Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Too much competition?

One of the great facets I find in studying game theory is that I am naturally competitive. I am never good at sitting down to play a game and not actively trying to win. I don't always strategize with the same ferocity, but rarely do I throw a game on purpose---even if doing so would be a social victory for me. It's easy to be too competitive!

I still hope to teach a combinatorial games course, and a big part of that would be playing different games during class time. Despite the fact that I would not keep track of wins and losses, I am afraid that some students may believe they are losing too often. Whether or not they are a "sore loser" this can still be very emotionally degrading. How can I do well in this course if I can't even play the games well?

Of course, you can still gain a really strong understanding of the game while losing. It's not true that being a good player is equivalent to being a good game theorist. This is likely not something that is immediately clear, though. So far I have no actual experience teaching this sort of course, so I don't know how to drive this point home.

Does anyone have any good suggestions? How can I convince students it is okay to play poorly?

People in general are competitive, and this lends well to taking a good interest in games. Unfortunately, that could play against the study if the competitive aspect becomes too great.


  1. One work around is to have students play as teams instead of one-on-one and ask them to explore strategies to build up intuition rather than just focusing on winning.


  2. Oooh! That seems like a good idea. Do you run into problems where students feel left out of the decision-making on their team?

    Another option might be to just tell everyone to rotate tables throughout class (and not necessarily with warning). In this way, they have to leave the game they're in the middle of and start looking at one they're unfamiliar with.