The power of gaming

From time to time, when the urge and the need arise, I feel like posting in english. Though I’m not a natural speaker and may lacking a bit regarding style, some topics are easier to be discussed in the language they stem from. “Powergaming” is one such topic, as it originates – like many other terms in the gaming world – in the anglo-american gaming scene. In classic pen and paper roleplaying as well, as in online games it refers to a gamer, who is primarily interested in maxing the efficiency of his/her character. This is most often achieved by min-maxing. That means putting all points gained in those stats, which generate the best power-advancement and dumping the other stats.

For those not familiar with the term “stats” (or statistics): that means those generic numbers in the given context of a game, that reflect the capabilities of a character; strength, dexterity, stamina, and so on. Even somebody not into gaming can see, what such behavior avails to: i. e. a fighting machine with low brains. Or a con man with the stamina of a fly. In that regard it seems like the stereotypical social exaggeration taken to gaming. But in the context of a game, it serves a purpose: being the biggest hero in town in a specific field of expertise. Being a winner…

Now let’ s take a look at “winning” in games. The definition of the term ain’t easy, as there are multiple possible meanings. For an hardcore e-sport-athlete, winning means, what it means in the real world: being on top, unbeaten, the best scorer, there is. In many a computer game this definition is true, also. But not in all. I’ve come to play “God of War” earlier this year, and although there is combat in it,  where beating the enemy is essential to get further in context, all in all the story itself is the goal of the game; not the repeated – albeit sometimes intriguing – beating of defined obstacles is, what drives this game, but the sheer lust to see, where it all ends…

Without too much spoilering I can say, it was worth the journey. But regarding the aforementioned idea of the story being the goal I need to get back to pen and paper roleplaying. So here I have somebody, playing the game somewhat more competition-oriented. And those people get quite a bashing at times, because somebody once upon a time defined, that the Gygax-Style of gaming (running dungeons, slaying monsters an amassing gold pieces, as every one of them grants XP to build your character) was no good. There needed to be more dramatic art, more role-playing; or so they said…

I’m in this hobby nearly 30 years now, and I’ve seen literally any style of play, quite some rules, systems, settings and game masters. And the one rule, I’ve set up for myself is, that I won’t damn anybodies style of play. As a player, as well as GM, I go, with what I find. And if there are two or three different approaches in my group, so be it. I’ve found techniques to integrate them all into one gaming experience.  Even the often reviled, sometimes even feared powergamer.

Heck, some systems even demand it. How about a team of shadowrunners, where the decker is more into weapons, the rigger a professional dancer and the sams can cook like chefs in the best restaurant in town… WTF? Or a round of pathfinder, where the tank tries to be a healer and bard? If specialization is an obligatory part of the setting/metastory, powergaming is your best option. And all the while they pump their stats, so they can get their spotlight, when the time arises, it’s my job as GM, to make it work out smoothly for anybody; especially those, others  who are either not proficient enough with the rules to powergame by their little lonesome, or resent the idea, because it’s not their piece of cake. I can let them shine, too. It needs just a little consideration.

Some years ago, there began a discussion about different styles of play, and some people tried to establish a taxonomy. In my humble opinion they failed, as most of their definitions where simply pseudo-scientific chitter-chatter, without any empiric backing. But they achieved one thing: many gamers thought about, how to integrate different interests at the gaming table. The combat/action-oriented, the dramatic actor, the tactician, the story-teller; all of them should find a way, to game together, as different approaches could serve to spark new experiences for everybody.

Sometimes I can reach that goal, sometimes I fail at it (sometimes even dramatically). But it has widened my horizon of gaming tremendously. And so I come with this one, simple advice: don’t fear the powergamer!

Always game on!

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