Applying Goal Orientation Theory to Warhammer

Setting goals vs objectives, and why you got it wrong | Range

One thing that graduate students often share with five year olds is a burning desire to share what they are learning with others. As a member of the former category, I have recently found an interesting idea that I think applies to Warhammer or other competitive games.

Now I am not an expert on Goal Orientation Theory, and most of what I am going to share comes from The Handbook of Self-Regulation edited by Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. I feel I can get away without citations here, just assume any insights are taken from the book (particularly chapter 14, pp. 472-489 if you must know.) The focus of this part of the book was the description of Mastery and Performance goals. Simply put, most goals revolving around learning for one of two orientations:

  • Mastery Goals: Focused on learning the material in order to better understand the subject
  • Performance Goals: Focused on learning the material to improve one’s standing relative to others.

Furthermore each of these two goal orientations can be broken down into two attitudes: Approach or Avoidance. Thus when combined it yields the following chart:

With the structure framed out here is a brief description for each category:

  • Mastery Approach: Focus on learning the material, mastering the subject.
  • Mastery Avoidance: Focus on avoiding making mistakes, not regressing.
  • Performance Approach: Focus on learning the material in order to appear superior to others, particularly to be the best.
  • Performance Avoidance: Focus on learning the material in order to avoid looking dumb or ill-informed.

When comparing the various goal orientations and their impact on learning, the research in this book indicated that students with a Mastery Approach orientation learned more deeply and displayed better techniques as compared to those with a Performance orientation (particularly those who took a Performance Avoidance orientation.)

So what on earth does this have to do with Warhammer? No one is being forced to play this game, so why would anyone feel the need to take a performance approach? I believe this model also applies to the reasons why many people play the game. Anecdotally, we have all seen people who have played at a tournament with the clear goal of establishing their perceived dominance over the other players. I think there are also examples of professional players whose approach to the game fit the Mastery Approach Orientation especially individuals such as Richard Seigler and Sean Nayden.

I think the best use of this information though is for you to reflect on your own approach to playing the game competitively. I can tell you right now if you approach competitive 40k with a Performance orientation you are likely going to struggle and not perform as effectively (and you probably won’t be much fun to play against). Furthermore many players who we encounter are toxic precisely because of their orientation. While I have no advice for changing your orientation, it could be helpful to think about if you find yourself frustrated with your competitive performance. Alternatively, thinking about this model may provide a gut-check moment as you think about why you play the game and the impact it has on other people.

So what do you think? Am I grasping at straws? Did I just butcher Goal Orientation Theory? Let me know!

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