Monday, June 2, 2014

"Risk"ing Your Feelings

I have, as long as I can remember, always liked games. Seriously, as far back as I can remember. Like, when I was less than five, my cousin, who was three years older than me, and I walked three miles from my great-grandmother's house to her (mostly unused) house to get Mouse Trap ("You roll your dice, you move your mice; nobody gets hurt."), because that's what we wanted to play. I'm not sure anyone knew where we went, and I'm not sure anyone knew we were gone. But, you know, it was the East Texas countryside, and we were rarely where anyone knew where we were most of any given day.

As it turned out, though, when we got there, we discovered that about half of the pieces to the trap were missing and all of the cheese. So, yeah, we got to walk back empty-handed.

At any rate, well before the age of ten, I began having... issues... finding anyone willing to play anything with me. Except, maybe, Battle. Or War. Or whatever you call it. You know, the card game where you just flip over the top card and the player with the high card wins. That one was pure chance, so I could still get people to play that one with me. Then I discovered Risk.

I was in middle school. I'm not really sure how I got introduced to the game, though it may have been at school or, maybe, it was just a present or something I got for a birthday. At any rate, Risk became the game that people were willing to play with me. My brother and my friends and his friends and such. The reason? They could team up against me. Seriously.

Of course, it didn't just start out that way, but it didn't take long for them to realize that that is what it would take for them to have a chance to beat me, and it became the way every game started. Every game. It was just accepted that everyone started out with the goal of beating me and they would worry about each other later. Actually, it was not uncommon for them to just quit playing once they'd defeated me.

I lost a lot of games that way. BUT I still won games, too. Probably something like 1/3 of them. Sometimes, it was upsetting, the whole thing with having everyone always set against me. It's tough when you're 12 to deal with the fact that everyone wants to see you lose. Actually, it's difficult to deal with that at any age, but middle school is already the worst, and always having everyone team up against me made it the worst of the worst.

And it didn't stop there. I started getting into other strategy games in high school and carried that on into college and, pretty much, that became the routine I had to deal with in any group game. Everyone's goal was always to take me out as quickly as possible. The catch was, and I had known this since middle school, if I wanted to play, I just had to deal with it. And I wanted to play.

And that's the way a lot of things in life are. Not the having everyone team up against you but the balancing of the potential of having your feelings hurt against doing the thing you want to do. That's especially true in writing. You have to know going in that you're going to get your feelings hurt at some point. The question is, "Is it worth the Risk to get to do that thing you want to do?" (Look, another version of Risk!)
So I'm going to focus on the writing part since that's what I do, but you can apply this to, well, anything.

When you set out to be a writer, a published one, you really need to go into it with the mindset of having everyone teamed up against you, everyone wanting to see you lose. Which is not to say that everyone actually wants to see you lose, but everyone is playing their own game, and they are all trying to win, so it's not like anyone is on your side, not in any real sense. You're not part of a team like the guys who always teamed up to make sure that I didn't win. You are on your own.

And, then, there are the reviews. Mostly, it's the lack of reviews, but it's also the negative reviews, and you have to go into it knowing that that's going to happen, so you have to go into it willing to put your feelings aside in exchange for getting to do the thing you want to do: writing. You have to put your feelings at Risk.
(Look! Another version of Risk!)
There was one time in college where we were playing a game of Risk down in the lobby of the dorm, five or six of us. One of the guys was really exhorting everyone to go after me. He started in on it as soon as we were setting up. It's not like anyone needed that much convincing, but he just wouldn't stop going on about it, so I decided I would make sure that he, at least, went out before me and started working on his armies. As I got pushed back, I pushed into his territory and slowly took him out of the game. The more he started to lose, the louder he got about everyone taking me out of the game, right up until I broke his last major stronghold, at which point he flipped out, flipped the board up into the air, thew the table over, and stormed out of the room. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for authors to act the same way over a bad review.
(And look again, another version of Risk!)
When you act like that, no one will want to play with you anymore. I have to tell you, it pissed me off, because it was my Risk board that he sent flying all over the room, and it took hours to find all of the little army counters. Oh, no, wait a minute, I didn't find all of the army tokens. I never asked him to join a game again and, guess what, no else ever asked him to play any other game with us again. Ever. All it took was that one moment of poor sportsmanship and no one wanted to Risk another explosion on his part.

You make your choices going in, but you have to be willing to take the consequences. You put your feelings aside in order to get to play the game or you explode to find that no one wants to play with you. Or work with you. Or be around you. Or all they want to do is push the big giant button you've shown yourself to have and they spend their time provoking you just because it's fun.

Personally, I wan to play the game, and I've had, I suppose, pretty good training in dealing with situations where I have to fight the odds to win. Of course, when you do win, it makes victory so much better.

By the way, I still love Risk. I don't get to play it very often, but I love the game.
The multiple versions could be a giveaway, I don't know. This isn't even all the versions I own; these were just the ones conveniently accessed. Right now, my kids are lobbying for this one:
Maybe Christmas...


  1. I'll admit, when I first saw the opening picture to this post (Risk) I was hesitate because I have an older sibling who would make me play Risk (there were only the two of us) and then kick my ass unmercifully at it. So, I was hesitant.

    But you are correct with the analogy. We're all playing our own games and sometimes people do want to see you lose. The good thing about marketing your book/piece is that you can keep trying different campaigns (ways of promotion). I don't feel like it's just one shot. JK Rowling is proof of that -- her masterpiece kept getting shot down, hurting her already depressed self-esteem, and look what Harry Potter became.

    We all have to keep trying to get a hold of Asia and keep it. Because, as any Risk play knows, you can NEVER hold on to Asia for that long. Great one, Andrew!

  2. Never played Risk. Have a friend who buys every board game which comes along. Have enjoyed many of them. I still love Monopoly.

  3. Dr. Who Risk? That seems weird. I love Risk. I still have an old version of it but no one to play with. I used to have an online version on my cell phone but it can be kind of annoying when the computer starts kicking your butt. My favorite territory was always Greenland because you can only attack it from two directions I think plus you have access to North America and Europe.

  4. I've never played Risk either. Mouse Trap, however, is a different story. We never owned it, but a kid down the street did and, for whatever reason, I thought of her as rich because she had such a cool game.

    This is a great post, Andrew. So much about putting your writing into other people's hands is about handling rejection gracefully--using good critiques to help you improve and ignoring the ones that are useless to you as a writer. And hey, you were clearly the best game player in the neighborhood if everyone wanted to take you out first :)

  5. I've never played Risk either. Mouse Trap, however, is a different story. We never owned it, but a kid down the street did and, for whatever reason, I thought of her as rich because she had such a cool game.

    This is a great post, Andrew. So much about putting your writing into other people's hands is about handling rejection gracefully--using good critiques to help you improve and ignoring the ones that are useless to you as a writer. And hey, you were clearly the best game player in the neighborhood if everyone wanted to take you out first :)

  6. I loved Risk when I was in middle school/high school. And while it's true that everyone is technically against you, this is why I like forming my own 'team.' Not with the goal of overtaking others, but banding together and being support for one another.

    Also, there's nothing more pathetic than an author who has all of their friends go slam a negative review and start fights with the reviewer. I've seen it many times, especially on Facebook, and the sad thing is that most of the times these reviews are just being brutally honest. You can't hate someone for saying "I felt this was too slow and I didn't care for the story" and call it a personal attack, because it's not.

    Also, just so you know, I'm about 3/4 done with that chapter and plan to get it to you tomorrow or Wednesday. I know I don't have to, but it's just coming out and developing itself. Also, having my first chapter done will help it continue to formulate in the back of my mind.

  7. Never played Risk and most of those type of strategy games seemed to complex for me. Oh, I was curious and would have liked to play, but just never seemed to get any of them. Parcheesi was one of the games where my sister would delight in seeing me lose and vice versa.

    I'm not totally sure I would agree with you about the writing game. Most people seem kind of encouraging on the blogs and all. I guess I just haven't run into the ganging up thing and negativity to any great extent. But then again I can see what you're saying. I guess in that inner desire to be the one on top you have to see some losers behind you. I'd just hate to actively be one who was holding others back.

    Tossing It Out

  8. To extend the writing analogy back to Risk itself, I'm the "bestselling first novelist who never writes another book for fear of sucking" of playing Risk in our household. That is, I played one game of Risk with Andrew and the kids, years ago, wherein I wiped everyone out within just a few turns. So I can never, ever play again because I have too much rep to uphold. The kids regard me with fear and awe to this day (although Andrew knows it was just lucky rolls).

  9. My brothers played risk a ton growing up! I like this analogy. It definitely matters how you react to reviews (especially the bad ones). I've even heard people who don't read their reviews, period. Although I think I'd like to know what people are saying about my work...not sure!

  10. I stopped playing Risk for that very reason. I get pissed off when people think it's... what's the word?... admirable to win by taking out the best player.

    It got to the point where my brother made himself lose in order to make me lose when I could have won, and I lost my taste for it.

    AAAAANYWAY. Very good analogy. It's true that if you want to play the author game, you have to roll with the punches. Even if the punches should KO you. Otherwise, it's probably better to bow out gracefully.

  11. I think one of the reasons I stopped playing competitive games was because everyone seemed geared to beat me. Maybe it at least prepared me for writing. I at least won't flip out and wreck the game.

  12. Apparently my husband and his brother were really into Risk when he was a kid. I won't play Monopoly with him because he loves all the strategy of buying up multiple properties and bankrupting everyone else. I'm more of a "roll and move around the board" type of player! I'm not sure how that translates to writing...

  13. Jean: There are ways to hold Asia; they just include having Australia, Africa, and Europe, first.

    Jo: I like Monopoly, too, but it's a hard game to get people to play, too.

    Pat: Yeah, the Dr. Who Risk looks awesome!

    Jessica: Isn't it funny how some games are like that? Mouse Trap was like that for me, too. And Hungry Hungry Hippos.

    ABftS: Yeah, been there done that.

    I'm looking forward to the chapter!

    Lee: Risk is a good place to start if you want to try a strategy game.

    Obviously, you haven't spent much time around goodreads and seen the pack behavior of taking people down that sometimes happens there.

    Sarah: It's just your excuse to get out of playing. :P

    Cortney: I think being able to read your reviews is an important skill to learn.

    Misha: Yeah, if you can't take it, don't play.

    Jeanne: Good to hear that.

    Stephanie: That sounds like the difference between a pantser and a plotter.

  14. Maybe I need to get over to Goodreads and check out all the back-biting and mud-slinging. I need some excitement. Well, maybe not that kind.

    Tossing It Out

  15. YES- Hungry, Hungry Hippos got the same reaction from me! I wanted that game so badly (this comment is in reply to your comment back to me :))

  16. Star Wars Risk? I want.

    My favorite game EVER was "Axis & Allies." If you like Risk, you'd probably like that one. I also liked "Starcraft" on the computer -- a bit like Risk, but in space.

    As for the all authors out to get each other? I suppose that's right, but I've never played that way. Study after study shows that book sales beget more book sales. So the more books you sell, the more books I sell. I always try to help out authors I like (you, PT, Rusty, Maurice, etc.) because I figure it'll help me out, too-- people liking indie authors makes them potentially like me. PLUS, if one of you makes it big, I figure you'll remember us little folk and maybe throw us a bone now and then.

    But seriously: authors who don't support other authors are just dumb. I think a lot of people think that way. I retweet any literary magazine I see on Twitter, plus lots of other authors, and they do it back. I think they understand, too: people who read REALLY like to read.

    That's why I thought it was so great when you had the idea of putting stories from other authors in your books. I don't know if anyone who read "Augurs" in your book went and got one of mine, but I saw the reviews and it made me feel good. That was probably one of the greatest ideas, ever. Seriously.

    I'd play you in Risk. But I am AWFUL at it. I have no head for strategy. Sweetie used to beat me at it all the time.

  17. Lee: I'd point you the way, but I don't really keep up with that stuff. I only ever hear about it way after the fact.

    Jessica: The other one I really wanted when I was a kid was Life. It's like my parents wouldn't let me have anything with any kind of elaborate parts or something.

    Briane: There's even more than one version Star Wars Risk!
    One day, when we're on our big book signing tours, we'll do a big game of Risk. It can even be Star Wars.

    I hope that that idea is one that ends up making a difference. It's hard to know, right now, but I hope it does.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. My two older boys and all their college friends love RISK. They set up a huge tournament with three boards in my house one summer. It was fun to have the Xbox off and I could actually play too and win!

  23. Sue: Maybe I will have to challenge them!

  24. That was the best post I've read in a long time.