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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gaming Goals vs. Gaming Roles

A blog posting by my GeekBuddy Ekted over at Gamer's Mind got me thinking. His post, If It Doesn't Hurt, You're Not Doing It Right, is about competitive play among gamers. It had me thinking about taking a closer look at how you define the competitive environment while playing a game. It’s not really examining what your goal is, but what you believe your role is.

It’s not as simple as looking at whether or not you’re trying to win – that’s a goal. Rather, a look at what you do while you play, how you relate to the other players, and how you present your strategies and those goals – that, in my mind, is your role in the game.

For me, that role is defined on a case-by-case basis. It is heavily influenced by the group I’m gaming with, as well as the games we’re playing. And it’s not necessarily restricted to one specific, overriding role. As I started noodling over this, I quickly spat out a few different roles I assume during gameplay.

Host: I have a very strong host mentality. I like to have people over at our place, make sure everyone is having fun and staying involved, and so on. This plays a big part of my role in many games. With in-game and meta-game conversation, I try to keep people involved and interested, and encourage their level of interaction with the game events. I often tell people I measure my own level of enjoyment by how much fun the people around me are having.

Mediator: This is very group dependant, but sometimes my role is to position myself between other players to smooth things over. Not that meta-game theatrics get out of hand, but more of a subtle, nuanced diplomat in a game sense – trying to make sure one person doesn’t get too great a lead, trying to maintain a certain sense of equilibrium. Hard to explain…

Mentor: This is quite a bit different from teaching, but as a mentor, I take pride in assuming a role as a role model, if you will. This is certainly the case when playing with my family and Benjamin in particular. I want to be able to pass along a love and appreciation for the hobby, but more importantly good sportsmanship. In this role I am quick to reward clever moves, applaud another’s victory and try to reinforce that playing and sharing time together is far more important than winning.

Nemesis: This role is often tied to the over-arching goal of playing smart and playing to win. As the nemesis, I look to make life hard for other players. Not necessarily picking on any specific player, but trying to open up my gameplan and strategy to encompass how to be as tough an opponent as possible. I often find myself playing rather myopically – so focused on my own goals and own plans that I fail to see opportunities to advance myself by being a thorn in someone else’s side.

Teacher: I often am the person who teaches the game to the other players. This goes beyond explaining rules before we get started, but also pointing out opportunities and rules as we go, clarifying points that may not make sense until a certain situation comes up, and making sure people are aware of critical points during the game – such as when certain endgame conditions might be coming up, etc.

Whipping Boy: Ultimately, a lot of games end up with me in this role. As fellow gamer and GeekBuddy Jay Moore (MUKid) can attest, we often hear the chorus of “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses as long as Jay loses.” Sometimes this reaches comical proportions. But when all else fails and it comes down to picking on a Jay or Non-Jay option, I believe many of my gaming buddies opt for the Jay route. The upside of this role is I really get to playfully snivel and bemoan my fate a lot.

What do you think?
- Do you agree with my distinction between goals and roles in gaming?
- What other roles do you assume during games?


  • Being the only one I know locally who owns any board games, there another role that I play:

    CHOOSER: I have to watch everyone's reactions to the game on the table and decide how much they like it. When it comes time for a new game, I have to decide, based on who is present, what game will be the most enjoyed. This is not an easy task. If 4 people love agame, but 1 hates it, then I will not bring out that game. Sometimes I have to choose a game that is not likely in the top 10 for anyone just to keep things smooth.

    By Blogger ekted, at 1:27 PM  

  • I am in complete agreement with you in the "Host" and "Teacher/Mentor" roles, although I really don't see the latter two as being all that separate. Outside of the game group I'm involved in here in St. Louis, I also have introduced nearly all of my games to family and friends, which usually means packing a bag full of games for weekend visits. In this case, I definitely take on a "Host" mentality, mostly because I'm typically the one "hosting" the game (if not the actual get-together) and I feel a certain responsibility to get everyone involved and enjoying the game. Admittedly, this stems in no small part from my own desire to get them excited about gaming and, hence, to play MORE games with me. Still - I'm often the one suggesting some games and I feel an obligation to do whatever I can to make them enjoy themselves.

    I think another role I tend to adopt a lot is that of a "Handicap Player", in that I often find myself playing below my abilities or not capitalizing fully on options presented to me in a game. This almost always happens when I'm playing a game quite familiar to me with people (usually family) for whom it is their first game. There are plenty of games (Railroad Tycoon and Power Grid leap immediately to mind) for which experience typically yields a significant advantage in a game. I don't really think it's fair (or fun) to crush someone just because I know more about how the game works, and again I typically want them to enjoy themselves and come back to the table. Obviously, this type of attitude varies with whomever I'm playing with - I'm far less likely to pull punches with "seasoned" gamers than with my relatively inexperienced family.

    A particular exception to this rule is any 2-player game I am introducing to my wife, wherein I believe I am required by law to lose the first game.

    By Blogger Jason, at 1:42 PM  

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