Sunday, August 28, 2011

What's in a Game? And What's in a Gamer?

Gamers, gamers everywhere. So many, many games, so very little time.

Lately I've been drowning in gaming goodness. There are so many excellent games out there, old school, new school, retro, nouveau, crunchy, lite, complex, simple, and every genre under the sun. They each have their strengths and they each have their weaknesses. Having the pleasure of teaching young kids to game has been educational for me in many ways. What I've seen time and again is the tendency for young gamers to stick to the game the started with. They tend to prefer their first game more than others. There are a few exceptions who switch systems and a small number that system bounce. But generally speaking these kids develop a strong passion for their game of choice and express a devoted loyalty to it. And this is true across systems. I have seen kids feel this way about 3.5, Pathfinder, 4e, OSRIC, 2e and 1e. It's inspiring if a little frustrating. Especially when trying to cater to 25 different gamers.

I've also seen this generally among gamers everywhere. Even though a sign of gaming maturity (according to Gary Gygax) is the ability to try different gaming systems and understand and thrive within them. Gamers still have their preferences and often desire to create within that system more than others. There will always be a market for new games because gamers eventually branch out. This branching out usually takes the form of "trying out" different games and sometimes by eventually changing their preferred system. At times friends foster or force such a change. If all our gaming buddies want a change we are hard pressed to not go along. Sometimes we end up changing our hearts over time and adopting a love for the new system; and other times we drift back to what we used to play.

Watching all of this I have determined a personal categorization of gamers into certain groups.
  • The Devotee: A true loyalist this type of gamer may have tried other games and may still play a little of this and a little of that, but they have one preferred system. They don't like long term games in other systems, and prefer to play in their preferred system at least once a month. They are brilliant creators within their system and often have rules, mechanics and passage of the core committed to memory by long term reading and use. They embody their system's spirit as well and often become the heart and flame of their system's continuation over time. Many in the OSR fall in this area. Like wizards in their towers toiling over their tomes for ages to gain the next drop of wisdom, power or magic from their beloved discipline.
  • The Cultist: Another highly committed if slightly weird loyalist to one system. These gamers live their system-lierally. They not only read all literature even slightly related to their system they often write their own works in the system's genre. They frequently wear costumes to game night and may be frequent LARPers in a group that is similar to their chosen system. They elevate the creators of their chosen game to quasi-deific status and see any who play others games as heretics to the one true game. Some Call of Cthulhu players fit this bill, though cultists can be found throughout gamerdom.
  • The Fanboy: The most vitriolic of gamers, these too are devoted with utter and complete passion to their game of choice. They are unable to reason with any other system but theirs. They are impossible to hold a conversation with outside of their system and they will claim to be utterly convinced their game is the only one and true game. That is until something else comes along that everyone else changes to. Fanboys are very common in modern games and share much in common with ardent video gamers. But don't cast stones too quickly, many of us were fanboys at one time or another.
  • The Dilettante: Often skilled in one game, the dilletante does not hold the devoted character of previous gamers to one system. They may have specialized in one system, but hold no particular devotion to it beyond the excellence of the system itself. Dilettantes love games, all kinds of games. They are able to switch gaming dialogues between systems and are frequently highly capable game designers. This is because they are conversant with so many systems and able to evaluate systems with keen insight. Their bookshelves are full to brimming over with literally hundreds of different game titles.
  • The Designer: Frequently devoted to one system for awhile, this type of gamer created within their system with mad abandon. Quickly however, they outgrew their system and began setting their sights on other games. Frequently such gamers go through a number of games and are Dilettantes for awhile before deciding no game has quite what they want, or that there exists a hole in the gaming universe they desire to fill. They then contribute to the hobby by creating their own system. Sometimes they will make such a system their magnum opus, but others are discontent continuing to pump out systems and supplements like there is no tomorrow. Always hoping that one day they will achieve their dream and support themselves by creating games.
  • The Gaming Whore: Some prefer Gaming Junkee, but Whore is actually more apt. Where junkees jones for a fix of their favorite gaming narcotic, whores will lay with any game for a night. At times we can all be gaming whores. This usually happens when we've gone for long spates without any gaming at all, and then fall in bed with a trashy group or lame game just to get a fix, only to wake up the next morning feeling cheap and worthless ourselves. Some live this sort of life willing to game anything, anytime, anywhere. It is still open to debate as to whether such gamers are actually addicted to gaming like nymphophiliacs are to lovemaking.
  • Wannabes: We all know the feeling of not quite fitting in, but really wanting to. That's what wannabes feel all the time. Many gamers feel this way when looking for a gaming home. Especially when switching systems to an established game. We are outsiders and we know it. We know it because we made others feel like outsiders when they came to join our gaming community. This can happen to any of us once in awhile. But true wannabes never really know any game well, but are always trying to fit in with one gaming crowd or another.
  • Lost Souls: Sadly there are many gamers who wander aimlessly through the realms of gamerdom. Eternally seeking what was lost they now truly belong nowhere. They live a hollow and empty gaming existence as if missing their hearts and souls. This is a pitiful by byproduct of games going out of print and gaming companies shutting their doors. The first occurrence of lost souls occurred with the ending of 0e, which was slightly mitigated by the introduction of the B/X line, but started again with the production of 2e then hit climax with the selling of D&D to WoTC. These are not the only instances of lost soul creation but just the first and most profound. Though some movements seek to give a new gaming homes to these poor individuals they seem to prefer the life of the gaming homeless; reveling in their unique and melancholy status. Some lost souls themselves have even sought to rebuild their lost kingdoms, but they are usually pitiful imitations at best. Carboard castles in a land of ruins. Even today there still exist many who wander and are lost.
  • The Dazed & Confused: There indeed are so many games to try these days it is understandable that some gamers exist in a perpetual state of confusion. Bombarded by the massive output of creative gaming material in today's warkeplace of gaming ideas they have no system to cope with the information overload. No understanding of how the gaming world works or operates beyond it's about playing cool games. It can take years to leave this state of being, and some never leave. They'll play what you put in front of them, because they like the experience, and know there is something appealing to the hobby. But are never truly able to quite grasp the full scope of what gaming is about or what it has to offer. Most fanboys are drawn from these ranks, but not all.
And I could go on, simply 'cuz it's so much fun making all this crap up. But I'm sure you can sense that there's more than a mote of truth to it all. And actually all of us go through these stages in one form or another. Did you see elements of yourself in there somewhere? One might even assert that each stage is sequential in some form or fashion. But truth is I just pulled this out of my arse. And I have no idea whether it's useful or not beyond mere entertainment value. But it was fun to write. Hope you got a chuckle or two. For you know what they say, if you can't laugh at yourself once in awhile then your too damn serious.
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