounded upset still after her early elimination. This may seem unreasonable, but I think there is an explanation. In fact, I saw this behaviour a lot when I was playing Yugioh competitively, and may have displayed it myself on more than one occasion. I should quickly note before continuing that my aunt did persevere and play more “Get Bit” growing as fond of the game as the rest of us.

Last week I shared my experience of dealing with ‘Negative Habits of Mind’ while playing the game “Dungeon Twister”. I spoke about two negative habits that regularly affect my students, as well as having an impact of everyday gamers. As negative habits of mind is a broad topic, I wanted to finish off this discussion by sharing a couple more major habits and some thoughts on managing this at the table and beyond.
Sometimes a bad run on a game can get inside your head and, as I suggested above, the reactions can be strong and lacking in a reason. I have seen people throw out dice after DnD sessions because they rolled badly, I have seen people curse their Yugioh deck for drawing badly, rip up cards for not performing well, get angry at games for providing bad draws, and much more. What I am describing is not light-hearted nerd rage, but red faced, fist clenching, teeth grinding frustration. I find this to be as rational as my aunt’s response during Get Bit.

Magic the Gathering Tableflip

“Compare and Despair” is a negative habit of mind that is reinforced from an early age, especially in our culture. As a kid we are constantly comparing what others have to ourselves, and often our judgement of ourselves is much more negative. “But John’s parents got him (insert desire)” is a common rationale for children who want a toy. Despite the efforts of adults, we struggle to break free of comparing ourselves to others. This may be because advertisers make a huge living off of selling us on their product by using comparison. “Tim has a harder life than Sally because he does not have our product. Don’t have a hard life like Tim, be smart like Sally and buy our product”. This is a basic breakdown, but watch the ads on TV one night and see for yourself. On a side note, this is also the purpose of celebrity advertising. “I like Brad Pitt, I want to be like Brad Pitt, and so if I have this product I will be closer to being more like Brad Pitt”. This is a similar issue that we find in schools with academic ranking of students. We tell students to stop comparing themselves to others and then have a whole system that provides feedback on how they are doing in school, based on results that rank them to other students. So comparison gets pretty ingrained into our conscious despite efforts from adults to tell us otherwise.

Sadly we struggle to assess our situation in an objective and reasonable manner. This is why the negative habit is called “Compare and Despair”. We seem incapable of comparing ourselves to others and feeling better about our situation. Coupled with our comparison is the negative habit Perspective Judgements. Instead of seeing a situation as it is we make judgements about the situation that are often wrong, because of our inability to compare objectively and explore alternate perspectives. My aunt did not simply see an unfortunate series of events, where her husband randomly selected the same card as her, she made a judgement on the situation based on how she felt after comparing and despairing. Her emotional reasoning of “I’m feeling bad, and so things must be bad”, resulted in a judgment that she was being picked on.

Fortunately my aunt has good resilience and started to employ her strategies for snapping out of those mindsets. These are really hard mindsets to manage with students and are insidious as they often persist throughout adulthood. The danger that comes from not dealing with these habits is the formation of negative beliefs. Thinking, emotions, and belief are all linked. If I cultivate a negative habit it can result in negative emotions which assists in forming negative beliefs. For instance I compare and despair, I feel bad, so I reason there must be something wrong with me as a person. I then have a belief that there is something wrong with me as a person, something goes wrong, I then feel bad and I reinforce that false belief. See how the cycle goes?


When I was playing Yugioh competitively this cycle was something I had to learn to break out of quickly. When facing challengers in national competitions I had to assess what was happening in game and be aware of how my emotions were guiding my thoughts. Some duels were brutal, and what I learned to do was look for opportunity. I would assume that no matter how badly the game was going there were things in the duel I did well, things beyond my control, and opportunities for improvement. Using that framework of analyzing my play allowed me to see each game in a more objective light, and help me focus on what I could do to grow and improve and acknowledge what is beyond my control. As for my emotions I have since learned a method I like to call the Spock method. I pretend I am Spock observing human emotions happening inside me. I then use Spock’s voice and note what emotions are occurring often naming them as “fascinating captain” and “how peculiar”. I then try to scientifically theorise why those emotions are occurring, “I can see I am feeling anger, perhaps I believed I had more control over the draw of the cards then was possible. Illogical”. I examine the belief and call them for what they are. It is a skill that has been a lot of help beyond the gaming table as well.

Games are a wonderful adventure and fun time for all. They are also a brilliant place to learn about how we think and act within the world. What’s more, they are the perfect chance to fail and learn before going out into the world. For me games are not a simple escape from the world, but a wonderful tool for helping myself and my students to grow and learn in a safe environment. I should not need a reason to play more games, but as far as reasons go, this is a good one.

Article Written by: David.
Be sure and read his previous piece The Negative Habits of Gaming.