In a study featured at MSNBC, psychology researchers have found that young male dogs playing with female pups will often let the females win, even if the males have a physical advantage.
I know this is not directly connected with game design, but I find it very interesting to notice that this kind of behavior occur in several species of animals (It has been documented before in red-necked wallabies, squirrel monkeys, hamadryas baboons and even us, humans).
Researchers suspect that for the dogs, the opportunity to play may be more important to them than winning. How many of us haven’t already done this? Letting a girlfriend win (without her knowledge, of course) just to make her more prone to play in the future or organising some game learning session with younger relatives where winning is the last of the concerns.
It looks like that to play is “per se” an important activity even in the animals life, but for the dogs at least, the act it’s not all devoid of practical implications. Playing with a female help the puppies to create a love connection which will help them mate later in life ( it’s know that in feral dog populations, female mate choice plays a role in male mating success) and the Young males use to play to learn more about the female puppies.
I believe that we follow a pattern rather similar, although studies implies that dogs may be less obsessed with winning than our closer relatives, the primates.