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Why Play BlogNomic

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By Brendan

In 2002, at a press conference following a painful loss, NFL player-turned-coach Herm Edwards delivered an extemporaneous and soon-famous speech on the topic of victory in sports, transcribed here from WikiQuote:

"This is what's great about sports. This is what the greatest thing about sports is: you play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game. You don't play it to just play it. That's the great thing about sports: you play to win, and I don't care if you don't have any wins. You go play to win. When you start tellin' me it doesn't matter, then retire. Get out! 'Cause it matters."

The most direct way to make a personal mark on the recorded history of BlogNomic is to become Emperor, something in turn most directly achieved by a successful declaration of victory. That in turn leads many players to align with the same philosophy Edwards seems to espouse: if you want the time you invest in BlogNomic to matter, you cannot "play it just to play it." You must play to win, and only to win.

But given the context in which Edwards delivered that quote–amid a losing record; set against the growing practice of "tanking" to abandon an imperfect season and secure better draft picks the following year; and followed by a tremendous turnaround which saw his team win that year's AFC East championship–it is not solipsistic or reflective of tunnel vision. It's a declaration committed to the betterment of the game for all involved, including not just his own team and their fans, but other teams as well. In that, it connects to a very different concept laid out by one of the great athletes of the twentieth century, Celtics basketball player Bill Russell. He wrote it first in his book Second Wind, but I quote it here from its use in his friend Bernie De Koven's game philosophy book The Infinite Playground, coauthored by my friend Holly Gramazio:

"Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult to describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing. When it happened I could feel my play rise to a new level. It came rarely, and would last anywhere from five minutes to a whole quarter or more. Three or four plays were not enough to get it going. It would surround not only me and the other Celtics but also the players on the other team, and even the referees. To me, the key was that both teams had to be playing at their peaks, and they had to be competitive. The Celtics could not do it alone.

At that special level all sorts of odd things happened. The game would be in a white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn't feel competitive–which is a miracle in itself... I could feel it so keenly that I'd want to shout to my teammates, "It's coming there!"–except that I knew everything would change if it did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics players by heart but also all the opposing players, and they knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine."

BlogNomic is neither basketball nor football (American or otherwise): it is an incredibly niche, deliberative hobby that rarely incorporates anything in the physical world, much less heated physical competition. But the sense of intuition, elevation, and coming to know one's competitors is no less an opportunity in gameplay that proceeds over months or years. A victory is respectable and enjoyable, but few people outside the tiny base of BlogNomic players will even understand what it represents. And the impact one makes on that base is orthogonal to the number of dynasties in one's name.

When it comes to regard for my fellow players, I agree completely with Herm Edwards on one thing: I don't care if you don't have any wins. As of this writing in October 2020, nothing in the Ruleset says you can't play BlogNomic for whatever reason you choose. But after sixteen years, the feeling Russell evokes–committed pursuit to the shared mastery of a select skill–is why I keep coming back.