Othello news

About Othello and addiction: why can't I stop playing?

19 May 2024
Written by Carlo Affatigato

This is a response to Daniel Olivares' article about Othello and online addiction.

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Why can't I stop playing Othello?

I was so happy to read the article by Daniel Olivares responding to the post I published some days before. It beautifully illustrates how vibrant and diverse the Othello community is. As players, we all share a unique bond, a shared perspective that resonates when we discuss this game. Therefore, I felt obligated to answer. After all, the topic is particularly fascinating: are we addicted to Othello?

Dear Daniel, there is a reason why I haven't used the word "addiction" until today. I am a life coach and a big fan of positive thinking, so I follow a principle I really care about: if you define something you feel with medical terms, you are taking a first step towards that unhealthy condition. You are already giving power to it, feeding it, making it yours. On the other hand, if you use words belonging to the semantics of normality... normality tends to stay with you. With Othello, I prefer not to say I'm addicted (despite what my wife may object). I prefer to say I "can't stop playing" it.

I know the answer is probably not enough to satisfy the original question, so I will sacrifice lightheartedness for a moment and deal with an even bigger question: what is the reason why we just can't stop doing something?

There are a few well-known causes. It can happen because we identify ourselves (or a big part of ourselves) with that activity, or because we are trying to achieve a challenging goal in the medium-long term. That's what typically leads workaholics to focus on their job against everything and everyone (hey mom, it's me, hi, I'm talking to you). It's also what prevents sporty people from skipping their gym session or their weekly run even if the weather is awful. Both reasons can apply to Othello: you may see it as a way to prove your worth (to yourself or others), or maybe you are trying to become next world champion.

However, if you can't just stop playing Othello, it's probably because of another reason. Something very common among us: you are trying to recover your losses.

Fast drops, slow climbs

You may have already noticed it. Typically, we play Othello obsessively after a particularly harsh loss, especially if it feels unjust. We are trying to quickly obtain a reward that can compensate for that loss. It's not necessarily a matter of ELO points: more frequently, we are trying to find again a personal satisfaction that keeps our relationship with this game happy. So we play and play again, and since we do it in a moment when we don't play at our best, we typically keep losing. Indeed, when our rating drops, it usually does it by dozens (or even hundreds) of points in a few days, whereas when we go higher, it's a slow climb: if we have a couple of good wins, we don't feel the urge to play again immediately, do we? We are just satisfied.

That's the aspect that can make Othello compare to poker or gambling. The loss triggers the frenzy. However, it also makes it very similar to investing: when you buy a stock or a crypto and you go through a quick loss, your instinct is to take your money and throw it into something that can make you recover fast — typically resulting in more losses. And again, fast drops and slow climbs: it's how all financial markets go. In that case, though, you wouldn't say you are addicted to investing: you'll probably say you are bad at damage control.

What do we do then? Well, we should follow the advice of big finance gurus: bite the bullet, accept the loss, and move on. Losses happen to everyone, and they are typically no good reason to change the strategy that has worked until now. This brings us back to the proverbial talent for "finding excuses" many Othello players have: it's our way to cope with the effects of that loss and move forward as quickly as possible. 

So, back to Othello and addiction: we may call it a problem, with words that have that meaning, if it's really creating a problem. If our performances at work are deteriorating because we play too much Othello in the bathroom, or if our mental presence at home is affected because we just can't win against that No-Kung continuation, we may be ready for the rehab clinic. On the other side, if things are under control, and Othello is helping our mood, our focus, and our mental elasticity, we don't need to call it addiction. We can call it passion, or perseverance, which are typically the things that help us reach the biggest achievements of our lives.