Thursday, November 11, 2010

Examining the Culture Gap - "Fun" vs. "Competitive" Gamers

So, yesterday's article on game design was a bit of a first step in trying to openly assess and dissolve what I think is a largely fictional divide between gamer styles within the hobby.

First of all, it's important to know how I look at things - I'm a performance improvement guy in terms of how I view my own approach to things; I want to be a BETTER person, a BETTER friend, a BETTER employee, a BETTER manager, a BETTER golfer, a BETTER painter, a BETTER gamer ... every time I play.  I don't see the point to being "bad" and not caring, but doing it anyway.  I frankly think nobody else does either ... very few people are attached to being "bad," and most want to be "good."  But ... good at what?  Another discussion, but understand my position - that it is as bad to eschew the gaming component of the hobby as it is to eschew the painting component.  You're not participating in the hobby at that point.  You're just participating in half of it - while OK, it's not something I personally do or find sensible.  There are a lot of hobbies out there with better models and things to just paint/convert.  There are a lot of hobbies out there with better rules if you just want to play a wargame (and that are cheaper).


Let's go to the point of this particular article.  It ties back into the notion of internal codex balance and "pointless" units (in a gaming / competitive sense).  It also ties into how we look at our fellow gamers.

Is there any "non-competitive gamer" out there that willfully believes they are too mentally challenged to tactically match up against a "competitive gamer?"  (Let's call them NCG's and CG's for the rest of the article).  What I mean is this - are there very many NCG's who think they'd simply be unable to beat a CG if they were to fully use the rules, with a "powerful" list from whatever is considered a really powerful Codex?

I'd like to think the answer is NO.  While there may be some people who would say "I REFUSE TO BE A COMPETITIVE WAAC GUY" and quickly derail the subject, I don't think there are many people ANYWHERE who simply believe they CAN'T compete.  More, I believe the issue is that they do not wish to compromise their ideas of a fun list in order to play "competitively."

There's an issue some people have of viewing "competitive" play as not fun - of being too intense, or too full of jerks.  This is bullcrap.  Here's where I partially derail to simply state - jerks who will bend, break and abuse the rules, and who will bully you during a game ... are as common among "NCG" as among "CG."  In fact, I'd argue they are more common among NCG, who haven't brought a "powerful" list and yet still - like most people - WANT to win.  Hell, they're even willing often to "bully" people over their choice of list - "You don't understand the spirit of the game, just spamming meltavets like a netlister."

So let's take a look around at other games that are out there.  How many people pull out the Risk board with their local buddies, and have that one guy in their group who constantly berates them for capturing Australia and South America ASAP b/c it "doesn't make sense, those places wouldn't give you world dominating power in real life!"  How many people seriously try to capture Asia and literally auto-lose just to fluffily play as Ghengis Khan?  NOBODY.

Why?  It's not a "real" option.  In 40k ... and in Fantasy, and in GW games in general ... every dex/army book/etc. has built in OPTIONS to play ... well, "bad."  YET, they develop intriguing backstory and fluff that makes you really want to play with those options.  Ogryns are badass and kind of hilarious.  Pyrovores (esp. the models) look awesome.  Yatta yatta.  Who wouldn't want to play with them?

There's an issue in this game ... and not in the player base ... that I think is causing what we're seeing.  Truth of the matter is - jerks are jerks.  There's a reason that some of the greatest competitors in history - in intense sports and other sorts of things - have often been some of the nicest, most affable, most upstanding people you'll meet.  Competitiveness is not COMPARABLE to fun.  You might as well suggest that people who compete to win at wargames are unhappy, or are bipolar.  Picture is unrelated, as it were.

Truth of the matter is the game puts certain personality types in untenable situations.  Some people respect and obsess over the fluff more than others, and that's FINE.  That said, some people don't - some people emphasize by their very nature the "competition" as fun over the "fluff" as fun.  Sometimes you get hybrids as well - someone building an adeptus mechanicus guard army really has no need to not spam units ... every model can be converted to look different, yatta yatta.  Someone could have nothing but guardsmen with lasguns, spammed across their entire army along with a company command squad w/ lasguns, and have every model be different, and be as fluffy and cool as possible, yet as spammy as possible as well.

Sound like obvious stuff?  I would think it is.  Is there a solution, though?  Yes, and no.

Can we get GW to tighten up its codices so that no matter what list you build, it will be uniquely your own, represent the fluff in whatever capacity you want, and compete with anyone as long as YOU as a tactician can compete?  No.  We probably can't.  We could build our own game, but let's not go there right now.

So why do I say "yes" then?  We can solve the problem by increasing AWARENESS of it.  Looking at someone with a spammy tournament list and presuming they are a bad WAAC netlisting jerk ... well, that makes you about as nearsighted and unaware as it gets.  If we can't get GW to change the game, to "perfect" the game, we as people have to take a more open minded look at our fellow hobbyists.  Furthermore, the dividing lines should be drawn along behavior, not army list.  How many times have you heard people who bring a bunch of meltavets or razorback grey hunter squads snidely referred to as "cheesy" during aimless conversations over the paint booth at the local game shop, or in unrelated forum threads?

There's another tie in here ... it's not just the "softer" gamers who should give the "harder" ones a break, and take them for who they are.  It cuts both ways.  If Nolan Ryan in his prime shows up at a pick-up Sunday BBQ baseball game among family and friends, and picks up that ball on the mound with his grandma up to bat ... do you think he chucks a 98 mph smoker down the pipe and inside to brush her off the plate?  No freaking way.

All you "hardcoar competitorz" who bring the nastiest list possible and liberally, almost abusively kick the teeth in of some softer opponent or buddy at the FLGS or even at a tournament ... come on.  I get it, if it's a crap-ass battle point tournament that basically demands you table him when you get a chance to, but other than that situation ... come the fuck on.

The real problems and stereotypes arise when some dbag murders poor Joe Average when he tests the waters away from the paint table to see what the game's like.  What do you think Mr. Average's view of "hardcore" gamers is going to be thereafter, when the spammy powerlist tables him in 3 turns, the whole while calling super close line of sight and cover saves, and cheesing combat pile-in moves for advantages and all the like?  Tell you one thing - there's a giant pool of equally douchey entrenched anti-gamers out there to egg him on and welcome him into the fold, on the other side of a shitty dividing line.

Food for thought, and rambly ... more thoughts and conversation always welcome, blog's been surprisingly post-happy past couple of days.  Either way - it comes down to how we actively assess, analyze and think about the game we play, and the humanity of those we play with and against (both in actual games, and on the itnernet).  I'll tell you one thing - the anti-social jerks of the hobby cross the dividing line; they're on both sides.  Maybe the more decent and approachable among us oughtta do the same.  We might wind up with a different dividing line - one that actually benefits the hobby.


  1. I can do nothing but absolutely agree with your last two blog posts. I can even acknowledge that I have recently been a bit too "competitive" with some of my friends in friendly games. It's good to have these moments of reflection and try to better ourselves from them.

    The foundations behind this argument are some of the same ones I was having issue with in the other thread. I don't have any issue with people enjoying the game for a different reason. I have issue with people who openly support a position that is unfair to those who play the game for a different reason.

    If at the end of the day we can come to a reasonable understanding (even if it is to disagree), shake hands, and grab a drink, I think we are in the right place :)

  2. Argh! With your last 2 updates I posted something along the same lines only about 2 days ago on Heresy Online. Basically saying how the "divide" is just really something cooked up on the internet for people to moan over. GW are the ones people should be pissed at, not each other.

  3. Really Mike, two great, thoughtful posts. I am interested in seeing the discussion that comes out of this.

  4. This represents everything I am about. Bravo.

  5. @Gredus - You can't really blame the internet for this one, because it has been around since well before there was any kind of online community to speak of. Fluffbunnies and Powergamers have disliked each other's approach to the game as long as the game has been around.

  6. Couple things I wanted to toss into the mix:

    First and foremost: "There are a lot of hobbies out there with better models and things to just paint/convert. There are a lot of hobbies out there with better rules if you just want to play a wargame (and that are cheaper)."

    Exactly! This is a lesson I myself learned just in last couple of years of playing this game. You really need to be into both aspects of the game at some level. Otherwise, you made a pretty sorry choice in the game you chose to invest in. :)

    Second: "All you "hardcoar competitorz" who bring the nastiest list possible and liberally, almost abusively kick the teeth in of some softer opponent or buddy at the FLGS or even at a tournament ... come on."

    Also exactly. There is an art to:

    A) Recognizing when you need to pull punches
    B) Pulling punches the ensure a close game
    C) Pulling punches so that it doesn't feel fake

    Master it. :) I've lost some games before because I pulled a few to many punches (and tied a lot more), but it's worth it. Fact of the matter is, the community is to small to potentially lose people to play with... especially down here in the desert of 40K.

  7. 40k is really two things. A hobby and a game. When the game starts becoming boring, you can get modelling and painting and that rejuvenates your game and vice versa.

    Some people are more hobbyists than gamers, some are more gamers than hobbyists. I typically try to find people are involved in both aspects. Some people eschew one for the other. Personally, I prefer when people are more hobbyists than gamers, while gamers who don't get involved in the hobby really bug me. I play lots of guys like that, though, and if they're fun to play, I don't mind if their armies aren't painted. Sometimes the thrill of the competition is a good substitute for playing a fully painted army.

    On the other hand, lately I've become annoyed by hobbyists who run sub-par lists. Playing against a crap list isn't all that fun. I prefer close games, but I really don't like pulling punches and I don't like it when people pull punches on me. So I guess I'm looking for an elevated game and hobby all the way around.

    One thing I'd really like to see though is a tournament where everyone has to run the same list. Say, take the marine codex, build a balanced army list and tell people that's what they got to run. The challenge would be, how do you use the hobby to make your army's appearance unique, and how do you use the army in game to win games against the same list. How cool would that be?

  8. Your last two posts are dead on. You've succinctly put into words what I've been thinking for the last few months now.

    I enjoy both the hobby and the game, and can’t understand those who wish to make you choose one imaginary faction over the other.

    I also couldn’t agree more about the nature of competiveness, both as it applies to life and 40k. Some of the worst games I’ve played have been against non-competitive gamers whose dismissal of the rules as ‘mere rules’ ruined the match. Conversely, some of my most enjoyable games have been hard fought wins (and loses) against a highly competitive, but friendly opponent.