Casual vs. Competitive, Part 2

In an effort to support earnest and open dialog, I'm going to elevate Jive Professor's (a contributor at YTTH) response in the comments from my recent Casual vs. Competitive post (make sure you read that post before jumping into this one).

For reference, here's the comment that started the discussion: "I guess that's my point. Sometimes I feel that the "competitive community" forgets that this is - first and foremost - a game. Fun is infinitely more important than winning or skill."

Jive Professor's comments are in italics:
JP: "Thanks again Mkerr for posting this! Communication > Drama. Even if we don't come to an agreement, I prefer this to the e-beef and all that."

Mkerr: I couldn't agree more. It's always a pleasure to debate an issue without being attacked.

JP: "The more I read your post and the replies, I'm starting to think there is a disconnect to how we are viewing the debate, specifically how we are defining these terms. It seems to me (I may be wrong, I'm just kind of rolling with things here) that we aren't quite talking about the same spheres of the hobby, if that makes sense.

You seem to be viewing casual and competitive in terms of player conduct and social interaction, whereas I'm using the terms in regards to army construction and on-table actions. Put more simply I think what's happening is that you're talking about what is going on above the table and I'm talking about what's happening on the table."

Mkerr: Not exactly; I'm talking about prioritization. In every game, what happens *on* the table (e.g., winning) should always be less important than what happens *above* the table (e.g., fun).

The #1 goal of any game is to have fun. The #1 responsibility of any player is to make sure that the other players have fun. That's the real difference between a game and a sport (well, and the fact that you can make a living playing a sport...).

JP: "I completely agree that there is a social contract between players when we engage in the hobby. However, I think the terms of that contract are entirely up to individual game groups and players. As long as everyone is in agreement then it's all gravy. My local group for example allows Special Characters for 40k, but not for Fantasy. It's part of our social contract, and it's fine. It is neither superior nor inferior to how any other group decides to play.

So yes we are in agreement there. But that's why I think we are talking around each other and circling the issue, because we are working with different definitions of casual and competitive."

Mkerr: We are in complete agreement about the implied social contract.

Hoewever, I don't think we're working with different definitions of casual and competitive. I'm arguing that distinctions between casual and competitive are irrelevant if your #1 priority is making sure that everyone has a good time.

If you make sure that your opponent has fun, then casual and competitive becone very minor distinctions of gameplay (no more different than the distinction between 2-player games vs. 4-player games or standard missions vs. non-standard missions, etc.).

JP: "You mentioned that most people play pick up games, making newbies cry or want to ragequit the hobby is a bad thing, etc. I agree with you, but therein also lies my point - tournament games, exhibition games, narrative games, demo games, these are all different areas within our larger umbrella hobby. Different kinds of games, different kinds of social contracts, different player expectations on what constitutes fun in a given context. Fun does not have a single definition, nor does it come with conditions that need to be met. It's entirely up to the people playing."

Mkerr: Agreed. Each new game is a new implied social contract between the players involved. It doesn't matter what kind of game they are playing (i.e., tournament vs. demo vs. narrative vs. pick-up).

The goal of the social contract is to ensure that both players have fun -- if your actions make it impossible for your opponent to have fun (e.g., you cheat, you're an ass, you smell bad, you are texting your "girlfiend" non-stop, etc.), then you've broken the contract.

Fun doesn't require a single definition. It's a fluid concept -- and it's going to change several times in the average game. You just have to be aware of it and change accordingly. The implied agreement is that you are both engaged in the game with the ultimate goal of having fun. It's up to both players to make sure that happens.

JP: "Showing up to play a new player with a cutting-edge list designed to break their face and show your dominance when they are still trying to learn the core mechanics and don't want to face something like that is not okay. That's not competitive, that's bullying."

Mkerr: Agreed, but it's not the list that makes it bullying. It's the player's actions that make it unreasonable. You can easily pit a stronger player (with a more powerful list) against a weaker player (with a weaker list) and have a great time. You just have to modify your game and your communication with your opponent to reflect the lack of balance between your skill/lists.

Telegraphing what you are going to do with your more powerful list can easily bridge the gap in skill, luck, mission and match-up. Simple things like, "I'm going to deep strike this unit here" or "Don't forget that I have this other unit in reserve" or "I plan on moving everything over here to claim this objective on my next turn" is often enough to balance the playing field.

That's where Attitude + Communication + Awesomeness come into play.

JP: "When I say competitive community and when I am talking about competitive gaming I am working with the assumption that the players have already agreed to this style of gameplay."

Mkerr: We completely disagree here. Your theoretical "competitive community" just doesn't exist (besides perhaps on the internet). No two players have the exact same expectations -- every single game is different thanks to variables like personality, luck, mission and match-up. You should modify your expectations and playstyle based on your opponent's reactions in every single game.

JP: "So to recap: I'm not talking about attitude and how you treat your opponent, I'm talking purely about the game, the lists, etc."

Mkerr: I feel like you are talking theory, not the real-world application of playing the game. It's fine to discuss "competitive gaming" as an intellectual concept, but once you put minis on the table you are playing a game and need to modify your playstyle based on what's happening on and above the table.

JP: "Quick jump to another bit here. This is from Pacific:

"Sadly, I think a number of players (those who occupy the ultra competitive side of the game, and don't care if their opponent leaves the table in tears and a kitten dies) have an askew values system within their own lives - such that the value of a win in a fantasy board game outweighs the emotional state of the human being across the table."

See, this is what I'm talking about. There's this assumption that competitive players like to seek out casual players and beat the hell out of them through some sort of weird proxy macho projection. That's not at all what I'm talking about. That's being a cockheaded bully."

Mkerr: Those examples exist because they actually happen in the real world. I know I've seen it many times (and have probably been guilty of it as well). Players become enamored with their finely-tuned lists and use them (and heavy-handed tactics) against opponents without consideration of their opponent's fun.

Again, this is the difference between your theoretical "competitive community" and real-world gaming. There's never an excuse (even tournaments and prizes) for a player to forget the game's ultimate goal.

JP: "Competitive gaming is about players coming together with the intent of bringing strong lists and playing to the best of their tactical ability. It is not about making people cry and being an aggressive manchild. It's about testing yourself against someone else at the top of their game and really honing your tactical ability. The fun is not about LOL I BROKE UR SPACE BARBIES LOL. The fun comes from the fact that it is a challenging mental exercise and that it makes you strive to play better and play smarter."

Mkerr: And I would argue that "casual" gaming isn't really that different. We're both playing the same game with the same goals. A less competitive player may bring a less abusive list and he might do something cool that's not statistically the best move (e.g., assaulting the Necron Lord instead of escorting him off the table), but he's still playing a tactical wargame with the goal of winning.

Casual doesn't mean stupid and it doesn't mean bad tactics. Goals like "testing yourself", "honing your tactical ability" and tuning your army list are all great goals and belong in casual gaming. And striving to win is also an important part of every game. They are just secondary to *both* players having fun.

JP: "The problem is that people think competitive gaming is purely about the present. That single matches take place in a void or in isolation from other games. Competitive gaming is about having to stay on your toes, work hard to win, and play over and over and over again. Fight for the title, fight to keep it type of thing.

For example, my Lizardmen have been massacred about 3 games running by a friend's Skaven list. I'm talking brutal beatings. What it has done is it has kicked me into a sort of tactical overdrive. I'm constantly mulling over new strategies on how to handle this list, like a brain teaser. It drives me to be a better player and the drive to win is what compels me to keep playing. It's not about making each other cry, because we are both experienced players who have agreed to play this kind of game. It's about the challenge."

Mkerr: Let's consider your example. What happens if you can't ever improve your skills or your army to compete with your friend's skill and army? What happens when your skills plateau and your opponent's skill doesn't? If you are both considering each other's enjoyment, skill/army are irrelevant. You might lose lots of games, but if you are having fun you really don't care. Winning and losing becomes secondary to fun -- which means that BOTH players always win the primary objective. :)

I'm all for becoming a better player, learning the game, seeking out challenges and competing in tournaments. Those are all fantastic and positive goals, but they aren't the penultimate goal of the game.

If you want to be a better player, then work on your hygeine, your social skills and your attitude. If you want to compete at a higher level, then become a player that better players want to play against (e.g., a fun player with an awesome attitude). If you want to build better army lists, then engage in the community instead of attacking it.

>> I'd love you get your thoughts on Casual vs. Competitive -- so let's hear it!

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