Saturday, March 28, 2015

Psyche of a Gamer: Fluff, is it important?

Recently Second Class Elitist, Ali Alcatraz and I were talking about a conversation he had had with a designer in the miniature wargaming industry.  The crux of the conversation was about whether gamers care about the story, or fluff.  2CE was on the side that story matters, and the designer was on the side that gamers don't care about story.  So while the three of us were discussing this point, I had a bit of epiphany.  Story not only matters, it defines the game for all of us, we just don't realize it.

First, I feel a need to break down gamers into manageable groups.  Years ago I read an article by a designer for Magic the Gathering, about the 3 types of gamers.  The article defines them as Johnny, Timmy, and Spike.  Each has there own motivations, and plays the game completely different.  And while the article focusses on Magic, I think the typology is consistent for all gamers.  In short,
Timmy's are power gamers, everything has to be big and impressive.  Johnny's like to win, but with style, armys are a form of self expression to Johnny's.  Then there is Spike, Spike plays to win, and every decision he makes is about winning, Spike plays whatever the best list is, because winning is all that matters.  I also believe there are 2 other types that exist in the miniature hobby, but there goals are very different, and I'm not sure that they are truly gamers, they are the painter and the modeler.  They're motivations are visual and aesthetic driven, I'll touch on them last.  But the majority of this post will be about Johnny, Timmy, and Spike.


I chose to start with Johnny because he's the easiest to see why story matters to him.  Johnny likes style.  He reads an list entry's story and visualizes that unit in battle.  He's also the easiest for me personally because I am a Johnny.  I get inspired by the story to try to recreate those images in my lists.  For example, Warzone's Blessed Vestal Laura and Valkyries, the image of them descending from the heavens to interdict on the field of battle where needed most, yeah I needed to recreate that.  That's how Johnny's think.  They want to create an army or list that evokes a style and, more often then not, that style is defined by some aspect of the story.  Occasionally Johnny will build a list based on a style defined by Timmy's perceptions of "sub-par" units.  I have built, and so has 2CE, lists for competitive play that were defined by using Timmy's perceived "sub-par" unit choices, which leads me to...


Timmy, the power gamer, he couldn't care less about story, right?  The quick answer: wrong.  But it's not easy to see why that thought is wrong.  So let me walk you through how Timmy looks at unit entries.  Timmy is only interested in the impressive.  List construction guidelines are a hindrance to him, because all he wants to smash things with his uber-powerful units.  But how does he define impressive?  Ultimately by the rules, but I have seen Timmy's get frustrated by "sub-par" units. 
That's the point where I realized story mattered to Timmy.  His frustration at a "sub-par" unit is based on a perception.  The rules are there for him to see, so where did the perception that this unit should be better come from?  The story.  Timmy reads that awesome story where Saint Mary (Darkage) was ripping through the Skarrd, but gets frustrated that in his games she dies to easy.  His perception is influenced by the story to make him think she should be more powerful then the rules make her.  Timmy likes to impress, and is frustrated when the story he's given doesn't match the table top.  It's hard to see, but it's there once you realize it, story matters to Timmy.  But it's even harder to see for...


Spike only plays the best lists.  He cares about winning above all else.  He's a tournament player, and every game he plays is designed to improve his chances at winning the next tournament.  How can story have any impact on him, or his play style.  Short answer: it's doesn't impact his play style at all.  His play style is defined by the list that is most optimal.  But Belgarath97, I hear you say, you said it matters to all of us?  You're right I did.  Then I hear you say, so how come you're saying Spike isn't influenced by story?  I didn't say that, I said his play style isn't defined by story.  But why does Spike choose to play Warzone over Warmachine?  Or Dark Age over Spinespur?  Or Counterblast over Pulp City?  Or vice versa?  Because that games story or mythos appeals more to him.  Story's impact on Spike is broad based.  It defines his choice in game, and then has little more impact, beyond possibly influencing faction choice in the game.  But Spike is also likely to change factions as the Local meta for his chosen game changes, always to the best list he can find.  The impact is there, it's just are to see.

The Painter/Modeler

Story impacts these hobbyists very differently.  For both it's the visuals that matter, but the story influences the visuals.  Take Pulp City and Spinespur for example.  The tone of the story impacts the models and artwork, and that's what matters to these hobbyists.  Spinespur is dark and brooding, Pulp City is comic book.  Both will attract different people and draw in different ways, but both are defined by the setting and the story.

So there you have it, story matter's to everyone.  At least in my opinion.  I hope you found this walk through the mind of gamers interesting.  Until next time...


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