When I used to play computer games, I was almost exclusively interested in strategy and tactical wargames - Europa Universalis II, Crusader Kings (1 and 2), Civilization (I-III, V), the Total War series, and similar.
The appeal here was for me never really winning (and indeed despite playing Europa Universalis II or Medieval II: Total War for hundreds of hours respectively, I don't think I have ever actually bothered seeing things through to completion in either of them - whever one gets to a certain level of power and advancement things rapidly become boring). Rather, what I liked about them were the flights of fancy that one's imagination tends to take when imagining oneself to be the ruler of some alternate-universe version of a real place with real purposes, objectives, whims and eccentricities. I didn't make war, construct settlements, make technological advancements, etc., because it made rational sense given the aim of winning the game on its own terms; I did so on the basis of what I thought would make the most sense - both rationally and emotionally - given that the place I was purportedly 'ruling' was real and governed by people with human motives. The aim, for instance, is not to conquer Province X because that leads towards the overall end of conqering The World. I aim is to conquer Province X because the damned Spaniards (or whoever) pissed us off 20 years ago and need a punishment beating. The aim is not to build a city that is designed specifically to grind out military units of a certain kind, but to build a city that would be nice to live in and reflective of its geographical surroundings. And so on.
It won't surprise you to learn that I kind of suck at this kind of game when viewed at from the perspective of winning. But it was the only basis on which I could ever really enjoy them. I was in other words really playing them as though they were RPGs, but in my own head. And there is a pecular phenomenology to this, which I'm sure you have also experienced - a strange dual consciousness that develops in one's brain as one enters the type of fugue state which good computer games can produce: simultaneously aware that one is playing a game and must click the mouse here and there to do this or that, and yet also imagining oneself at the same time to be a real person within the world that is being depicted.
When, in later years, I eventually stumbled across internet forums and discussion boards for these games, it amazed me to discover that while lots of people played them in the manner to which I was accustomed, many others did not. To many people, playing, for instance, Civilization II was not a project of immersive role-playing, but one of figuring out various 'tricks' to maximise one's advantage and thus derive satisfication from winning in very rapid or improbable circumstances. The idea was to figure out loopholes and 'hacks' that would achieve this, often in ways that were prima facie unrealistic - the best example perhaps being a user on the old Paradox Interative forums who would post about his unusual Europa Universalis II exploits such as 'Conquering the World as Lakota' or 'Converting the World to Islam by 1550' or whatever. I have absolutely no issue with people doing this - it probably scratches the same itch as getting really good at solving Rubix Cubes - but it was a very alien approach to me and one that I could never hope to emulate.
Some people, in other words, seem naturally to prefer 'playing a role' and others to prefer 'playing to win', and while there is likely to be some cross-over/overlap between them, I think it's fair to say that everybody has an inkling which group they most closely align with. The question for you is: which group are you in, and do you think the people who prefer 'playing a role' naturally congregate more towards table top role playing games, as one might intuit?
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Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it's just that people like to set their own "win" conditions and computer games are sometimes limited in this regard.ReplyDelete
Of the games you mention, the only one I've played is Civilization (not even sure which version...II maybe? or IV?). At that time it had two "win conditions:" conquer all other civilizations, or beat the other civilizations to Alpha Centauri via a functioning space craft. In order to win at either, you had to execute your strategy by a certain, pre-set year.
I played the game many times, and I don't remember EVER winning the game. It's not that I didn't fight or build (and launch) spaceships, but my interest was in simply PLAYING...seeing how completely I could transform whatever continent I was on, seeing how many "achievements" I could win, seeing how the sea level would rise if/when I initiated a nuclear war. I wouldn't call it "playing a role" (though I might cackle like some maniacal Bond villain as I launched yet another nuclear salvo at some "hated" rival). It's just that the game failed to accommodate my desired "win" conditions, which varied from game to game. Many Civ games I played went well beyond the the mandatory "end year" built in to the game, simply because I enjoyed how the thing was playing out.
I don't dispute that there are people who enjoy pretending (in a game) at being a particular "role" and that such individuals might be drawn to tabletop RPGs. But for me, one of the nicest thing about games like D&D is your ability to set your own "win" conditions, even within the limitations of the game itself.
[by "limitations" I mean "rules." Old edition D&D, for example, only awards points for treasure and defeating enemies, but that doesn't mean you can't have a very enjoyable time doing other things in the game...it just means your character won't level up]
Many ways to get one's jollies in an RPG. The trick is finding like-minded players/DMs that function happily with YOUR preferred style of play.
Yes, that's an interesting observation - although I'm not sure that one can quite set one's own win conditions exactly. Ultimately that has to be worked out and negotiated (implicitly or explicitly) with the group and DM. You don't have complete freedom in that regard.Delete
I suspect there's quite a lot of Win-players in the wider hobby. It seems an alien concept to me in RPGs where you really should be playing a role, though the concept of min-maxing clearly points to its existence. And the dominance of Warhammer and other in-yer-face competitive games in the wargaming world suggest that in that sphere, win-playing is by far the norm. But once again, it's not how I roll (hoho). Narrative wargaming does exist and is an enjoyable pastime.ReplyDelete
Yes, I always preferred playing Warhammer as a kind of extension of role playing, investing all my individual 'men' with personalities and desires, which I suppose is a bit like how D&D evolved from wargames, but in reverse.Delete
Interesting post. I think you are underselling these as games? Of note, I feel, is the fact that "role playing game" never pops up in the LBBs. 0e is a Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaign Playable with Paper and Pencils and Miniature Figures. It is not a "role playing game". "Role" only comes up in a few sentences, such as "Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user.", or that a sword with high Egoism will force the wielder to take a principal role in combat, or that the role of a ship-captain is self evident.ReplyDelete
Mr. Becker's comment above is relevant. It just so happens that in most campaigns I feel that one's personal goals - to become a grand knight, to survey monsters, to explore brave new worlds - align with the goal of the game: one will delve into stygian depths and partake in grand adventures to obtain fabulous treasures and win fearsome battles. The worthy goals are gameable and relate to the present reality of the game world Little Johnny's character, the fighting-man Renthrax, wants to avenge Miriel of the Gleaming Blade and kill the High Priest of Spiders? The destruction of the priest's temple and the requisition of its loot will likely sweeten his mission of bloody revenge. The party wants to befriend the crawdad-like Ebirai of the Akashic Marsh? Could be a settlement from which to launch further campaigns against the forces of Chaos or what-have-you.
Maybe I am pessimistic due to playing games in a mode I dislike but when I read a post encouraging the divorce between "winning the game" and "playing a role", all I can think of are those sessions I wanted to jump of a cliff during where players would make their characters do incredibly stupid things or "roll to seduce the tavern maiden/dragon/water weird" because "it's what my character would do"...
Haha, well, yes, point taken. There's a happy medium!Delete
I also suspect that the people focusing on winning are more likely to spend a lot of time talking to each other sharing tricks. For me, I like setting goals for RP reasons but approaching those goals in a more play to win fashion, including using some tricks if they make sense in context.ReplyDelete
While I appreciate the simplicity of OSR games' chargen, I can't deny that more complicated chargen systems can be deeply addicting. I approach min-maxing in the same sort of way: choosing a character concept for purely RP reasons (or simple contrarianism, like figuring out how to make a monk that wears armor and wields weapons) and then use various min-maxer tricks to bring that character's power up to parity so my made-for-purely-RP-reasons character concept doesn't make me weaker than the rest of the party.
I share the addition and used to spend an awful lot of time generating CP:2020 PCs...Delete
It occurs to me that certain TTRPGs lend themselves more readily to one preference or the other in play style. Build a character allows for careful optimization, especially if combat is the focus. Random chargen rather forces one to "make do" with the character the dice dictate. Of course, even a randomly generated PC can be played optimally by making care choices that increase the odds of success. Likewise, a point buy character can be designed for fun roleplaying and played with a focus on "what would my character think and feel".ReplyDelete
Interesting topic, and I do think we generally sort ourselves into one camp or the other.
I've been framing this as how they respond to the tied-to-a-chair-and-tortured moment (because James Bond always ends up like this in the movies). Those who want to win see this as a horrible thing, and the DM is just dragging out their defeat. The "playing a role" crew, however, adore this moment and chew the scenery with relish (and mustard, and any other condiment ready to hand). I've been lucky enough to attract a lot of the second sort.ReplyDelete
It's interesting to consider that RPGs were born out of David Wesley's Braunstein games, in which playing a role and playing to win were *both* primary goals for participants.ReplyDelete
And everything has bifurcated ever since, perhaps?Delete
I know this will make me sound like a refugee from The Forge (which I am), but isn't this just the G/S split from Ron Edwards' GNS model? With all that that entails -- i.e., shared premise, creative agenda, etc.?ReplyDelete
Eero has a very good recent (2020) essay on Simulationism:
Here's a relevant paragraph, from the point of view of RPGs (not computer games):
Gamist agendas tend to conflict with Sim creatively because the Simulationist doesn’t give face; they’re here to learn and see, not to participate in a showdown. (This has to do with Gam creative theory, I won’t go into depth here.) This leaves any Gamist priorities utterly frustrated. Meanwhile, Gam decision-making is prone to conflict with Sim priorities because the choices that cause victory are not usually, inherently the same choices that achieve maximal understanding of the underlying material of play; it’s not that Gamist gameplay doesn’t utilize the material of play, but it is always a directional utilization that leaves little room for appreciating the material for its own sake. In practice the common Sim/Gam creative conflict is that the Gamist asshole kills off everybody in the opposing team, obviating any opportunity for the Simmy players to do their genre stuff or whatever it was they were trying to do. The Gamist doesn’t get that we’re doing theater, not sports.
Hmm... This probably speaks to the fundamental incoherence of the GNS model but wouldn't this be a conflict between Narrativits versus Gamist, rather than Sim versus Gamist? Thinking about GNS just tends in my experience to confuse things.Delete
Wanting to "play a role" is not an inherent part to the narrativist creative agenda...the objective of narrativism is to create a story, which MIGHT involve playing a role (it might also involve treating characters as "pawns" ('author stance' and moving them into situations without any play-acting at all).Delete
People who like to "role-play" (in the sense of "embodying and acting like a character") can show up with ANY of the GNS creative agendas. It probably shows up most in (what was described as) Simulationist, however.
All that being said, even Edwards admitted to there being issues with the GNS theory and moving away from it.
I personally think they are not mutually exclusive. I played some of the games above as more playing a role, while others more like "find an interesting rules interaction and use it to win". Though I never liked Civilization series due partly to the fact that it breaks me out of RPG-mode almost right from the start (including also its famous in-jokes like "People demanding feudalism", etc.).ReplyDelete
Yes, you have to imagine when playing Civilization that you are actually in effect a demigod with almost total control over your tribe in an imaginary planet in an imaginary universe.Delete