Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Your Sign?

I have often considered the fact that I have a somewhat chaotic love-hate relationship with wargaming and wargamers. The negative aspects of the hobby sometimes achieve ascendancy in my world but for the most part I’ve learned to look upon my hobby as an opportunity to share and enjoy with like-minded people. I have learned, as I’m sure many others have done, to pick and choose those with whom I enjoy my hobby (although I acknowledge that not all gamers have the luxury of choice). In my hobby journey (sounds spiritual, doesn’t it?), I’ve encountered numerous types of gamer which my borderline OCD nature has categorized, more often than not with little success. It is my hope that I can shed some new light on, perhaps even some insight into, this most unusual of animals…the wargamer. The personalities of most gamers are fairly clearly defined and can be sorted into a few basic categories and types on the zodiac of life, we being uncomplicated creatures for the most part. However, as with most aspects of life, anomalies creep in and, of course, exceptions often rear their ugly heads (sounds like rule-writing). So, I present the zodiac of wargamers, as witnessed by me (and confirmed by others, just so as to disprove any ideas of my own insanity).

Analysis v. Intuition (thinking in or outside the box)

In my experience, there are two broad categories of gaming style into which most gamers fall: analytical and intuitive. The Analytical Gamer examines every situation on the tabletop and assesses the risk factor for every move (or, in business terms, performs a cost-benefit analysis). He tries to determine the possible outcomes of every possible option in a given situation and tries to arrive at the optimum alternative given the context of the decision. Numbers flow, charts are analyzed, angles are measured (and re-measured), often out loud. Discussion is held with fellow gamers, options weighed, and only when all the pros and cons have been compared is a decision made. Some Analytical Gamers are quick and can go through the process without obvious (or verbal) effort; others are less able, or inclined, to do so. The latter group’s peregrinations through the various charts and possibilities can often bog down a game and often lead to conflict with The Intuitive Gamer. The Analytical Gamer tends to argue in absolutes that are part of the box he has constructed to avoid chaos, making rule sets that attempt to take away from or limit control of the player, such as Piquet, the bane of The Analytical Gamer. He is most often seen in a tournament, an atmosphere in which careful analysis and deductive reasoning are most welcome and necessary. It is he who, I’m sorry to say, is most often the one who eschews the need for visual or aesthetic effect. The movement of the troops, the strategy, the numbers, are paramount and the aesthetic quality of the game takes second place.

The Intuitive Gamer, on the other hand, appreciates the look of the game to an equal or greater degree than the game’s sub-structure. He sees things less rigidly. In fact, while appreciating the visual aspects of the game, The Intuitive Gamer more often feels a tabletop situation than sees it. When it looks as though it’s time to send in the heavy cavalry he does so, without spending too much time on the numbers involved. This isn’t to say that The Intuitive Gamer doesn’t care about the details and consulting the charts. He merely places importance on the look or feel of an action rather than its science. While neither type is particularly disruptive among others of his kind, mixing of the two can easily produce tension and anxiety in an otherwise friendly situation. I advise trying to avoid placing The Intuitive Gamer directly across the table from The Analytical Gamer, regardless of whether they are friends or not. Most productive in this type of situation is The Hybrid Gamer; he who possesses both analytical and intuitive traits. The Hybrid Gamer is frequently the game-master or, at the very least, the resident peace-maker. He appreciates the intuitive feel of a gaming situation but acknowledges the necessity and importance of charts and numbers. This is generally where I place myself, but maybe more because I ascribe to the adage that “he who can, does; he who can’t is the game-master.”

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There are also a number of specific gaming personalities that I’ve run across and with whom we are all familiar that compliment or sometimes supercede the analytical and intuitive monikers. On review, most seem to be negative stereotypes and tend to be disruptive or contribute to tension and unhappiness. But, I should point out that by far the majority of gamers are quite personable, upbeat, and a pleasure to be with. As with any group, whether niche or mainstream, the unconstructive and negative minority have an impact far exceeding their numbers.

The Shuffler

The Shuffler is a personality we have all come across and perhaps even with whom we all share certain traits. It is he (or she, although I’ve yet to witness this trait in a woman gamer) who, during the movement phase, will shuffle a unit (or figure) back and forth from its starting point to various potential ending points. While the exploration of alternatives is not particularly irritating, it is the often callous disregard of the unit’s original starting point that places The Shuffler among my top most irritating gamers. Once the unit has been moved a few times, its precise point of origin has been lost; thus, each subsequent shuffle takes the unit farther from its allowable movement. Taken as a single act (and we’ve all done it, whether we’re willing to admit it or not), it is not particularly disruptive. A single unit or figure gaining (or losing, for that matter) an inch does not (or should not) a battle decide. However, when this takes place constantly or consistently in a game, the advantages are cumulative. I will admit that most often this is not a conscious desire to deceive or manipulate, rather an ignorance of the effect on the game. In other words, most times this is an innocent act and easily corrected by a simple reminder. Even those gamers who are consistent Shufflers but are merely ignorant of their actions (i.e. are not doing it for advantage) can be politely righted in their wayward actions. But, of course, there are always those who seek to take advantage of others and The Shuffler can be one who, though constantly reminded, must at some point be reprimanded by fellow gamers or the game-master. Do they think that others can’t see what they’re doing? This type of manipulation is, perhaps, the most obvious and could thus be even considered the most heinous because of this.

The Shaker

The Shaker is he who shakes his dice for inordinate amounts of time while other players are waiting to get on with the game. How often do you need to shake your dice back and forth? It doesn’t change the odds (or the chances) and only serves to slow down the game and irritate others, no matter how satisfying it is to feel “the bones” rattling across your palm. The Shaker is usually rather superstitious and can be seen to throw away dice (towards inanimate objects in anger or merely into a waste basket) because of their apparent uselessness or growling at others who touch their dice and screw up their mojo. Granted, I have my favourite dice and I joke about people touching them without permission (no, really, I’m just joking!) but assigning anthropomorphic qualities to them (and talking to them) is a little disturbing.

The Leech

In many gaming groups, formal or informal, there resides The Leech. It is he who provides nothing of substance to the group and takes from all and it is this gamer (and I use this term loosely in this case) who excites the most virulent responses in me. In most, if not all, gaming groups, gamers provide what they are able. Some are prodigious painters or terrain makers, some like to assume the mantel of game-master, some provide the historical research and insight. The skills and abilities of the group members are often clearly delineated and fairly well-specialized even if they haven’t been verbalized or formalized. There is usually an organizer, who makes the arrangements for the games (venue, game-master, genre, etc) and herds the gamers towards a common goal (whether long-term or short). He is also quite often the game-master in the group, although this is frequently shared among the group members. There are those who provide armies and terrain and those who have gaming space where games can be hosted. Some are rules writers and researchers. All but The Leech contribute in some manner, although others may not be conscious of their contributions. Granted, some gamers don’t have the resources to provide the practical physical resources mentioned above. Perhaps they’re students, or even on the dole, or don’t have the skills to paint, build or run games. If they aren’t Leeches, they contribute enthusiasm, help out whenever possible with setting up and running games, and the more enterprising of them borrow armies and run games and scenarios despite their lack of resources.

The Entertainer

Some gamers in a group, despite not providing any of the aforementioned, are simply The Entertainers. These guys, and gals, are the story-tellers, the comedians, the clowns, who lighten up tense situations and can provide historical insight or timely observations. These gamers are usually just happy to play games and are often the first ones to “buy a round” or bring goodies to the game. While not providing the same tangible gaming resources as others, The Entertainers are nonetheless a valuable part of any group. However, The Leech contributes none of these things. In fact, The Leech more often than not sucks the energy from a room, a game, a group. It is he who shows for every game but never runs a game himself. It is he who partakes of others’ efforts but never provides a painted figure, a gaming table, or even (more often than not) a friendly personality. Can you tell I don’t like this guy? Is it that obvious that The Leech is my least favourite gamer?

Contradictions…not possible!

At this point it may be interesting to point out a strange contradiction that exists in my gaming life. It’s always been my belief that when hosting a game in my home, it is my responsibility to provide refreshments and snacks to make the experience comfortable for all. Whether this is simply soft drinks and pretzels or a more elaborate spread of wine, beer, and those cute little sandwiches with no crusts, is based on the type of company expected. Granted, I must confess that there have been times when I’ve scrimped on the offerings because I wasn’t particularly enamoured of the expected visitors or, more often, because I was lazy. But then again, to avoid this, I could simply invite to my home only those to whom I would prefer serving wine and cheese (instead of no-name soda and stale potato chips). “Where’s the contradiction?” you may ask? When visiting another’s home for a game, I feel it is my responsibility to bring something along and that it is not the duty of my host to feed and water me. And yet, do I expect others to contribute when I host? Here is the crux of the dilemma for me. I feel it’s my responsibility to provide and that it’s not necessary for my guests to bring anything, yet in the dark recesses of my psyche (a scary place at any time) I feel somehow cheated or abused when my guests don’t contribute or, sin of all sins, even express gratitude (a simple thank-you would be nice). You can see how discussing The Leech ties in here…‘nuff said!

The Nit-picker

The Nit-picker is more often referred to as The Rules Lawyer and is frequently also The Blow-Hard. I don’t need to get into too much detail here except to say that The Nitpicker can be excessively annoying. He is usually devoid of any semblance of tact, so intent is he on proving his point or illuminating the apparently uneducated. When acting also as The Blow-Hard, any good sense or intelligent understanding he may possess is drowned out by his obnoxiousness. In fact, his particular point of illumination for the gathered masses usually devolves into inane blathering. The Nit-picker is also the guy who shows up at a game (often uninvited) and proceeds to denigrate the efforts of others. “Those cuffs on your Freudian grenadiers should be pointed, and blue, if you’re setting this game in 1734.” Granted, The Nit-picker more often than not means no harm and really doesn’t know how little tact he possesses. But is this really an excuse for his behaviour? Of course, there are always The Nit-pickers who are actually trying to assert some sort of moral or intellectual authority, however misplaced. These last are exceptionally annoying and deserve the proverbial “kick upside the ‘ead!”

The Tinkerer

Closely related to The Nit-picker is The Tinkerer. There are varying levels of degree of The Tinkerer but the simplest is he who incessantly tinkers with rules mechanisms in a seemingly endless quest for the perfect rule set. No modifier or mechanism is sacrosanct in his quest for the ideal; no rule not easily bent to his whim. Now when one is tinkering with one’s own rule set, this is perfectly acceptable (until taken to the nth degree of never-ending tinkering). Perhaps not surprising is The Tinkerer’s ability and desire to tinker with rules before he has even played with them or, horror of all horrors, before he has even read them. Disbelieve all you like; the latter guy actually exists! The advent of the internet has made this much more possible. The Tinkerer can now easily read reviews of a rule set and begin to base his conclusions solely on the (often generally-based, uninformed, or vague) opinions of others. It is also he who is seen to play a few turns with a rule set new to him and then pronounce judgment not only on the relative merits of its mechanisms and historical accuracy but also articulate how he would improve, modify and tinker. Possibly most interesting about this character is how he normally is studious in avoiding writing his own rules.

The Whiner

Common to most wargames tables is The Whiner; he who seems happy on the surface but will find any excuse to display his true gaming nature: dissatisfaction. The Whiner should never be given command of the Forlorn Hope assaulting the fortress, the Legionaries waiting for succour from the hordes of surrounding Germanic tribesmen, or the British paratroopers at Arnhem bridge hoping for the arrival of XXX Corps. These are merely uncomfortable situations waiting to happen. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The Whiner is his desire to be put in these situations, despite their seemingly hopeless nature. Another type of Whiner is he who takes part in a game happily with no obvious sign of a desperate situation facing him as pointed out above until fortunes begin to turn and the situation becomes less controlled. At this point, the annoying whining begins, often a form of blame centered on the rules or the scenario (the gods forbid he should criticize his own conduct). As The Whiner’s fortunes begin to change for what he perceives as the worst, The Whiner can easily turn into The Bummer. This form of transition sees the The Whiner frequently become depressed and quiet, to the point of hearing something along the lines of, “What’s the point? If my panzer grenadiers are going to be slaughtered charging across this open field, I might as well not even bother!” The Bummer sees things in black and white and often fails to look outside the very cramped box he has created for himself. He doesn’t see that if he charges against several British Vickers MGs over open ground with no support, his forces should be slaughtered. Of course, other options might be available: skirting the field, “shoot & scoot,” artillery preparation, smoke, to name a few. The Bummer just doesn’t see them or refuses to acknowledge other possibilities. Perhaps most annoying to The Bummer’s fellow gamers is not the obvious depressing nature of his attitude but his subsequent actions. Desperation and perceived hopelessness all too often breeds silliness. “If I can’t win anyway, I might as well come out of the redoubt and charge my landwehr against his guard grenadiers. What difference does it make?” It may make a difference to the enjoyment of his opponent or to the fortunes of his compatriot gamers but he sees only himself and his own misfortunes. Strangely, The Bummer frequently sees his own devil-may-care attitude as amusing, an attitude that only feeds the fire of discontent among his peers.

The Helper

Fortunately, there are among us The Helpers, who offer their services, their knowledge, and their expertise for the betterment of the group (or even the hobby as a whole). These guys are ever happy to spend time showing you how to make realistic trees from toothpicks and dryer lint; they love to share painting tips and help you set up games at conventions; they’ll go out of their way to pick you up and drive to a game, then offer to buy dinner on the way home. The Helper asks little or nothing in return. Sometimes this is truly motivated by selflessness but can also be generated from insecurity. Nevertheless, most gamers can see themselves in The Helper role from time to time (if not always) and they are a critical component of any gaming group (formal or informal). Unfortunately, The Helper is often abused and taken advantage of (sometimes unintentionally but far too often with a purpose). The Helper can also be The Entertainer, although this is rare. The latter, despite his basic helping nature, is usually too busy devoting his energy to his craft for any other consideration. This is actually a good thing and makes The Entertainer all the more…errr…entertaining.

The Braggart

Let us not forget The Braggart (or The Show-off), who tends to also to be The Blowhard and/or The Nit-picker. The Braggart needs little explanation. We are all proud of our accomplishments in this hobby, no matter how small or large. I paint a new unit and I’m anxious to put it on the table and show it off to my gaming buddies. This is a normal, healthy desire, the approbation of one’s peers and desire for acknowledgement of one’s efforts, if demonstrated with genuine passion and joy. The Braggart loudly voices his accomplishment as a demonstration of his competitive ascendancy. He’s in competition with his peers and apparently feels the need to trumpet his accomplishments in that light.

All Talk-No Action

Have you ever heard or been involved in an exchange like this?

Gamer1: “I’m planning a big Napoleonic game for next weekend. How many French units do you have?”
Gamer2: (grandly) “Well, I have 36 line battalions, 6 legere, 14 cavalry regiments and 4 artillery batteries.”
Gamer1: (incredulous) “All painted?”
Gamer2: (unapologetically) “No. But I do have 4 battalions and 1 cavalry regiment done…well…painted but the bases aren’t finished.”
Gamer1: (with slight irritation) “So all those others you don’t have.”
Gamer2: (trying to save face) “Well, yeah…I’ve got ‘em all organized and ready to paint.”
Gamer1: (facetiously) “So those unpainted units will be a BIG help to me on the weekend.”

This guy (Gamer2) is but one example of The All Talk-No Action gamer. Another is the one who morphs in and out of The Braggart mode when describing the grand gaming project he is about to embark on. ‘This is wonderful,’ you think upon hearing how he plans to model the entire order of battle for Operation Market Garden in 6mm. He has enthusiasm, vision, and a plan. Sure it’s great the first few times you hear the guy discuss it; but after several years of it without any visible results (or even an effort to begin consummating the idea), it begins to wear on the nerves. We all like to daydream aloud with our friends about future projects and grand schemes for the greatest game on earth (how better to while away the time on those long car trips to conventions?). However, The All Talk-No Action Gamer goes several steps beyond.

The Magician

One of my favourite personalities in the hobby is The Magician, the flower-child of wargaming who seems completely comfortable in his role of game-master-entertainer extraordinaire, who is able to pull excitement and fun from his sleeve on command. The Magician is most often associated with Pulp Fiction or Fantasy gaming and has little regard for conventional rules and procedures, eschews tables and charts, and quizzically flips his eyebrows when queried about his motivation for managing or creating particular events on the tabletop. How could anyone take steam-powered Zeppelins seriously? It is he who ascribes to what I affectionately call the Howard Whitehouse Rule: “If a four-wheeled vehicle leaves the ground for whatever reason during the game, it will immediately burst into flames.” The key to understanding the Howard Whitehouse Rule is that there is no understanding, no practical or rational explanation. It just looks cool and, frankly, shouldn’t that always happen? When The Magician hosts a game, everyone is assured of having a good time, even though a complete understanding of the game and its mechanics is unattainable; in fact, it is usually unnecessary. It’s easy to see how The Competitor and The Rules Lawyer can bridle at the suggestion of participating in a game hosted by The Magician. Strangely, however, The Braggart and The Whiner both often enjoy such games; the former because he has an outlet for his outrageous braggadocio, the latter because he intuitively sees that there is no hopeless situation in The Magician’s game.

The Competitor (or how to confuse self-worth)

And we shouldn’t forget about The Competitor, often seen in the guise of The Blow-Hard or The Nit-picker but most easily categorized as The Analytical Gamer. The Competitor is most comfortable around, and most easily received and accommodated by, other Competitors. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Competitor is not his obvious traits (i.e. general lack of aesthetic appreciation, commitment to detail and procedure, etc.) but his ability to wrap up his own self-worth with his abilities and achievements on the tabletop in particular and in the hobby in general. Of course, this attribute is not confined to this specific gamer nor specifically to our hobby. We’ve all seen this happen. A gamer that often starts as The Braggart or The Blow-Hard, trumpeting his own virtues verbally or through his choice of body language, after seeing his on-table fortunes waning becomes The Whiner or The Bummer. You can read it in his eyes that he has lost some part of his manliness in the eyes of his peers because he has performed badly in the game, when in reality there is no such perception from his fellows around the table. This is one wargaming trait that, as common as it is, I just don’t understand. How can one equate one’s self-worth with one’s skill, or lack thereof, in a wargame? It’s a game for goodness sake! There’s no money involved (well, not usually). Your career doesn’t depend on the game’s outcome. If I lose the game, I’m not ruining my chance for a date (and if so, I’m definitely in the wrong place). If I made some sort of “real” connection between my on-table abilities and my place in the world, I’d have been moved to an institution long ago.

Judging by the weight I’ve assigned to the negative personalities in our hobby, you’d think I was much more inclined toward the hate part of the love-hate relationship. Or that I possess none of their negative qualities and am the only good wargamer. Not true! In fact, my hubris has not yet reached those heights (at least my wife doesn’t think so) and the majority of my observations have been collected during those few, but inevitably impressing, negative incidents in my gaming life. Issues with negative gamers are generally few and far between in my life but seem to occupy my thoughts far longer than the initiating incidents, a common theme in most people’s lives I think. I try to look at my interactions with the gamers I’ve described as opportunities to reflect on my own foibles and how they may be affecting those around me. More often than I care to admit, I find myself in more than one of the categories I’ve described, but hopefully not The Leech.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. Can you figure out women now? I don't understand them as a species.