Lifecycle Of Gamers

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Yriel of Iyanden

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Players generally begin their WH40K career attracted to the idea of designing and fielding an army based a little bit on what they've seen in books and games, and wanting to add their own personal spin and develop their own unique tactics, and this should be encouraged. They talk to a GW Definition: Games Workshopstaffer that says things like "Don't you wanna build an army of the Emperor's finest warriors, filled with power-armored troops and a mix of tanks, speeders, and dreadnoughts to fight for humanity?" and new players are hooked. They want to try it all- they want to have it all- and they want their army to look good and have a "movie-battle scene" type feel to them, with lots of infantry backed by powerful support and deadly individuals.
But after their first few games (win or lose, in fact) therein grows a very strong desire to compete and win. It's natural and acceptable, and Warhammer 40K is in fact a competitive hobby game. In any competitive game- new players want to learn the system first, then they want to figure out how they can use what they've learned to excel in battle- and hey- there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In my opinion- this is perhaps THE most critical stage in the development of a new player, because it often decides how that new player's career will pan out- what they will look for when choosing armies and forces, who and where they will want to play, and what their attitude will be for the hobby. Further down the line, this will affect the numerous newer and existing gamers that this person will encounter, and one can imagine what kind of effect this might have on the game as a whole. Warhammer 40K is different than many competitive outlets in that it's highly mutable, and directly influenced by its gaming community, and so it is possible for individual players to establish their own "gaming legacies" if you will.
Newer players looking to up their game or enjoy it further are highly, highly influenced by their local gaming community and group. This is why your experiences and encounters with newer gamers have such an impact on the game as a whole- as an experienced gamer you are contributing to your local gaming legacy whether you want to or not.
A new player is only capable of making simple judgments based on simple observations. They want to win, and see things simply:
  • 1. My Landraider seems hard to kill, but I'm always losing it.
  • 2. I like power weapons.
  • 3. Lascannons have long range.
Naturally, anyone new to a game or sport will look for "patterns" of success. This is where your lineage is so important- and this is how easily it affects a newer gamer.
  • 1. I lost to that guy- he plays Eldar.
  • 2. He had three of those wraithlord thingies. Boy were they hard to kill!
  • 3. Eldar + lots of wraithlords = good.
All it takes is one encounter with a power gamer and their whole attitude about the game changes. They're no longer imagining themselves or their armies in the 41st millennium. They're putting their tactical marines on the shelf, and looking for ways to stuff their lists with as many characters, elites, and heavies that this newer player believes can deal with other powergamers. The thought pattern is reasonable enough:
  • 1. Wraithlords are good, but I can wound them with Lascannons
  • 2. Troops can do nothing to wraithlords.
  • 3. I'm better off fielding lots of tanks and bare minimum troops.
  • 4. I hope my army brings me a win.
And after a bitter massacre at the hands of unskilled powergamer #549505465565900, we see yet another powergamer in the making. And I suppose this is ok, so long as that player is having fun playing that way. This new powergamer racks in plenty of easy wins against the other inexperienced gamers in his group, and the only discernable difference between his skill and theirs is some "unorthodox" combination he took in his army list.
And suddenly, a line is drawn.
One powergamer in a newly formed group of players is like the first person to bring a corked bat to the neighborhood baseball game. It's like the first parent that beat up their kid for losing a potato sack race at the family picnic. Suddenly something originally intended for fun will be reduced to the lowest common denominator "Who's da best?" the way "American Idol" sucked the simple drunken fun out of karaoke.
Members of the gaming group need to decide what this game is for them. Is it a competition, a contest of "Who has the longest Railgun" or does 40K remain a remarkable combination of hobby, strategy, and fun?
From my own personal experiences, most newer players go for the longest Railgun approach. And why not? Why should their one friend keep winning- after all, all he's doing is taking as many of this same tank/unit as he can, and I can field the maximum of that counter next time and beat his unbalanced list with my unbalanced list...
The escalation has begun. One week it's three Hammerheads in 750pts. The next week it's 3 wraithlords in 1,000pts. And then 9 Obliterators and 4 Defilers in 1500pts. And then armored company, titans in 900pt battles... .and counter after counter after counter. In between playing each other, these gamers look for newer players, or they look for friendly hobbyists, who they wish to rack in some cheap wins using all manner of war-crimes.
And veterans can detect stores and gaming clubs that have been "infested" with a powergaming "Seeding Swarm". Walk into the store and have a look at the tables. Notice anything? Where have the troops gone? Why isn't anything painted? Why is everyone bragging about heavy models and arguing everything?
Why don't these guys look like they're having any fun?
Once properly seeded, powergaming and cheese-mongering spread like wildfire. It infests the tournaments, it invades friendly pick-up games, and now the vast majority of players powergame and expect powergaming from everyone they encounter, falsely believing that balanced, fun, and fair players are "less-skilled" than they are.
And just like the "rage" condition in "28 Days Later", after a while powergaming communities will starve to death. Straight annihilation games have been played out using every possible beardy combo. They know 18 Vypers with Starcannons kills an all-Necron Warrior army kills an Armored Company kills a maxed heavy/oblit Iron Warrior army. The numbers have played out. The math portion of the program is over. And for some who have lived this tragic life-cycle, their 40K days are over, and it's time to go play Halo again.
Again, this is fine, and it's okay to bring that mentality with you no matter what hobby you enjoy- so long as you aren't keeping others from enjoying their hobby as well. But there is an alternative- for those of us who wish to play and enjoy every facet of the game, and not only have fluffy, fun armies, but be able to truly demonstrate skill by engaging in true tactical conflict.
It's a more difficult path, but infinitely more positive for the game as a whole and more rewarding for you as a commander. It requires patience, intelligence, wisdom, and skill. But if you go this route, people will want to play against you. They will want to beat you. They will want to understand how you work. And most importantly, you'll be remembered for your skill- not your wacky army combinations.
What is particularly impressive is someone who has mastered the use of balanced, fluffy armies. This person can walk into a hobby store infested with powergamers, and the minute they see your empty Optional Elites slots, the powergamers are hungry for what they believe to be an "easy win". They grin and giggle while the advanced gamer unassumingly deploys what looks like an army you might see in the movies- lots of infantry mixed with a couple of tanks at the most, and some modestly priced characters in the mix. The powergamer can't wait to see the look on this guy's face when he deploys ONE... TWO... THREE Landraiders!! Oh he's gonna get it now!
But then, the powergamer loses one Landraider. And then another. And then the last one! But how? Those troops running around, apparently useless, have a few tricks up their sleeves. And with a lot of sleeves- it ends up being a lot of tricks, different ones at that. While the powergamer lazily and clumsily moved around his pieces, the advanced gamer was carefully diagramming his demise. While the powergamer rolled lascannon after lascannon shot at troops with no armor save, the Advanced gamer simply removed the models, and waited for his turn.
For the powergamer, this isn't how the game was supposed to end. He recalls his earlier conclusions:
  • 3. I'm better off fielding lots of tanks and bare minimum troops.
  • 4. I hope my army brings me a win.
But maybe it was just a fluke, right? I mean... that advanced gamer was so subtle, I don't even think he knew what he was doing! Who fields full 10 man tactical squads anyway?
So maybe that day, or on another day, another powergamer plays the Advanced gamer. And loses. And another one. And another one. The Advanced gamer may lose a game or two, but overall he's the best player to come into the store in quite some time. He's fun to play because he's fair, he knows the rules very well, and his armies are always well-modeled and painted! Plus we know we're in for a challenge- this guy might actually be a good player! And he doesn't resort to that crap that made me buy all these super-units in the first place. Maybe... .just maybe it would be more fun and challenging if I learned to configure my army a little "closer" to how the designers intended it to be...
The newer gamer-turned-powergamer might be crossing another threshold which again could change his 40K career and give him a new challenge to aspire to- becoming a more complete player. Unlike powergaming, advanced gaming spreads slowly, and sometimes not at all. It is an admittedly difficult journey. Also- change is incremental. Maybe next week he leaves one Leman Russ out of his list to fill out more on troops. Maybe the next week he has 4 troop slots filled.
This player is also becoming better at the game. He's deploying better, he's making better decisions on the field, and he seems to be enjoying himself more.
And so this player is coming full circle. He went from enthusiast to competitor and now to a smarter hobbyist who is getting the most out of the game. Now- not only do his armies "look" how they're supposed to, he's actually a much better player with them that way.

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