Insanity in Numbers: Dealing with Competitive Pets
A while back, I wrote an article on dealing with a large neofamily, because even though there's no such thing as too many pets, there is such a thing as too little space. Using the techniques in the article, tension levels dropped to an all-time low. However, new difficulties soon arose.
I looked at my account recently, then looked at my pets, and realized something was missing: trophies. So I entered my many darlings in pet spotlights, petpet spotlights, the beauty contest - all that. I admit, we did pretty well. Then I started hearing things like this:
"HAH! You only got second in the beauty contest! No surprise, uglyhead!"
"Uglyhead isn't a word. And your own precious brother didn't even place - guess he's the ugly one."
"Yeah? Acorhn hasn't even gotten entered."
"For your information, Mister High-And-Mighty, Scrubby and I won the petpet spotlight!"
Sounds of slapping and biting and tussling in general would ensue. I know I'm not the only one with this problem, so after some thinking and experimenting, I've got a few solutions. Be sure to use them with common sense and in moderation.
The first is to try simply entering them in separate contests. Maybe one is especially skilled at garnering votes in the beauty contest and another one of your pets has the greatest petpet ever. One of the greatest things about Neopets is the awesome variety of contests and activities for all your pets to enjoy. Never enter two pets in the same contest at once - believe me, this only makes things much worse.
If the problem isn't inner-contest competitiveness, but a general kind, maybe you should look at who is causing the problem. Perhaps you haven't entered one of your pets in very many contests, brewing jealousy and ill will. If he or she gets a chance to compete, maybe everyone will simmer down.
Once everyone's involved in contests, get them all really involved. Get your pets to help each other advertise their beauty contest entries, write spotlight stories, or dress up for the customization spotlight. Never set them to compete against one another, as that only creates more animosity. If they're unwilling to help for fear of having less trophies than the next pet - I know mine did - don't let them enter their own competitions. A quick reminder of how easily you can stop them from trying to get trophies at all sets them straight immediately. You'll also grow closer as a family by helping one another!
If none of this is working and your pets don't take to "helping", take away the trophies. Yep, that's it. You don't have to get rid of them forever, but if you snag them from the cabinet and hide them for a month, your pets may realize the meaning of the contests: to show who they are and be proud of it!
You can't keep the trophies away forever, and when a pet wins you can't stop the trophy from being handed their way. However, you can control your reaction. If you praise one pet more than others, even subconsciously, the rest will pick up on it and try harder to win your affections, possibly becoming aggressive in doing so. Pay attention to how you treat the victor! Do they get any treats, extra snuggling, or even neopoints from you? If so, stop immediately. Some pets win more than others, but all are worth the same. Don't play favorites and don't reward winning - a trophy and a simple heartfelt "congratulations!" is enough.
Again, you are ultimately the one who influences your pets' actions. Don't be competitive yourself. Do you scream with rage when you get a silver key in Key Quest? When your high score is topped by someone else in Usuki Frenzy? Take a deep breath, smile, and play the game again. Your pets pick up on your worst (and best!) behaviors, so have good sportsmanship and set an example. Losing isn't fun, but living in a household with this attitude is even less so.
Another idea: One thing I did I was sure would backfire, but it ended up working extremely well. This idea, however, is only for those in extremely competitive, impossible pets: Sabotage. The pets that are so competitive that they are becoming pariahs call for desperate measures. These pets most likely do well in contests, so they have to be taught how to lose graciously. With some well thought-out planning and careful execution, you can safely keep your pet from winning and then help him or her accept the loss. It's hard, but you can always enter next week. Nobody will win every time anyway, so if actual sabotage is unthinkable, just wait it out. Help your pets lose politely no matter what, though.
I understand if you can't bring yourself to stop your pets so much that you'd sabotage them, so of course there are even more options. Maybe, for a little while, compete less and do some things that don't focus on winning or being the best. Maybe your pets can put on a play or learn an instrument or how to draw. All of these things will be a lot of fun and put less emphasis on competing as a way of passing the time. They'll also give your pets something to do on rainy days and increase their feelings of self-worth, as they'll know they have talents instead of trying to prove it by fighting with others.
Finally, if nothing at all works: freeze them out. Stop competing. It's not worth those shiny trophies to have a household that does nothing but fight and scream about how many trophies they have or want. And no matter how they beg or yell, hold firm until everything settles. You were fine before, weren't you? Well, you can go back to normal, at least until your pets mature enough to handle competition.
Good luck to you in your quest to stop your pets' crazed fights, and good luck to your pets in their contests. And remember to be proud of your pets no matter how many trophies they have or don't have.