In our letters page, a reader writes: “We play Scrabble together happily. We call it ‘married scrabble’; if our partner needs a letter to make a good word we give it to them if we have it, and rejoice in their large score.”
Of course, our readers are without exception wise and far-sighted and brilliant, and it pains me to disagree with them on even the most minor of matters. But this is horrifying heretical filth, and anyone who plays any competitive game in this manner must be punished – as must all those who associate with them, or who live within the blast radius of any medium-yield nuclear devices which might happen to be detonated above their house.
I mean, it’s fair enough if you don’t like playing Scrabble. But if you’re going to play it, the entire point is to use the letters you have available to you, not whichever ones you happen to need. Otherwise you might as well just go through the bag and choose your favourite letters. “Q-U-I-Z-Z-I-C-A-L. I’ll just put it down over here on this triple word score!” “Oh well done, darling! Shall we call it a million points?” That’s not Scrabble, that’s just writing with tiles.
There is a certain mindset which doesn’t like competition, and while I can’t very easily understand it, there’s nothing actually wrong with it. One friend literally refuses to play any competitive games of any sort; someone else I know feels so guilty when he beats people at things so much that games become almost pointless, because he hates to play the killer move. There’s nothing wrong with that. People don’t like to beat other people. That’s fine.
Other people only like to win with style, and that’s fine too, if infuriating for people like me (I like to win by any legal means necessary, and don’t care if it’s with a park-the-bus defensive performance, or with a boring series of snookers, or by grimly exchanging pieces the moment I’m in the lead).
But there is an evil mindset, a terrible, dark mindset, which doesn’t like competition but insists on playing competitive games cooperatively anyway. Like our noncompetitive reader, who continues: “When we play with a fiercely competitive couple, we are not allowed to do this. We don’t enjoy these games as much.” Well. If we’re defining “fiercely competitive” as “refuses to let you cheat”, I fear we might be devaluing the currency somewhat.
I’ve lived this hell. My sister and I, in our distant youth, used to play a computer game called Dyna Blaster (you might know it as Bomberman). The idea was that you run around a maze, using bombs to blow up walls, monsters and, eventually, when you have cleared the path through the walls, each other. My sister, my own flesh and blood, used to insist on it being played cooperatively: she and whoever she was playing with would clear the maze, then the pair of them would immolate themselves together, so that Nobody Lost. She’d also happily pick up the ball in crazy golf and move it somewhere more amenable. “It’s only a game!”, she’d say, when I lost my temper.
Exactly! It’s only a game. And the game has rules. Without the rules, there is no game, there’s just moving stuff around arbitrarily. Scrabble has rules, and those rules involve not picking your favourite letters and arranging them on a triple word score and then giving yourself a round of applause.
There is, at least, a happy ending (sort of) to my family story: my sister has mended her ways, and now quite happily crushes me at Words With Friends without so much as breaking sweat (so far: played three, won three). But while the evil has been purged from the Chiverses, it still stalks the land, agreeing to let someone borrow from the bank in Monopoly, swapping cards in poker. That’s not how the game works. If you don’t like competition, go and do a jigsaw puzzle.