Recently, Ninja, a competitive gamer, took issue with the phrase “It’s just a game” on Twitter. It seems that he finds that there is something very wrong with being okay with losing.
On February 18 Ninja tweeted,
The phrase “it’s just a game” is such a weak mindset. You are ok with what happened, losing, imperfection of a craft. When you stop getting angry after losing, you’ve lost twice. There’s always something to learn, and always room for improvement, never settle.
In most circumstances, one should not be completely judged by one tweet. According to Jim Sterling, in his latest Jimquisition, Ninja acknowledges in his book that many people do not share his views on competitive gaming and he finds that okay. Furthermore, competitive gaming is what makes up his living and identity so he’s likely rather emotionally invested in what he does. There’s also nothing wrong with a reasonable desire to improve oneself. Nevertheless, without context, such a tweet can be seen as encouraging a sort of elitism and an unhealthy perspective of gaming.
Such a perspective is unhealthy in the spiritual sense as well. Imagine samsara as a battle royale game. Many beings are competing for resources, trying to increase their happiness, largely at the expense of others. Some get to go to a heavenly realm while most do not. However, much like a champion in a battle royale, those who go to heaven eventually fall. And the process keeps going with much blood, sweat, and tears because everyone gets highly invested as their identities become dependent on it. This is Mara’s game.
Now imagine if someone decided that they were not going to play anymore. Instead of competing with their fellow beings, they practiced generosity in giving. Eventually, they take this sense of generosity to such a degree that they refrain from certain actions and so give the gift of safety. They then go on to make a pure land that is, in a sense, outside the game. Finally, they invite others to join them and, little by little, the game breaks.
Much of the Buddhist tradition follows along these lines.* Renunciation can be a way of saying “I’m done.” The Noble Ones are those who have decided to stop playing by Mara’s rules.
We don’t necessarily have to be buddhas and bodhisattvas to pull ourselves from the game. We can let their example help us slowly put it down. Furthermore, we can also accept our losses and stumbles because with them comes wisdom.
And its not that a little competition is all together bad. The Buddha saw some good in healthy competition so long as it lead to awakening, such as in the Gavesin Sutta.
However, the main point of this post is that to whatever extent we can have faith and practice generosity with one another, our collective action will start changing our karmic situation. Maybe, one day, merit and demerit will be a memory as we’ll all walk in a pure land of our own making. One can aspire for that.
Namo Amida Bu
*Spiritual competition can be a problem in Buddhism as well wherein individuals can use their labels of gender and status against others.