I don’t care for games. Board games, card games, word games, games that involve chasing or seeking—I don’t like any of them. I tend to avoid competition in all its forms, probably due to a lack of self-confidence or a fear of failure, or some other unattractive flaw in my flaw-riddled psyche.
So, if I don’t like games, why do I like Mahjong?
Mahjong is a tile game involving skill, strategy, and luck. A take-and-discard game, the point is to match the tiles on your rack to a specified grouping—a clear objective that, for some reason, makes me eager to hop out of bed on game days.
Each game offers me a variety of challenges—discerning and pursuing the most likely hand, estimating my chances of getting a necessary tile, the flexibility to change direction once the hand I already committed to is out of play. There are elaborate procedures for setting up, dealing, and winning. For example, before we can actually commence, four walls from which to draw the tiles must be built. The sides of my wall must match the end of my left neighbor’s wall on the outside, while abutting my neighbor-to-the-right’s wall on the inside, which forms a perfect square. This tight construction is important because, traditionally, the closed wall keeps the evil spirits out. I’ve known sticklers who wouldn’t distribute the tiles if there was a gap at a corner. In play, the rules are complex, the action is strict and orderly, and expletives form word clouds above the table. When I’m one away from Mahjong, I must announce this by saying the word “fishing”—and while it makes sense to warn the others that I’m fixing to tromp all over the hands they’ve come to love, the word itself feels jarring to me, incongruent with the other evocative designations of the game, like Guardian Dragons, Unique Wonder, and Confused Gates.
I sink intensely into every round, bonding with my tiles, absorbing the targeted combination into my soul like it’s the key to happiness. I thrill each time I add a tile that’ll get me closer. Ordinarily a passive person with an encouraging mien, when I play Majhong, I grow impatient, bossy, and vengeful. I’ve been known to hold a weeks-long grudge against someone for holding on to a tile I needed. If I lose I’m in a bad mood for several days. If I win I’m giddy.
And none of this explains why I enjoy Mahjong. It’s fun, that’s why. Learn to play it and you’ll see.