Casual vs. Competitive

The following is an email from Jive Professor, a contributor at YTTH. We started a discussion on Casual vs. Competitive and he asked if I'd post his response (and provide one of my own). This subject is near and dear to me, so no apologies for the wall of text.

Here's my comment that prompted Jive Professor's email: "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: "I think this is where the competitive and casual (if such distinctions can even really be made, I think we all are a bit of both) communities split. This area is a lot more gray than I think you're making it. There's this school of thought that "casual" is inherently fun, and "competitive" is only fun if certain conditions are met."

Mkerr: I'm not making a distinction between casual and competitive play, I'm saying that the "competitive community" (note the distiction here -- I'm talking communities that isolate and focus primarily on "competitive" play) often seem to forget that we're playing a game. Fun is a more important goal than winning or improving your skill at the game.

JP: "I say both are inherently fun. Fun can be more important than winning or skill for you Mkerr. But for some people, like myself, winning and skill are fun. It is fun to build a killer list, fight another killer list, and come out on top. It is fun to play a strong opponent, have the entire game come down to the wire and hinge on one die roll to see who claims that 5th objective. Competition is fun."

Mkerr: I don't think you understood my comment. It's a game, so fun is the goal (i.e., fun is the goal of every game). I'm not defining fun beyond the requirement that it's bilateral (it's a social and interactive game so both players need to have fun).

JP: "This is where the blogosphere/community ends up getting in arguments that go round and round like this til we are blue in the keyboard with no discernible conclusion. When we write an article on YTTH we speaking about competitively play. If the lists do not seem like they tell a story or fall within GW's fictional contraints - they don't. They are not supposed to. The content we put out is not how you should play every single game. It's how (we think) you should play if you want to be competitive."

Mkerr: I'd argue that the terms "casual" and "competitive" don't really work for 40K -- at least not the way we're using them. All games are casual; and all games with winners and losers are competitive. We're talking about the degree on which we focus on those aspects. If you focus on the game holistically (i.e., the whole game) then you are "casual", while a "competitive" player is one that focuses solely on building tough lists and winning games.

So when you say "It's how (we think) you should play if you want to be competitive", I hear "It's how (we think) you should play if you only want to build tough lists and win games". An important consideration, for sure, but not my only consideration when playing the game.

JP: "Fun is subjective. Some people think collecting stamps is fun. Some people think watching golf on television is fun. Some players think telling a narrative through the medium of miniature wargaming is fun. Some people think assembling and commanding finely tuned competitive armies against likewise opponents is fun. A person can enjoy both of these things. But they don't have to, and they certainly don't have to at the same time."

Mkerr: Fun (in 40K) is a lot less subjective than the picture you paint. It's a social, interactive wargame which means that the fun happens above the gaming table (between the two players) and not really on the table (between the models). For example, if you encounter a belligerent or abusive player, you aren't going to have much fun even if cool stuff happens in the game.

JP: "This notion that if you are doing well you have to alter how you play based on your opponent's performance is one thing if we're having a beer and pretzels game. It's another thing entirely when you're in a tournament. Everyone's enjoyment at the table is my job when I am DMing a Dungeons and Dragons or Rogue Trader game - these are inherently cooperative storytelling experiences. They cannot function purely as a test of skill. Wargaming is under no such constraints. It can be, if the players so choose. I have played in a few map-based narrative campaigns where we chose units based on our backstories, modeled heroes to represent victories, the whole nine yards and man it was a blast. But it was a different kind of fun from competitive gaming, and neither is inherentlysuperior."

Mkerr: In my opinion, all 40K games should be "beer and pretzels" games (but I've had some pretty serious games over beers). Even when winning is an important consideration (like in a tournament), players should be focused on having fun.

I don't know why it's so tough for some players to realize that you are completely responsible for your opponent's enjoyment. This a voluntary social, interactive game -- one that soaks a lot of our free time and money. We all want to have a good time playing it -- even when we lose games.

For the most part, 40K is a voluntary game. If you aren't fun to play against, you aren't going to get many games. In many ways, 40K is like sex (and more than just being expensive): If you aren't concerned with your partner's enjoyment, you aren't going to get to do it as much as you like.

By design, 40K cannot be played as a "pure test of skill". This isn't chess (heck, this isn't even Texas Hold'em or Scrabble). Factors like match-up, mission and luck are completely out of our control -- but fun (and a good attitude) is always within our control.

JP: "Sitting around and writing the story Billy Jibba Jabba - The Little Termagaunt Who Could after a game benefits the hobby just as much as penning Advanced Rifleman Dreadnought Target Priority Mathhammer Analysis: Volume 6. Modeling a severed head from the army of a bitter rival onto your hero's base or meticulously ensuring each and every model is WYSIWYG and has at least 3 colors on it are both good for the hobby. I'm not saying these things are identical, per se, but that they have the same net effect on the hobby - they are beneficial for the community as a whole. Positive involvement in an activity that we all love."

Mkerr: You keep slipping in comments like "narrative campaigns", "fictional contraints", "cooperative storytelling ", etc. into your comments. While these styles of play are part of the hobby, they aren't the norm (any more than tournaments are the norm). For most players, a normal game is what we call a "pick-up" game. You take your army to your FLGS and find someone to play. Both of you are playing voluntarily -- with the goal of having a good time. So let's focus on the "game", as opposed to the "hobby".

JP: "And I'm not "defending" the competitive community only here. There is a lot of impracticality and haughtiness on both sides of the fence when it comes to this discussion. Calling someone a retard for fielding a Thunderfire Cannon when they dropped $50 on the thing and can't afford to upgrade their army because the economy is bad is wrong. Calling someone a douchebag fratboy for not fielding Alfonzo's Anointed Devastator Squad and meticulously painting the stained glass on their rhino which depicts how their 2 heavy bolters and 2 plasma cannons felled the dark beast Ar'sha'hqad because that unit is frikkin garbage on the tabletop is wrong. Not all of us have the time to read every single army book, cross analyze ever stat and point value, and then figure out what the best unit is. Not all of us have the time to read a 15 book series on the Imperial Guard so we can figure out how the Imperial war machine operates and make sure that 6 chimeras and 2 vendettas isn't breaking some completely fictitious canon."

Mkerr: I would argue that the stance you've chosen is "defending the competitive community" (not that there's anything wrong with that).

As far as your examples go, I've seen the former a lot (which is the source of my conflict with YTTH) and almost none of the latter.

As far as being familiar with the background of the army you've chosen: I don't expect players to know more than the stuff that's in their codex. But one of the more fun parts of the "hobby" (not the "game", mind you) is exploring and discussing the background of the universe. It gives you something to talk about above the table while you are moving your little army men.
JP: "One of my favorite parts of the GW hobby is that we all play it. I can move to just about any place in the country, and many places around the world, and play the exact same game as someone else in Japan, Italy, or Canada. We are part of a global community and we have a shared experience."

Mkerr: You touched on my point right there. We are cooperatively creating a "shared experience". Our goal should be to make sure that experience positive for BOTH players. If you play a friendly, social game then every game has two winners (i.e., both players walk away from a fun game). If you focus only on your own selfish experience, then there's at most only one winner.

JP: "Our community is so large it can allow for different kinds of gaming. If each game tells a story to you, and that's what is fun then go for it. If each game is a test of skill, then go for it. We can coexist. We are both right."

Mkerr: Again, you touched on my point again. You shouldn't walk up to the table with an assumption of what the game is going to be. You are entering into a social contract to create a shared experience. To figure out what that experience should be, you have to talk to your opponent and come up with something that you would both enjoy.

All types of gamers can coexist as long as we focus on three simple guidelines:

1) ATTITUDE: The first thing you need to bring to the table is a good attitude.

2) EXPECTATIONS: Communicate with your opponent before you put a single model down (e.g., talk about your expectations for the game and define a shared experience that you will both enjoy).

3) AWESOMENESS: Do your best to create one memorable experience in every game (even if that event isn't the smartest tactical move). In a month, you won't remember if you won or lost, but you will remember the time when your Vindicare blew up that Landraider...

JP: "Competition is not badwrongfun. Professional sports are evidence enough of that. The training, the drive to win, the drama when two teams who are honed to perfection face off against one another in a contest of skill - it's fantastic.

Casual is not badwrongfun. If I didn't love GW's expansive worlds then I wouldn't drop so much money on piles of plastic and pewter. I always read the fluff of every army book I buy. I love the desperation of the Blood Angels as they struggle against the very curse that gives them such noble strength. I love the paradox of the Lizardmen's obvious martial and arcane strength tempered by an almost childish sense of loss and abandonment by the flight of the Old Ones. The blend of history, fantasy, science fiction - it's fantastic."

Mkerr: Focusing on winning with no concern for your opponent's enjoyment is badwrongfun.

JP: "But at the end of the day, I don't shackle myself to those stories. That's all they are, just stories. Just because some Brit jotted down on a piece of paper "Oh by the way, in Outer Space ImagiNarnia there are only like 2 Land Raiders because they totally forgot how to make them so yeah try not to take 3" is not sufficient enough reason for me to feel like I can't field 3 Land Raiders if that's the army I think is strongest."

Mkerr: I've been playing for many years and I can't think of a single instance where my opponent says he didn't enjoy himself because my three Exorcists didn't seem to meet the codex's "individual works of art" phrase. He might have said that he didn't have fun because my list was abusive and unbalanced. He might have said that he didn't have fun because I went for a total massacre instead of just a marginal win. He might have said that he didn't have fun because I was a jerk who argued every point to make sure that I won.

But no one has ever claimed to have had a lousy time because my army didn't meet their fluff expectations.

JP: "I like writing army lists. I like testing wacky army builds. I like honing my skills against opponents who are going to use every tool at their disposal to try and win, because it keeps me sharp and keeps me in the zone. If I am getting tabled there's no reason they should have to stop what they're doing, move their hero out of a unit, and suddenly start a soliloquy soI can get a cheap shot in on him because he feels bad that I brought a crappy army or made a huge mistake. He can, if we're just goofing around, but he doesn't have to."

Mkerr: I completely agree -- and no one is suggesting otherwise. I'm not suggesting that you should lose games intentionally, but - that said - it is incumbent of veteran players to promote the hobby. That might include playing down to a beginner's level to make him excited about the game (e.g., we have a rule in Austin that no one loses their first game).

What I am suggesting is finding out what is fun (and conversely not fun) for your opponent and do (or avoid) that. If your opponent gets one or two nights a month to play (like most players), then why go out of your way to make sure that he has a horrible time just to preserve your win/loss ratio?

JP: "As long as both players are not douchebags and are not cheating they can play as cuddly or as cutthroat as they'd like. Either way, as long as they are playing the game they are benefiting the community - and they're doing it right."

Mkerr: Again, we diverge here. It is every player's responsibility to make sure that his opponent has a good time, regardless of what happens on the table. If you discover that most of your opponents aren't having fun because you brought an unbalanced list (e.g., Darkwynn's Dilemma), then you should probably change your list. If you discover that most of your opponents aren't having fun because you are taking too long to take your turns (to make sure that everything is "just perfect"), then you should probably speed up your game. If you discover that most of your opponents aren't having fun because you lose your temper when you have bad luck, then you should probably lighten up.

Warhammer 40K is first -- and foremost -- a social game. We aren't athletes. We aren't professionals. We're game players.

>> I'd love you get your comments on Casual vs. Competitive. Is there a distinction? Is winning more important than fun? Can you really enjoy yourself when your opponent is having a miserable time? Let's hear it!

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