Thursday, 29 September 2011

General Ramblings: In Defense of non-compettitve play


What do you mean I've done this before?

Yes, I've talked about Competitive versus Casual play before. The reason I'm doing it again is partly this article by GMort, and partly this article by SandWyrm. Partly, however, it's just the same kind of reaction again, to an Internet that seems hell-bent on turning our hobby into something it isn't, to me at least.

I'm going to say it straight out, again, just to be clear. I do not approve of the increased emphasis on the Competitive* side of Warhammer 40k in particular, but the hobby sphere in general.

*I'll try to use the capitalized 'Competitive' to refer to this new cultural trend, rather than the simple adjective of compete, which is not quite the same thing.

There are two points I'm going to address here. In fact, they are what I'd term (in GMort's words) bollocks arguments.

Competitive gaming is never forced upon anyone
See Sandwyrm's article above for one example.

The main problem with this argument is the following. Many gamers have a very limited pool of opponents. You play against the guys at the club or the store. How many guys are there? How many of them do you play regularly? I think twenty is optimistic, at least on the regular count.

What happens when five of those guys start bringing lists that have been optimised with one goal, and only one: winning? Crushing face. What happens when those five guys put those armies on the table against the 'sub-par' lists of the other fifteen? Particularly if their express intent is to win by any means necessary.

Tell me, with a straight face, that those fifteen guys won't be forced to optimize their lists, to start play more competitively.

SandWyrm's argument is flawed. It presumes that the non-Competitive party is uninterested in a face-off. The disinterest is in the attitude, not the playing. A better metaphor might be found in any number of things; the friends playing football (yes, I might be hung up on the football simile) for fun. No one keeps score, but they have fun, like making goals and so on. They will not be happy to have someone come into the game and start playing differently, focussing on the score, playing rough... They might even have been winging the rules (gasp!) and won't appreciate having their version questioned, just because that's not how things are played 'by the book'.

Competitive play is what brings the hobby forward
This is GMort's argument. In a way, he has a point.

The rules have been tidied up lately. Somewhat. Many of the FAQ's have been raised by Competitive or pseudo-Competitive gamers first and foremost.

Also, obviously, from a competitive standpoint, the tournament scene is what drives the search for good combos and sneaky tactics. If you consider 'netlists' the pinnacle of hobby activity, well, then Competitive play is a really good thing.

However, what drives the hobby, as a whole, forward, is not the tournaments. The Golden Daemons competitions are closer (and not Competitive, even if they are competitive), bringing out the eyecandy in a way that inspires (I would think) far more people than the result of a tournament, any tournament, ever would.

As a social event, I get tournaments. Yes, you Competitive detractors, I approve of Jervis' approach. I like a lot of the things he's been behind. And there you have it.

What's it all mean?
It's a sometime mentioned nugget of wisdom that the objective of the game is winning, but the point of the game is to have fun.

I think this is a good tenet. If one player leaves the battle unsatisfied, something is wrong. It might be the result of any number of things, and all of us have had games that just weren't any fun. The dice were beyond crap, you'd had a bad day, the sugar-cabinet was empty, and so on. All of these happen.

What should never be the cause of a crap game is one player's all-out steamroller attempt at victory. Because if it is, he's obviously misunderstood what kind of game they were playing.

And this, ultimately, is why the current trend bugs me.

It will inevitably bring out the jerk in enough people that even those who have no interest in Competitive play are forced to approach their hobby in a way that sits badly, or face repeated, horrible defeat.


  1. But by your own argument, then, _non-competitive_ gaming is similarly forced on people, which wouldn't seem to be any better. Neither party has a right to enforce their style of gaming on the other.

    (The real solution to that problem, of course, is to be open with your opponents about what you're looking for in a game, outside of a tournament. If you can't find a way to mesh your interests or compromise in a way you're both happy with.. don't play that person.)

    With regards to the second point: certainly, Golden Daemon is going to inspire more people than tournament results; after all, that's what art does: inspire people.

    But good rules design will inspire people to build cool armies also. Good rules will make games more fun and interesting, whether played competitively or not. Good rules design will help keep the potential gap between competitive players and casual/non-competitive players smaller. And, more than anything, tournament and competitive play will drive good rules design.

    >Particularly if their express intent is to win by any means necessary.

    This isn't competitive play, this is people being jerks. I've seen players of both stripes cheat or behave unethically to win, it is not unique to any particular camp.

    "Competitive" play, as SandWyrm, Kirby, myself, and others in the community tend to use the term, is about improving your game. It's about learning to play and write lists better. It's about fighting tough matches and (hopefully) coming out on top. It is about STRIVING to win, not about winning itself. The fun is in the competition, not in the victory. This is something that I think is often misunderstood by opponents of competitive play.

    I think you're laying the blame far too heavily at the feet of of the competitive player in your scenarios- certainly, he has a duty to give some when it comes to pickup games, such toning his list down or otherwise handicapping himself. But, by the same token, the non-competitive player does as well, because the game is about enjoyment for BOTH parties, not just one. I am willing to respect how you want to play the game, but you have to reciprocate or else you're being just as selfish as the hypothetical people in your examples.

    Very, very few competitive players are all about winning, all the time. Most of them also enjoy modeling, painting, lore, narratives and/or other parts of the hobby. Finding that common ground will allow the two of you to play in a way that is satisfying to both of you, NOT just to him and NOT just to you. And sometimes you won't be able to find that common ground- it happens, it's nothing to get upset about. Move on, find another opponent; there are other fish in the sea, after all.

    To be frank, it seems like a lot of your complaints hinge on "other people's decisions of how to play the game affect me," which seems awfully unfair. This is a social game, there's no way around that; if you aren't prepared to deal with other people's desires for the game, you really ought to be playing a different game, and that goes for everyone. Different groups of people will have different expectations, and if you want to play with them you're probably going to have to live with that. It's all fine and good to argue for one side or the other- I have no problem with that- but I find accusations that the opponent's camp are "ruining the game" that non-competitive players seem to toss around so often are rather disingenuous and will only harm the community.

  2. Caveat before you read this: I've just got out of bed. I'm bleary-eyed and not quite awake. If I sound weird (or as a jerk), that's probably the reason. I'll come back later and edit. Maybe.

    Let's face it, this post was not actually an attempt to give a fair, balanced view of Competitive versu non-Competitive gaming. It was a direct response to posts by two of the bloggers I read regularly.

    I agree fully, that a balanced approach, where both players are open with their intentions is by far the best way to play the game.

    And as I tried to get across, this isn't actually a post to rage against people trying to play their best, it's about the increasing focus on Competitive (see the capital "C"). As in prize money. As in clubbing baby seals.

    These things, essentially, are what bug me about Competitive play - not the list-tweaking, not the endless practice games. It's the part where the attitude seems to change (at least in certain people), from viewing the game as a game, to viewing it as a sport.

    And, quite frankly, it's the "fluff-bunnies" that seem to be getting the rough end of the stick, at least in the part of the bloggosphere I frequent (which includes your own excellent 3++). The meek needed someone to speak up.

  3. *shrug* I think you came off fine there, so I wouldn't worry too much about the tone.

    Now, admittedly, I'm speaking from a competitive viewpoint here, but I don't have any problem with prizes or viewing the game as a sport- that's part of what I like about it. I suppose I can see where people wouldn't like that stuff, but at least from the groups I've played with, there's plenty of room left for non-competitive players to do their thing. (Clubbing baby seals is something that I don't think anyone approves of, and I've seen it come from both competitive and casual players.)

    My own feeling is that competitive play has, for something like two decades now, been actively demonized and derided by the non-competitive players; if that tide is starting to shift, I can only give limited sympathy for the majority that aren't happy with losing a portion of their domination of the game. Despite its overwhelming popularity online, competition is still the exception, not the rule, in terms of the actual players you will usually meet IRL.

    However, I can't fault you for wanting to argue your case, since that's only fair. I will, however, argue what I feel are misrepresentations of the competitive mindset and what it brings. (Which probably comes off as harsher than I really mean it, because to be honest I'll argue and discuss dang near anything.)

  4. Nice, I followed this from House of Paincakes. I sympathize with you. I'm someone who chooses to play 40k precisely because it is not a fiercely competitive sport with all that that implies. If I wanted that I'd play Magic.

    I think most 40k players in the past have been like us, but times are changing. I can't see there ultimately being room for both types of player in the community unfortunately. Either a game is serious or it isn't.

    As you said, competitive players in a majority (or even a large minority) with tend to force everyone around them to conform, and as AbusePuppy said, casual players do the same. Each area or club seems to me (in my limited experience of two clubs and reading blogs) to end up largely one or the other. With the internet connecting everyone, it's only a matter of time until one approach wins out overall I think.