Thursday, November 03, 2011

Editiorial: Being "Competitive"

"I never really played sports when I was younger because I'm not really a competitive person."

I have said that line on many occasions and I now believe that there are many flawed assumptions in such a statement.  Yes, it's certainly true that I never really played sports, not even baseball, soccer, football (aside from a brief exploratory period in high school), nor any other kind of sport.  When I was young I never really had the drive to try any of these activities and my parents never had me try because of that.  In hindsight, I find that a little strange considering that they always encouraged me to try new things, but I digress.

Serious business.
No, I was very different from my brother, the athlete.  I always found solace my solace in computer games and eventually video, board, card, and miniatures games.  I liked games!  Ironically, my brother was really the one I can thank for my interest in such diverse forms of entertainment.  As a child, I was curious about a couple games that my brother loved to play: Chess, Stratego, and Risk.  Risk was "too difficult" for me to understand at the age of 6 (I disagree), but he eagerly taught me the intricacies of Chess and Stratego, and he even had an entire notebook of deployment ideas for Stratego.  He also bought me my very first computer game: Mechwarrior 2.  My brother might never know how instrumental he was in getting me hooked on games to the point where I found sports boring.

Maybe I didn't find sports boring, per se - I did after all love to play soccer at recess - but it was just that I didn't think that I was all that competitive compared to my friends.  They would get really serious about it and I just wanted to have fun or to make a pretend spaceship/fort/time machine in a tree.  Competition in sports wasn't really for me.

The first "competitive" computer game
This is where I return to my original point: saying that I was not a competitive person because I didn't like to play sports assumes that sports are the only activities which are competitive.  I now know that is far from true.  Similarly, I assumed that I was not a competitive person.  This is not true!  Back when I played computer games, I had no competition.  "Multiplayer" had not existed at that point and would not really exist like it does now in modern context until Starcraft came on the market in 1998.  When Starcraft was released, however, I now had an outlet for being competitive, and I played the game against others from all over the world.

What does this have to do with miniatures games?  Well, among the 40k gamer crowd, there has been a rift in the past few years between players who are "competitive" and those who are non-competitive, or "fluffy," and I find it really quite stupid, to be honest.  I once thought of myself as "fluffy" but since I was given the opportunity, I have found that I want to compete, I want to win.  There's nothing wrong with that, right?  As long as you're not being a jerk about it.  What's so fascinating with what's happening in the 40k community is that these two parts of the community are at-odds with each other - even though they have the same hobby and play the same game!  Is it bizarre that a person would play a game which can have a defined "winner", and yet try to win?  That sounds a little strange to me.  Does this mean that these non-competitive gamers are throwing each game?  No, they want to win, they just don't let it get them down.

Or they use "psyflemen" dreadnaughts
So what about these "competitive" gamers that the 40k community complains about?  Who are they?  What do they look/behave like?  Usually you hear that they cheat, bend or take advantage of certain rules, or they tool out a list for brutal efficiency.  What I find interesting about this is that, aside from cheating, the complaints about "competitive" gamers really depends on the rules of the game.  In other words, there are rules in 40k which can be used to gain an unfair advantage.  "Wound allocation" is one of these rules that "competitive" types will take advantage of, and what makes it interesting is that only certain armies have the opportunity to take advantage of it, like Space Wolves and Orks.

Where am I going with this?  One criticism I've heard from 40k players about Warmachine/Hordes is that the system is made for these competitive types and becomes "broken" really easily.  They will say to me that they "aren't that type of player" and like to play friendly games.  I'm sorry, but that is a total cop-out.  Every 40k player plays with an army that they think will be most effective, but they have the choice of whether or not to take advantage of poorly written rules.  There are still Tau players out there, you just don't see them taking sniper drone teams unless they have a specific way of making them better.  In Warmachine/Hordes, the rules are written very well (and are available here and here), and every army has the opportunity to take advantage of them equally.  If you think that double-hand throws are overpowered, well every army has something which can use it.

The difference between WM/H and 40k isn't that the players are any different, it's just that the system is better designed so that everyone has the opportunity to see their army succeed to do well.  Sure there are some units or models that might not seem all that great and players will take the units that they think will be optimal, but optimal lists don't win WM/H games - generalship does.  I have seen players use the exact same list I take (and win tournaments), while I struggle.  Cheating can happen, but the system contributes to fair play by making every rule available to both players (on a card) for scrutiny, and the rules are written so as to remove ambiguity.  It is my opinion that the whole myth of the "competitive gamer" is one perpetuated by the Warhammer 40k system of rules, and that Warmachine/Hordes rules are purposely designed and written to allow everyone the opportunity to compete fairly, thus eliminating any differentiation between "competitive" and "fluffy"

And it's awesome!

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