Better to lose with flair than to win?

One interesting aspect of Moskowitz’s Go Nation is his examination of the game’s rise among older working class men who usually play in parks. Honestly, it was refreshing to see players admitting that they played the game simply because it’s an interesting, challenging game (p. 135). It’s good and well to examine complex cultural characteristics that games help develop, and vice versa, but I think the first condition for a game to become that popular is to be so compelling and dynamic that people won’t easily tire of it.

One of the more intriguing aspects of working class park weiqi is the fact that play style has almost become more important that simply winning. As Moskowitz puts it, “the objective was not merely to win but to claim a decisive victory with dramatic flair” (p. 124). He goes on to argue that this domination of one’s opponent was a way for these working class men to express masculinity, even if it was the wu masculinity that Chinese elites tended to look down upon.

This emphasis on play style has some parallels with soccer. Perhaps more than any of the team sports that a more popular in America, the quality of a match (from the spectator’s point of view, at least) really depends on the playing style of the teams. Teams that risk more in attack by doing things like pushing more players up the field and stringing together passes near the opponent’s goal are looked at much more favorably by fans. However, these sorts of tactics can be risky because teams leave themselves vulnerable to quick counterattacks. Many teams play with a much more defensive, conservative emphasis that leads to the low scoring games for which Americans often criticize soccer. I don’t think this holds the same connotations for masculinity that Moskowitz argues are present in the more aggressive weiqi style of the Beijing parks. If anything, aggressive soccer relies more on finesse, agility, and technical skill, while conservative soccer involves the more typically masculine physicality and brute strength. Either way, some teams that have failed to win trophies but played with an attractive style are often remembered more fondly today than the teams that beat them. (The Netherlands teams who finished second in a couple World Cups in the 70’s and serve as an example, if anyone is curious.)

Either way, I think this idea of placing such value on something more than a simple win or loss is a curious one. The singular focus on winning or losing in games of competition seems to be taken as a given in some of the theoretical stuff we read early in the semester, and I’m not so sure that it should be.

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