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Reiner Knizia has famously and confusingly said:

When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.

As an analogy, let’s say you wanna get fit so you decide to take a walk. You decide to go to the park. Now, the intended destination of your walk is the park, and the purpose of the walk is to get fit.

Russ has a post investigating the origins of the quote with other variants that make it clearer what Knizia meant.

I don’t like this 2002 version:

It’s not about winning. I mean, I want to win, but winning is not important. It’s about measuring your wits with other people, seeing how you come out, and seeing the reactions of the others.

I don’t agree with that. I play games to have shared experiences with friends and fam. In the walk-to-the-park analogy, the intended destination is to win the game but the reason I play is for the company and community.

Here is a version from a few months later that I think is great:

We all thrive to win - even though winning as such is utterly unimportant. It is the objective, the aspiration that counts.

I like it.

There are players who are super concentrated, focused, power-gaming, using advanced strategy like probability calculations, tracking hidden game state and so on, but are still being friendly and congenial and polite. They make actions in the game that are directed towards winning, but they’re not staring daggers or shouting or being cruel and short. They realize that the reason for the activity is to hang out with friends & fam. Winning is merely the beacon or signpost that directs that activity, and as such, they play the game to the best of their ability, accepting the current limits of that ability while still trying to improve. The never-ending road towards mastery of a craft or hobby can be a very satisfing experience.

I kinda wanna quote the entire “Outcomes” chapter here. It’s chapter 3.3 in Characteristics of Games. It lists a bunch of different endstates a game could have (if any), like “everyone wins”, or “a team or alliance can win”. Some games like RPGs don’t feel like winning or losing; the characters can experience success or failure but a well-played character failure can be a player success at the same time. I dunno.

Y’all know I am a Mel (probably better known as lawful evil) when it comes to most games, even RPGs. The first thing I look at in a game is the rules, and few things makes me as stoked for a session as trying out new rules; sometimes player-facing (“here are some new crafting rules I made for y’all!”) and sometimes just DM procedures. That’s my “mastery”, that’s where I try to find a flow state. The purpose is the shared experiences with friends & fam, and the intended destination is finding, appreciating, applying, understanding, and making good rules.

Karin Boye put it perfectly:

There is a goal, and we see through it,
and yet the journey’s why we do it.