Reecius here with an editorial on gaming during these special holiday times!
Competitive tabletop gaming is a topic that stimulates both a great deal of discussion and strong feelings.
Some folks feel that the very idea of it is absurd, and that competitive toy soldiers is a bit of bad comedy. For folks in this category the game is played strictly for fun and that is the primary purpose of the exercise. Allowing competitive instincts to overcome this goal can lead to what they feel is an unenjoyable experience wherein the game devolves into a contest of wills and fun falls by the wayside.
For a gamer more oriented towards this line of thinking, the game is most fun, most immersive, when everyone is working together in a form of collective storytelling. Who wins and who loses is important, but less important than everyone creating a story with the game they are playing. They seek to lose themselves in that sense of discovery and light-hearted fun of a good game.
Others absolutely love competitive gaming. For these types of gamers, the thrill of a tough game is the most enjoyable way to play. The intensity of pitting your mind, skill and luck against an equally skilled opponent creates a more immersive experience. That is the fun for them, and while a game strictly for laughs can also be a great game, it simply lacks the intensity of a truly competitive game.
I took a class in university called Wilderness and the Outdoor Experience. At the time, it sounded like an easy A, a class we called in my day a “Mickey Mouse Course,” meaning that it was a class you really didn’t need to put any effort into.
However, I was wrong on both the ease of the class and the fact that it would be a Mickey Mouser. It turned out to be both challenging and extremely interesting. In it, we studied something called “peak experiences.” These occur when you become so immersed in what you are doing that you lose your sense of self and time. You become so focused that everything else fades into the background.
The professor used the example of White Water Rafting, Mountain Climbing, etc. as potentially peak experiences. I think all of us have had these types of experiences in our lifetimes. For those of us who crave that truly competitive match, when we find it it can become a peak experience. And that is why I think so many gamers gravitate towards highly competitive play at some point in their gaming careers. The other great thing about competitive gaming is that you can use it as an outlet to scratch your competitive itch no matter your age or physical condition! I also love doing fun runs and races, but that will become something that is increasingly more difficult as I advance in age. Competitive 40K? So long as the game exists and my mind is still sharp, I can do it indefinitely and continue to improve!
However, for the more casual gamer, they can also experience this type of feeling in the middle of a well orchestrated narrative campaign, or in a simple pick-up game wherein they and their friends are laughing so hard at what happens on the tabletop, that they for a time forget their daily problems and lose themselves in the game. And, as with competitive gaming, this is something you can build and enjoy and share with children and even grandchildren down through the years, sharing your collections and experiences with them.
What I think is important to remember is that both players are seeking the same thing: an escape into the world of the game. Whether they get their via intense competition and focus, or intense immersion in a narrative gaming experience, they are both trying to get to the top of the same mountain.
So in the spirit of Christmas and the holidays, keep that in mind next time you want to call someone WAAC or a Fluff Bunny and ask yourself if you are helping to build community or break it apart. We are all, after all, playing the same games and these games that we play, require a community to function.
Merry Christmas, everyone!