Kirb your enthusiasm!


"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Color is Your Skimmer? (Different Types of Wargamers)

Comparing, contrasting, and promoting different types of games and gamers is a common hobby here on the blogrolls and on the forums; in fact, if you want to get a ton of posts, there are few easier ways than to put up something about different styles of gaming, inflammatory or not, well-intentioned or not. But what are the different types of gamers? What do they care about? What brings them to the hobby? And how real are the distinctions? These are issues that aren't often discussed much but I think are well worth looking at.

First off, are the distinctions real? Well, yes and no- yes, because it's very true that everyone is interested to the hobby in different degrees and in different ways. What brings each individual into the hobby and how they choose to spend their time is unique and shaped by not only their interests but also their talents; some people simply aren't good at things, which tends to be a deterrent to deep involvement. Not an absolute barrier, but something of a hurdle of acceptance that must be clear. (I, for example, am a resoundingly mediocre painter; I'm not actually bad, but I generally don't have the patience for it to spend a long time on each and every identical model nor the knack for working quickly, so I leave most models at the "good enough" stage.) But, on the other hand, it is an exceedingly rare individual who is interested only in one area of the hobby- interest in one thing tends to breed interest in others. Someone who spends a lot of time study the lore may develop a desire to build a fluff-accurate tabletop force; falling in love with a particular unit may drive someone to customize them to really personalize them; and so on. "Pure" players do exist, but they are the exception, not the rule; we'll talk a bit more about this in their respective sections, below.

The big split, as I'm sure everyone knows, is the competitive vs. non-competitive groups; however, even here we run into a problem, because really this is just a "there are two kinds of people in the world" statement. "Non-competitive" isn't even a real type of player, it's just a lump category of everyone who isn't interested in playing competitively. Sometimes the term "casual" is used, but this also is a misnomer, as many of these players are fiercely dedicated to their own respective parts of the hobby. "Hobby player" is a label I've used in the past, but this also fails to capture anything meaningful about the group, as some segments of them may not be at all interested in traditional hobby activities such as converting and painting models. So what are they? They aren't anything, because the divide between competitive players and the imaginary non-competitive players is just that- imaginary. There is no "us and we" that needs to fight back against the terrible scourge of competitive play, just as there is no evil "them" that forces comp onto the clueless herds; chances are, of your circle of friends you know people on both sides of this imaginary divide that you talk to, game with, and like. It's only on the internet, where dividing into camps and getting angry at people thousands of miles away is basically a way of life, that such factions exist.

So what are the different things that draw people into the hobby? I'm going to try and spell out what I feel are some of the important boundaries, but realize that these are still imaginary- any given player is probably at least two or three of these types, even if you don't realize it.


WHAT THEY ARE: The big one first. This is the guy who likes the game for the game- that is, he enjoys playing and he likes tinkering with his army. More than anything, though, he likes a tough fight, and that's why he plays with his army- he wants to get every ounce of fat cut out of it so he and someone else can have a really pull-down, slug-out match where they give it their all. The competitive player is happiest when they're fighting another good general that gives them a run for their money- winning is, of course, fun, but the objective is to try, to struggle to win, not the win in and of itself. Winning is the reward for the struggle, but it's a perfunctory reward, like the trophy at the end of a race- the real joy comes out of the struggle itself. Competitive players spend a lot of time talking comparisons, numbers, roles, tactics, etc- basically babbling about the rules of the game- because the rules are the framework through which all actions are defined, so understanding them means understanding what one is capable of in the game. Competitive players are always interested in improving things, be it their lists or their skill at playing, and for this reason will often argue minutia that others find trivial or pointless, but for them these incremental improvements can make a big difference when the game comes down to it, so they care very much. Competitive is actually one of the most common minor types for folks to have because everyone likes to win and practically everyone likes playing the game; if you've ever enjoyed a close victory (or loss!) or tinkered with your list to make it better, you've got a little bit of competitive player in you. Competitive players correspond to the MtG "Spike" archetype, for those that are familiar with that concept. A subcategory of competitive players focuses on making bizarre, off-the-wall armies and picking underused units, builds, and factions and doing the best he can with them- these are the "Johnnies" of MtG, but due to the respective differences of investment in the two games, such a focus tends to be less common in Warhammer.

WHAT THEY AREN'T: The jerk who always has to win at everything and always has to be right. There are, of course, competitive jerks, many of them who may be that guy, but that's not the definition of a competitive player, it's the "dark side" of this particular focus. They also aren't necessarily the guy with the grey army- that just is a lack of interest in painting, which can be practically any of the categories.


WHAT IT IS: This is the guy that has never played a game with grey plastic in his life and whose every model is uniquely detailed with twenty-seven different layers of shading. They may be a "real" artist outside of his interest in the game, or this may their only artistic outlet; both are similarly common. Regardless, the painter is interested in his art and probably owns more paints than you own models. Because so much of painting is a matter of technique that can't easily be discussed, because it is very much a matter of preference, painters may not always have as much of their craft to talk about with other players compared to other types, but few others can claim the same kind of impact on the tabletop. As perhaps the most painstaking and time-consuming aspects of the hobby the painter is often (quite rightfully) accorded quite a bit of respect for the hours they put into each model- but, by the same token, a painter's collection is likely to be smaller, overall, than anyone else's.

WHAT IT ISN'T: The modeler or fluffer, below. Some painters are happy to just paint what GW provides, and others are uninterested in the actual specifics of what the models they paint are supposed to represent and what the "correct" way to paint them is.


WHAT IT IS: Perpetually covered in nicks, cuts, and bandages, the modeler probably doesn't even know what the actual model range looks like because they've never fielded one. Building something from one kit is practically blasphemy to the modeler- at the very least, one must add some additional bitz (collected over years or decades) to spice things up. Like the painter, the modeler spends most of their time at the table at home, not at the game store, so may or may not have as much of an investment in playing the game, but unlike their counterpart the modeler tends to be a relentless customer; modeling is the quicker part of the hobby side and also tends to have a high cost-per-creation. For this reason more than any other the modeler is limited in what they do by money. The modeler's joy is one of uniqueness; where a painter may take joy in the simple appearance of what they do, a modeler is almost always driven to do work outside the norm. Inspired by someone else, perhaps, but rarely something that has done much before.

WHAT IT ISN'T: The painter. Being very different kinds of work with very different skillsets, a good modeler may not be any good at painting (or vice versa.) While they may overlap more often than the other archetypes, they are by no means the same.


WHAT IT IS: Not that kind of fluffer, the one who cares about the history, art, and literature behind the game. Often eclipsed by the painter and modeler because they do not tend to create something impressive for the tabletop, none the less the fluffer knows just as much about their chosen field as any of the other specialists; you might not realize just where Space Marines originally came from or how many canon Craftworlds there are, but this guy probably does. Fluffers can easily slip entirely under the radar of the rest of the player base because much of what they do is passive and receptive, collecting information from a variety of sources. Competitive, modeling, and painting players do this too, of course, but that tends to be only a step in their progress, whereas it is often the entirety of the fluff player's interest. For those that it isn't the game store environment does not lend itself well to "Would you like to read my two hundred page opus on the Tau?"-type discussions, so any given person might be one without you ever knowing. Narrative play tends to be the only "active" draw for fluffers, since it is one of the few ways to combine the game and the story that tends to be the main interest. (It should be noted that, while I have mainly talked about fluff players in regards to writing, there are also art fluffers, though they are less common.)

WHAT IT ISN'T: Noticed by most people.


WHAT IT IS: Often forgotten but always there, the social player is the person who plays the game not for the rules, the hobby, or the background but because they enjoy hanging out with folks. The social player probably didn't join the game until someone else convinced them to and shows up mostly for the same reason anyone does things with their friends. They may not have much system loyalty (unless other factors compel it), but tend to be among the most amiable of players, as their vested interest in the various aspects of the game is not as intense as the other types (and hence somewhat less likely to make them annoying.) They tend to be the "casual" players who enjoy the game, even if they don't focus on it, but that should not be taken to mean they aren't good at it or that they don't care; indeed, they may be very enthusiastic about chances to play, but not because of the rules or the hobby but because of the people- and, at the end of the day, a large portion of this game is about other people, so perhaps their choice of focus is less odd than one might assume at first glance.

WHAT IT ISN'T: More than any of the others, the social player is practically never without some other interest that keeps them sticking with the game, as 40K requires a large enough investment that no one who is truly casual would put enough work into it to actually be a part of the game.


Again, these are only the "pure" types- far more commonly, you will see hybrids of two, three, or all of them in varying percentages. I, for example, have a major interest in competitive play (as you might guess), but with significant secondary touchstones in converting and, to a lesser degree, fluff. One of my friends, who has played since 2E, is first and foremost a painter, but also takes a major interest in the rules and strategies of the game, even if he doesn't necessarily like tournament play.

The real point of all of this was to illustrate that there are myriad ways to enjoy this game and that virtually everyone has enough in common with everyone else to play the game with them and have a good time. For all of the horror stories of awful human beings that circulate out there, there have only been a few people I have played against that I wouldn't want to play again (and even most of those could easily have been them simply having a bad day.) Your main focus may lay elsewhere from someone else's, perhaps quite some large ways distant, but chances are you two still share enough to play a game. Competitive players may want to see an end to this and hobby players no more of that, but we're all a part of this game and we all have rights to have our opinions heard; that doesn't mean we need to get frothing angry at one and another because all our opinions aren't the same.

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