Harrison Alley


If you’re bad at games, first know you are not alone. 

I am also a below-average game player whether that’s in sports, board games, video games, or almost any type of game.  

But even besides me, countless people in the world aren’t very good at games. 

And if you are one of them, that’s ok. 

A human’s worth is not in their ability to play games. 

Rather, a person’s worth comes from the fact that they are made in the image of God. 

At least, that’s what I believe

Regardless, you don’t need to be good at games to have a fulfilling life. 

But before we go there, let’s talk about some of the reasons you may be below average at games. 

You have low self-esteem.

People with low self-esteem typically take losses harder than those who have better self esteem. 

In other words, those with low self-esteem often dwell on their losses more deeply and longer than those who don’t.

For those who have lower self-esteem, it can be hard to imagine how higher self-esteem people operate.

To illustrate, in college, I once played squash with one of my most confident, high self-esteem friends.

Before we started playing, he told me had never lost a game.

We played a few games, two of which he won and one I won.

A few months later we played again.

And again, before we got started, he told me he had never lost a game.

He was being serious and actually totally forgot he had ever lost to me! I marveled at his ability to forget a loss and speak so confidently about his skill level.

While I was thinking about the games I lost the last time we played, he had forgotten he had ever lost (and maybe that we had ever played).

Many more interactions with his friend have revealed similar phenomena where he genuinely doesn’t remember many of the times he loses, makes mistakes, or makes a fool of himself (all of which we all do). 

Why doesn’t he remember? 

I think part of the reason is that he is frequently trying things.

Because he doesn’t let his losses get him down, he is constantly playing games and sports and putting himself in situations where he needs to perform.

And because his losses are (inevitably) frequent and mixed in with many wins and a lot of similar game contexts in general, I imagine it’s harder for him to remember any specific loss.

Plus, those with average or better self-esteem often view a loss as fuel for them to do better the next time and win.

Thus, they often end up playing a lot of games like my college friend.

But when those with low self-esteem lose a game, they often don’t want to play again anytime soon because the loss hurt them more than it hurts others.

Thus, game playing can become a vicious cycle for low self-esteem players where they don’t get the game-playing practice that those with better self-esteem get, are worse at games as a result, then avoid playing them, and so on.

In short, without practice, the skill gap between low self-esteem players and others continues to widen. 

Besides less frequent gameplay, those with low self-esteem can allow their own negative self-talk to convince them that they lost because they are worth less than those who won.

Although this may sound ridiculous when put into words, it’s a very real phenomenon.

I know because it happens to me.

I struggle with low self-esteem and I sometimes allow my own negative self-talk to convince me I am different from others in a profound way that makes me feel isolated and sometimes lesser than others when I lack interest and skill in games of all sorts.

You have a hard time conforming your mind to the rules of a game because you’re creative, non-conformist, ADD, a rebel, or an artist.

Creative people tend to think in novel terms instead of in terms of the rules of a game.

Those who are good at games know how to use the rules to defeat their opponents.

But creative people often prefer to try new things and experiment within a game instead of pursuing a more optimal (and sometimes boring) strategy. 

Similarly, rebels and non-conformists sometimes have trouble operating in a game context because you must conform to the rules of the game to win, and rebels and non-conformists are predisposed against conformity. 

Those with ADD can also be creative as their frequently distracted brain bounces from one idea to the next sometimes forming novel relationships between two seemingly unrelated ideas. 

However, the obvious downside of ADD is that those with this condition often have trouble channeling or focusing their minds on the task at hand. 

Whether you have ADD or are simply a creative person, you may struggle to conform your mind to the rules of a game and then stick with the optimal strategy for winning.

In my personal experience, those who are artistic also sometimes lack interest and skill in games. 

This is common enough to be a cliche in movies and other media where there are jocks who are good at sports and artists who aren’t. 

Of course, plenty of artists are great athletes, and vice versa. 

But this phenomenon is common enough to be “a thing.”

And I think being an artist is often downstream of some of these other traits that can lead to below-average game performance like creativity, rebelliousness, non-conformity, etc.

You’re more interested in positive than negative and zero-sum games.

When someone says they are bad at games, they are almost always referring to less-than-positive-sum games. 

What does that mean?

To understand less than positive-sum games, I think it’s helpful to first understand game theory.

(I’ve written more extensively about game theory if you’d like to check out my article about it!)

Game theory is the philosophical and economic study of decision-making in contexts with multiple participants. 

In other words, it’s the study of optimal decision-making involving many people or entities.  

In game theory, less than positive sum games include negative sum contexts in which there are more losers than winners and zero-sum contexts in which there are equal numbers of winners and losers. 

On the other hand, positive sum games are contexts in which there are more winners than losers. 

Plenty of game contexts like political races are negative sum according to game theory where there are more losers than winners. 

For instance, many people can run for president, but only one person wins the presidency, and the rest lose. 

And plenty of other games like basketball or tennis are zero-sum where there is one losing team and one winning team. 

Although the vocabulary of games with winners and losers is helpful for understanding game theory, it doesn’t only apply to games as we typically think of them.

For instance, many consider healthy relationships positive sum because there can be many winners and no losers. 

Put another way, if I’m friends with John and John is friends with me, we both benefit and no one loses. 

And according to game theory, this makes our relationship a positive sum “game” or context.

Many people who are bad at games simply aren’t very interested in less-than-positive sum contexts like political races, sports, or video games. 

Instead, they are often more interested in positive-sum contexts like relationships or learning new things. 

You are a peacemaker and don’t like conflict. 

If you have taken the Enneagram personality test you may find yourself classified as a peacemaker or someone who is easy-going and avoids conflict. 

If that’s you, I can relate.

I have peacemaking conflict-avoiding tendencies.  

So, as a peacemaker, I often avoid conflict, and competition in a game can sometimes feel like conflict. 

Avoiding conflict can result in avoiding games in general which can mean you don’t get the practice that others get. 

And this can result in below-average game performance. 

You’re comparing yourself to the wrong people. 

Sometimes, you think you are bad at games when you actually aren’t. 

How does this happen? 

I’ll try to explain with an example. 

A friend of mine from college was the best swimmer his age in his home state of Montana. 

Then he came to USC on a swim scholarship. 

But he was the worst swimmer on the USC swim team because there were so many other excellent swimmers from all over the world on the team! 

In short, my friend was an excellent swimmer compared to 99% percent of people. 

But when compared to some of the best collegiate swimmers globally, he wasn’t very good. 

My friend’s experience has always highlighted to me the importance of who you compare yourself to. 

And if you are comparing yourself to those who are extremely good at games, you may feel like you are bad at games even when you aren’t. 

Comparing yourself to the wrong people is probably easier than you think because those who are very good at games typically like to play them a lot and will often suggest playing them with others. 

So you may find yourself playing games frequently with those who are very good at them. 

Likewise, those who aren’t as good at games typically don’t try to play them as frequently. 

This results in a bias where those playing games are likely better than average players because the average and below-average players often aren’t playing. 

Try to keep this in mind the next time you find yourself in a less-than-positive sum game context. 

Why Being Bad at Games is OK 

If you believe that your identity is in your game performance, this will be a very challenging way to live (even for those who are very good at games). 


Game performance ebbs and flows even for those who are great at them. 

We all have off days, and if your identity is wrapped up in something as fragile and unpredictable as performance in a game, you will likely lead a frustrating existence riding the highs of good game performance and feeling the lows of poor game performance. 

On the other hand, if you’re identity is in something stable, like the God of the universe, you can enjoy the wins and take the losses in stride, knowing that your identity is secure and independent of game performance. 

Of course, this is easier said than done. 

And there are plenty of instances in which I don’t have a good attitude in game contexts because I forget that my identity is ultimately in Christ. 

Regardless, there’s nothing inherently wrong with not being good at games. 

And you can still have great relationships with others and ultimately, a fulfilling life without being good at games. 

However, you may need to put more effort into your relationships if games aren’t going to be the basis for the relationships you form. 

I find this particularly true for men since much of male socializing happens through watching, talking about, or playing games. 

And, as a man, my lack of skill and interest in games has made cultivating good friendships more challenging. 

Nevertheless, I have been able to form good friendships with other men with some additional effort. 

Usually, friendship revolves around shared interests and experiences. 

Building great friendships with others outside of game contexts can be as simple as asking someone to lunch, a movie, to work out together, to go on a hike, etc. 

You may need to be slightly more creative, but there are still plenty of non-game-related activities you can pursue with others to build great relationships. 

Should you try to get better at games?

If you’re a below-average game player or have lower interest than average in games, you may be tired of hearing exhortations to get better at or more interested in games. 

If that’s you, I get it. 

Just remember that you can be bad at games and still live a very fulfilling life. 

So if you really aren’t interested in getting better at games, don’t worry about it.  

For many years, I was so sick of hearing about games and feeling an implicit peer pressure to care about them that my rebellious self decided to go in the opposite direction and ignore anything and everything about games. 

If you’re inclined to do the same, know that I don’t recommend it. 

Much of relationship building involves finding common ground. 

And your lack of skill or interest in games may be hard to relate to for those who are more interested in games, especially if you broadcast it in a way that makes it seem like your lack of skill in games is a core part of your identity. 

Rather, I think it’s almost always better to define your interests positively instead of negatively. 

Defining your interests positively means you share what your interests are instead of what they aren’t.

So instead of telling others that you aren’t good at games, you may want to mention what your interests are, like playing the guitar, trying new restaurants, hiking, weightlifting, etc.

Benefits of Getting Better at (or at Least More Interested in) Games

As someone with a low interest in and natural skill in games, I may not be the best person to sell the benefits of getting better at or more interested in games. 

On the other hand, my position gives me a unique context to communicate game benefits in a way that speaks specifically to those who aren’t very interested in them. 

To that end, building game skills can develop character qualities that can be very useful in other life contexts. 

For instance, most people I know who are really good at games have an incredible ability to focus, since playing games at a high level typically requires undivided attention. 

Focus is a superpower in today’s permanently distracted world and can help you excel in all sorts of contexts like work in particular. 

Getting better at games also means you can connect with those who play them more easily. 

And playing some games, particularly sports, can be a great way to exercise. 

Finally, if you’re bad at games, you have an amazing opportunity to learn how to lose gracefully. 

And this is something that those who are better at games lack as many opportunities to practice. 

Although it’s usually not what those who are bad at games want to hear, lacking game skill can actually build character if you persist in playing games, learn the value of deliberate practice, and learn to lose gracefully. 

And if you don’t want to try to get better at games, that’s fine too.

There are plenty of other ways to build character, develop relationships, and ultimately lead a fulfilling life. 

Why You’re Bad at Games: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you think constructively about your game performance.

Are there other reasons you think you may be bad at games?

Or did I miss something in this article?

Let me know in the comments below!

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