Sometimes, its good to reflect on ones self and to look in a mirror and find out who you really are.
For me, it was a lesson I learned in high school, in a philosophy class where I was exposed to ideas and thoughts that had really never been shown to me. I took each part of me, my thought processes and my preconceptions and examined them. Those I embraced, I put back on the stack, rebuilding me. Those I disliked were tossed away like so many cracked and deformed bricks.
What I found out, through that ruthless process, was that I truly enjoyed competition. It doesn’t always have to be with others, sometimes I compete with myself, but often times it is. This is exponentially more so when you get to games. It gets bad when I am trying to best my own time while running, or make sure that I get home faster than I did yesterday, but with games it elevates itself to an entirely new level.
I love games because they are a competition, though there are three different versions of competition within games.
The first is the simplest, and is the competition of one person against either a single or multiple opponents. This is when you are trying to be the master of the game, and be better than your opponents at the game. I love these games because it lets me think in direct puzzle mode, engaging the parts of my brain that are trying to figure out whats the best path to victory against a similarly clever opponent. These games tend to give me the greatest pleasure because the opponent is a living, thinking, intelligent person like myself who is also out to get me down. Warmachine really hits this off for me, with Tabletop games filling in as well. Deckbuilding games and some board games come in here, but they also hit the second concept as well.
The second is harder to get good at, and also harder to get right. This is player against the designer. Many video games play this way to me – Its why I always play on hard. In this version of competition, you’re pitting your skills, knowledge and intelligence against a person who has play tested this game a hundred-hundred times and though that they came up with everything. They know every way to win, and every path to victory you’ll take and most often they know before you do. I enjoy video games in this manner because I can pass judgement on the game designer without knowing or ever encountering him or her based on their game. It is much harder to viciously drub a pleasant opponent and then call them terrible at the game when they are sitting across from you smiling and drinking a beer. This is also the way I view most deck building games. The creators of that type of game were definitely trying to balance the game around something, and I really take a perverse joy in trying to beat the balance to death within the rules of the game while also beating my opponents.
The final version is pretty much the most fun I can have playing games, and that’s cooperative. This version the competition is against the game itself. To me, this is significantly different from a developer competition because you have to work as a team to beat the game with your other players. You have to combine the good sportsman of the first game with the ruthlessness of the second. You have no rules arbiter or referee, and you surely don’t have someone who wants to interpret the rules any way other than for the benefit of the players, so its got to be a hard, hard game in order to be any fun, and hard games are the most fun.
With all that said, I know that while I am competitive, I still let the narrative and casual gamer out alongside the artistic one. In MTG this means that while I want them to hum and work with brutal precision, I have an insane fixation on strange themes with my decks. This means that I don’t really like mercs in my faction armies in Warmachine, and it means that I love reading the fluff wording during board games. Knowing that I am competitive also helps me suppress it when I need to, though it is hard. It means that I can step back and try to just flow with the game as opposed to forcing, especially in multiplayer games, my style of games on the rest of my friends.
Its important to know where you stand on the spectrum of gamers, and why you stand there. It helps you decide what games you like, and why. It also helps you interact with the other players of a game in a manner that makes both of you feel comfortable, because you can just say what you are without having the opponent get through the vast majority of a game before figuring it out.
Finally, and most importantly, it lets you know how you’ll get the most fun out of a game that you own or play. For me, I have to look at the models and the rules. If the rules aren’t good enough to be competitive, its going to be a little hard for me to embrace, but if they seem clean and clear cut, I’ll be all over it.
So take a few minutes and determine for yourself what type of gamer you are and embrace it. Get all in it. Become it. But control it and turn it off when you interact with gamers who are different from you. Its always better to play games with others than never play a game again.