Sunday, June 14, 2009

Punching Yourself in the Face

You know I’m gonna lose and gambling is for fools,
But that’s the way I like it, baby I don’t want to live forever.

-Motörhead “Ace of Spades”

As a gigantic hockey fan, I spent a lot of my childhood getting my fix from video games.

It started with the original Nintendo’s Ice Hockey and games against my younger brother. In the mid 1990s, when Sega’s version evolved to allow the creation of players, I built every Washington Capitals roster and won the Stanley Cup Playoffs with each one. By the time college rolled around, I had a Nintendo 64 and played full seasons with my favorite NHL teams.

Through these years of practice, I naturally got better than most people; with my proclivity towards gambling, small wagers were the next logical step. I often wish I had kept records of these early bets, but am happier that my opponents did not. At the end of each session, while counting a larger number of bills in my pocket, I always wondered why they played a game that was guaranteed to lose them money.

One friend of mine started to use the video game to really explore his inner demons. His competitive nature and desire for the glorious rush of gambling eventually pushed the stakes as high as $300 per game. Yes, he improved and won many times, but as we played, my skills also increased and I naturally maintained a consistent edge. It was MY GAME after all. I was "the house," the eighty-foot-tall leviathan of statistics. Slowly, or all in one gulp,

A couple of times, after he lost, he punched the wall hard enough for pain, and then he made a show of thinking his hand was broken. While these bizarre performances were strangely entertaining, they did not prepare me for the day he punched himself full on in the face.

It happened very suddenly, but I will never forget the savage, flesh-smacking sound of his self-flagellation. His eyes were wild and desperate as he tried to convince me to keep playing. Reluctantly, I agreed, but after another loss and another face punch, I put the controller down.

Some players use gambling to satisfy their unconscious need to punch themselves in the face. For some reason, they willingly play games they can’t win, and they repeatedly make bets that will surely lose money. All the logic, math, and rational thought in the world cannot dissuade them from pursuing this strange urge for financial self-destruction.

My friend’s face punching illustrates how this unconscious urge to lose is intimately connected with a desire for self-destruction (see Freud’s “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”).

If you like to gamble, please give yourself a long look in the mirror, and explore your true motivations. You might save yourself a good deal of money by simply punching yourself in the face.

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