Hey all you Fluff-Bunnies and WAAC players, I have a secret for you: Everyone is a Powergamer – even YOU!
Powergamers. The word alone can make folks shutter. But what does it mean? And what’s so terrible about Powergamers anyways? Am I part of the problem and what’s the solution? I have so many questions!!!
What The Heck Is A Powergamer?
To have a reasonable discussion about this topic, we have to define our terms. So what does Powergamer even mean? It’s actually a pretty ambiguous term if you think about it. We know what “power” means. Google defines it as:
the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.
And Gamers can be defined as:
a person who plays video games or participates in role-playing games.
Obviously, in our hobby we can swap out video games with Tabletop Game/Card Games/Board Games/Warhammer 40k/etc… You get the idea. So is a Powergamer just someone who plays a game “in a particular way” and if so, what is that “particular” way? Well, seeing as how Powergamer is typically used in a negative way I’m guessing that means Powergames must cheat or do something against the rules, right? No. Those folks are called something else: A Cheater. Powergamers are not cheaters. Cheaters are a whole OTHER issue which we won’t go over here…that’s another topic/rant.
Maybe a Powergamer uses the rules to their advantage and they read into ambiguities and bend them to fit their view point. Perhaps there is a bit of that going on, but we have a name for those folks: Rules Lawyers. We all know one – or heck, you might BE one. Rules Lawyers have their usefulness but even they are different from Powergamers in my mind. They are similar, but not the same.
So what then is this “particular” way that the definitions keep getting back to? I have a theory – I think that “particular” way just means that they play to win the game. And it that is true, then aren’t we all just Powergamers who are trying to win when we play games?
Why is playing to win considered a negative thing? Cheating to win is obviously bad. Rules Lawyering is bad because you feel cheated when they whip out the rule book and start trying to bend the rules. But Rules Lawyers at least try to plead a case and have evidence. They at least are trying to stay within the rules. Plus they at least have the benefit of known the actual rules (even if they can be weasely about it). But Powergamers are somehow “doing it wrong” for trying to win? Okay so it’s not the WHAT they do, then it’s got to be the HOW they do it that’s the problem.
Powergaming Is Bad, Right?
If it’s the HOW, lets look at some actions we would associate with Powergamers. I think we can agree that when we think of a Powergamer they probably do the following:
- Build “Mean” Lists
- Are “Tough” Opponents
- Run The Numbers
- Are No “Fun” To Play
I’m sure there are more things but let’s just start with those 4 and break them down a bit more.
They Build “Mean” Lists
First off, I put “mean” in quotes because that’s a subjective term. What is “mean” to me might be totally appropriate in a different setting. In fact, building a list that is good for the setting you’re going to play in seem like a very reasonable strategy. I know when I sit down to build a list I don’t set out to make a terrible list to play. If you consider yourself a Fluff-bunny, even you build lists with a goal in mind. You might try and build a list that is true to the lore, but you don’t want it to be something you can’t win with.
Heck, you can build some pretty BONKERS lists and they can be entirely “fluffy” and true to the lore. Does that make you a Powergame? To some people, definitely! But if building lists that are optimal and efficient is somehow “mean” then I’m pretty sure that everyone who’s ever set out to build a list with the intention of winning falls into that category of player.
They Are “Tough” Opponents
Notice I used those quotes again. Tough also doesn’t mean “they cheat” in this instance. No, they are difficult to beat. They stick to their game plan. They know their rules (and probably yours, too). They play to the mission objectives. They make wise tactical decisions. And they win games.
Those are all things every gamer tries to do when they play. Why are those bad things? Do you want your opponents to just throw games and lose on purpose? Or do you want your opponents to play the game and try to win? For most people who play 40k, they enjoy close, hard fought losses more than easy wins. I know I do! Iron sharpens Iron…
They Run Then Numbers
Running the numbers simply means they know the odds of success and they know how to manage risks. Maybe this is part of the “making wise tactical decisions” but it’s larger than that. I would say a Powergamer also does as a risk assessment and can number crunch at every level of the game. From list building, deployment, to every phase of a game turn, and beyond. I know some folks who would do this with their purchases!
Why are those considered the domain of the Powergamer? Shouldn’t every know, maybe even innately, that if a unit of 30 Ork Boys get the charge off, it’s going to suck for your 10 man Tactical Squad? Doesn’t everyone look at their list and try to figure out how to squeeze the most out of it during a game? Don’t you take advantage of terrain in your deployment zone so you don’t get shot off the board turn 1? If you said yes to any of those, you might be a Powergamer…
They Are No “Fun” To Play
Okay – this one is entirely subjective. I’ve had really good friends play games with me and it was like playing with a complete stranger. They were quiet and focused. They were trying to make smart plays. They were *GASP* trying beat me! Does that make them Powergamers?
Some folks want to sit and chat while they play. They don’t mind shooting the breeze or showing you pictures of their kids and having a few drinks while they play. Other people prefer to get down to business and just play the game. These two types of folks can drive the other nuts. That’s a personality thing and depending on how you view it both could be Powergamers. How? Has one of these ever happened to you:
- “Oh man, he was slow playing me that whole game! I can’t believe he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the game. And they asked if I wanted a drink! Sure, stall for time…I know your tricks…”
- “That guy was so quiet during our game. Very non-personable. I was bored out of my mind the whole game – I don’t think they looked up the entire time! Such a bad sport.”
Yeah – both of those types of players are on the extreme end, but you get the idea.
Hi – I’m A Powergamer And I’m Part Of The Problem
If we’re all honest with ourselves, at some level, we are all Powergamers. No one actually likes to lose games and we all play to win. If you’re not playing to win the game you might even be doing your opponent a disservice. Now, there are extremes for sure. If you rushed out and bought 6 Stormravens because they were the new hotness for a couple weeks – you’re definitely a Powergamer and probably one that folks might not like too much. the good news is that you can be a Powergamer and NOT a Jerk.
How can you stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution? Well, once you confront the truth that you are a Powergamer, the next step is to talk to your gaming group and figure out how you can all play together. Are you more on the tournament side of things – ask around and see who’s with you. Are you more of Fluff-bunny and you want to build tougher lists with a narrative slant? Good news – there are LOTS of events and players out there for you, too.
If you find yourself in a game with a talker and you’re not, my advice is just to smile and at least acknowledge they exist – that can go a long way. If you’re in a game with some that is super focused, give them the benefit of the doubt – they probably aren’t trying to be a jerk, they are just really into the game. I have a feeling most players are somewhere in the middle – so just relax and treat the other player how you want to be treated. It’s pretty common sense, right?
We’ve all had an experience playing with or against a Powergamer. It could have been that game of POGs back in the day, or it could have been your last tournament outing. It could have been yesterday at board game night! But we’re all playing to win and we’re all human. Sometimes that competitive side gets the better of us – it happens. So keep that in mind when you find yourself up against a fellow Powergamer – we’ve all been there before.
Do you enjoy the Powergamer life? Do you dread it? How would you define the line between an acceptable level of Powergamer and “They’ve gone too far?”