I want to give you fair warning, this post is basically me rambling on for some time. I think the points will be valid but it may turn into a giant wall of text! I apologize for any typos!
So, I’ve been a gamer almost my entire life and my experience with table top games, video games, and computer games has spanned many different genres and styles of game play. The varying types of experiences they have provided over the years has shaped and molded my preferences and I believe that I have come to a conclusion: I like playing cooperatively with other players. This is not to say that I prefer coop to the point of excluding all forms of head to head or competitive play because I certainly enjoy them. What it does say though is that I tend to feel more at ease working through adversity as part of a team be it a leader or a role player. I wanted to write a little bit about how this revelation occurred as well as discuss gaming influences in my life and where I have focused on competitive game play and where I have not. This may get me labeled as a bit of a carebear as far as gaming is concerned but honestly I don’t really care.
The Realization: In Two Parts
Part One: Cooperative Table Top Board Gaming Can Be Fun
I’ve been an avid table top game player for a long time now. I have been playing pen and paper role playing games for the better part of my life ranging from D20 systems (primarily Dungeons and Dragons and other similar engines) to the World of Darkness games. I always loved working as a party to solve dungeons, overthrow minions, and solve the mysteries of the cosmos. The game that always stood out to me was actually Mage: The Ascension in which the players play “awakened” humans who have tapped into the supernatural and have garnered the abilities to bend reality to their will. The danger though is that reality dislikes being bent and will often snap back painfully. This coupled with the myriad of other supernatural creatures be it good and bad, and a controlling hidden government called the Technocracy hunting them down make life as a Mage very difficult. Your play group had to work together and protect each other when necessary in order to survive. This produced some of the most enjoyable play experiences I have ever had playing with friends. The contrast to this, and I’m sure I’ll get some flak for it, is Vampire: The Masquerade. It isn’t that I dislike V:tM, it is that I am very, very bad at it. I am a trusting individual who wants to work towards solving the major plot points with my companions. The problem is that the game encourages back stabbing and hidden alliances and that isn’t something I handle very well (hopefully this doesn’t sound like any guild drama that you have had to deal with). It was at that point I realized I did not want to play any table top roleplaying game that has competition between players in the same group.
Table Top board games are almost exclusively competitive. Almost always each player is fighting to complete a task or gather more points before times runs out in order to be crowned the victor. While Risk technically fits into this category (and a rage quit table flipper for some people), I’m more talking about the somewhat harder-core European board games. Many of you may be familiar with Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne which are solid games that have made it fairly mainstream at this point. These table top board games have varying degrees of competition though, and they generally are one of the following:
-Heavy Conflict – players or teams are expected to attack other players directly. This is usually prevalent in military or combat based games such as Axis and Allies or Vinci.
–Auction Conflict – A lot of games use an auction or draft system to make choices each turn so your decision relative to the other players is critical and requires thought. Some examples are 7 Wonders and Modern Art.
-Spatial Conflict – Some games have limited areas to develop or to move and it matters what players push for certain spots on the map, often you can actually cut someone off and stunt their development. Some common examples are Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.
-Indirect Conflict – In some games your progress only affects other players progress through secondary means. In many of these games you are all racing towards meeting a goal or gathering points independently and it simply is a matter of who gets there first or has the most when the game ends.
Then there is Arkham Horror (not Batman Arkham, but Cthulu Arkham). This is a game that I absolutely adored the first and subsequent times playing. It was my thinking about this game that allowed me to come to this coop realization. Arkham Horror players much like a role playing game in that you are a team of players within this city trying to stop one of the horrors from another plane from descending and causing unfathomable evil. You gather money, weapons, magic, and whatever you can from the city’s locales while portals start opening up spewing forth horrific monsters from beyond. As the monsters start wandering the streets the townspeople become more and more afraid and some (including shop owners) eventually flee the town in terror. Once the fear reaches its critical limit the horror shows up and forces a very rough, rarely winnable, endgame. In order to prevent this the players must organize a game plan in order to close the portals, and travel in packs to handle the worst of the monsters. The game can be very tense and extremely harrowing and only by working together do you have a chance at success. There is this exhilaration when the game is finished (after quite a few hours), especially if it is in a dramatic fashion. There is an element to that type of satisfaction that really does appeal to me and I carry it through to other games I seek out as well
I started playing video games back on the Coleco, Atari, NES, and the PC. Primarily the games I played at the beginning were of the arcade/puzzle variety. Obviously games evolved quite a bit and my likes expanded into RPG’s on the NES (original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) and PC (Bard’s Tale, Gold Box DnD, and Might and Magic). The single player experience was fun in these RPG and adventure games and there was an enjoyment I received from taking my time and solving their challenges. Outside of coop brawlers such as Golden Axe, Double Dragon, or Final Fight I primarily stuck to RPG’s and side scrolling 2-D action games on the consoles with a few notable exceptions here and there. As new genre’s emerged such as fighting games (via Street Fighter 2), FPS games (via Doom), real time strategy games (such as the original Warcraft and ultimately Starcraft), and non-electronic games like Magic the Gathering my competitive nature was stoked and I dove right in.
I tend to like head to head competitive gameplay in spurts. Those spurts might be over a number of years but often it tends to burn out. I realized that I liked the challenge games offer but I was never really in love with the head to head competition involved. These days I play FPS, RTS, and Fighting Games against friends or only with real life friends as my team mates. We get together to play Magic the Gathering every so often but its purely on a social multiplayer level. There is fun in that type of competition but it is clearly not as intense as playing them competitively. I still like to keep up on the current strats and decks though to stay informed.
Again where are we going with this you ask?
Second Revelation: World of Warcraft: How I stopped worrying and learned I prefer PvE
Here’s where that carebear title I mentioned rears its ugly head. I honestly don’t like PvP in wow for many of the same reasons listed above. It’s not that I don’t think it is a viable form of competition because it certain is. It isn’t because I think it is shallow and lacks complexity because it certainly doesn’t. For some reason It just never resonated with me. My first choice came when the game first launched and I needed to choose between a PvE server and a PvP one. Having not liked PvP in my previous MMO experiences and knowing that free open world hostility might be an issue given what I saw in beta I opted against it. Since that time I have heard many a player saying “real men play on PvP servers” or something to that equivalent but their logic for why it is good is often flawed in my opinion. I preferred not having to worry about being attacked when out questing or handling some mundane rep grind (Silithus Cenarion rep for one). It removes what I could only assume to be a large amount of pressure when alone in the world. I’m not saying that open world PvP shenanigans aren’t fun and for some players it may be something they really live for. If that works for you then kudos!
During Vanilla I was avidly partaking in open world PvP as well as the grind through the ranks from battlegrounds. You see once upon a time I did love WoW PvP but it required such a severe dedication that it took its toll on my patience. I was on a small server for a large portion of Vanilla that had a very dominant Alliance faction. PvP was somewhat scarce but we did what we could to grind through the ranks to help our compatriots hit Grand Marshall. There did exist an element of comraderie that our organized teams required in order to function and despite there being human opponents it still felt very much like a team game for me that I enjoyed. It reminded me of the experiences I had playing FPS titles with teammates that were also friends, as well as Starcraft/Warcraft 3. When not PvP’ing I spent a lot of time focusing on PvE raiding content. During Vanilla I was lucky enough to push all the way to killing Kel’Thuzad in the original Naxxramas which was quite difficult at the time. I developed a love for the level of teamwork and coordination that was required for the group to function. To this day raiding continues to be the focal point of my experience in WoW. I don’t really get into the holiday events nor do I tend to hunt down companions, mounts, or achievement points. I thrive on the complexity that raid encounters bring and I tend to view them like a complicated puzzle just waiting to be solved. Sure these days there are strats and videos posted everywhere telling you exactly how to do things, but ultimately it is up to the raid group as a whole to put it all together.
I do wish sometimes that I got the same amount of enjoyment out of arena battles. In theory they should be right up my alley given past experiences. While I considered myself to be adequate at playing in all three group sizes for arena, I felt that I was missing the subtle nuances and tips that the “pro” players considered standard fare. I just think for me, my FPS twitch skills did not really translate well to playing a healer in that kind of high pressure environment. Couple together that with my ability to get frustrated when my desire and skill-set don’t match up, and my growing burn-out on WoW PvP and you have one ornery druid. Ultimately I quit arena entirely and came to the realization that when it comes to wow, I may truly end up being a Carebear. I’m certainly not all warm and fuzzy when it comes to raiding, but I like the puzzle solving more than the element of competition. Each has its own merits and, I believe, it’s perfectly alright to only prefer one over the other.
So, it really is possible to have that competitive gamer edge in you but find instances, be in board games or video games, where you really just prefer something else out of your experience. Hopefully each of you have found what works best for you in the world of Azeroth and beyond.