. . . or, Old School versus New School
So we all know there’s been a lot of opinion posts in the blogosphere of late.
I’m talking about all the attention-grabbing discussions of fluff versus competitive, whether 40k should be a sport or a hobby, etc. What these posts have in common is that they normally don’t say anything new, and they don’t actually contribute to anyone’s gaming or hobby life. Why then do they keep popping up? Certainly, some people love arguing and insulting strangers on the internet, but I think mostly it’s because people care about these issues, and feel uneasy that they aren’t being resolved.
Why is that? Well, I have an idea about what causes this growing rift in the community. As far as I know no-one has ever said this directly before, but it seems kind of obvious once you think about it. I know I’m a pretty long-winded blogger, so if you lack patience then you can er . . . stop reading at the jump, and I’ll give you the gist now:
Games Workshop’s history spans several generations of players, and these generation’s attitudes to the hobby are opposed. Roughly, the older generations (and GW themselves) see the flagship games as a complete, traditional hobby. The younger, and growing majority of gamers see it as a game first and foremost. In terms of the nine gamer mentalities, the dominant approach to GW games in the past has been immersive, but among the growing majority of younger players it is now for fun. These two viewpoints conflict and can’t be reconciled, and the debate will only end when either the new school gamers abandon the hobby or the old school hobbyists stop playing the game.
If you’re still with me, I’ll explain further.
Every generation has a different attitude from the previous generations to pretty much everything. When it comes to GW games we have a situation where ten year-olds, teenagers, twenty and thirty-somethings, and even the odd middle-aged or older person all play the game. Each of these groups has a different way of looking at the world and gaming, and in the case of adult players they often have a long personal history with the game and the way it was played in the past.
How does this relate to the endless repetitive clashes of opinion we’re always reading about? Simple. Games Workshop’s flagship games have always been made and marketed as a hobby – a complicated past-time that involves modeling, painting, army planning and actual gaming. The thing is, the world of gaming has changed since the turn of the millenium. Truly competitive games (for example Collectible Card Games and First Person Shooters) have become really common in the last few years.
In the minds of most players aged from roughly their twenties and down, a competitive game is any game where there is a clear winner and loser, and the aim of the game is to get better at it. People don’t normally play Call of Duty: Black Ops to recreate being a CIA agent in the 1960’s, or Magic: The Gathering to pretend they’re a wizard or whatever. That’s just the window-dressing. They play the same way they play sports on weekends – in a spirit of friendly (but serious) competition.
I’m painting in broad strokes here, and I know there are exceptions, but people of the younger generations know a competitive game when they see one, and they see one at the heart of the GW “hobby.” They don’t (again, there are exceptions) really hear GW’s pitch about the game being just one part of the larger hobby. They see all that as just the window-dressing and go straight for the game.
That’s the real source of all these moves to make 40k like a sport. That’s the reason people don’t want painting scores to affect tournament rankings, and they don’t want composition scores at all. It’s a competitive game right? It’s about war after all. And the people who are good at it want all the bullshit minimized when they meet up for serious gaming. Ultimately (although they may not realize it themselves) they want to separate the game from the hobby that it is presented as a part of.
Older gamers on the other hand probably grew up with the GW hobby back before competitive gaming was common. They don’t see the game of 40k as a self-contained core you can take out of the 40k hobby.
The hobby, to these older gamers, is just that – a hobby. A by-definition non-competitive activity made up of painting, modeling, recreating the background, and of course playing the game.
To these old-school players, 40k is not a competitive game like any other, dressed up with some neat sci-fi background, where the aim is to get good at it. It’s something else. It’s a method for bringing the background to life so you feel like you’re building and painting all these little guys for a reason. They know this is true because it was true back when they learned the hobby, and Games Workshop still claims it’s true now.
The problem, and the reason I reckon these debates are so passionate and will never end, is that neither viewpoint is right, because both are just ways of looking at something, not facts. The only fact is that GW makes models and prints rules and sells them to you. Oh, and they assume you’ll take them in the spirit they’ve always presented them, i.e. immersive play, because they are kind of a backwards company and the world has changed around them.
Here in the blog community when we talk about this issue we usually say something like “everyone can play however they like, there’s room for both kinds in the community.” I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think this is true at all. I can only see this ending one way or the other. In my experience whatever the majority of players want in an area, that’s what sorts of games you’ll find. So with the internet connecting everyone these days and travel being easier, I think one view will eventually become the dominant one in 40k culture.
At the moment (because of history) it’s casual play, but that could easily change once a tipping point is reached. I just can’t see the GW hobby fragmenting successfully though, as the game simply can’t stand on it’s own merits without the rest of the hobby. Competitive players often say that cries of “the game isn’t designed to be competitive” are a cop-out, but I disagree. It clearly isn’t designed to be competitive in the sense they mean, and the design studio has to seriously change their attitude for competitive 40k to really be an option.
Where do I stand? I’d be lying if I said that the idea of 40k as a competitive sport appealed to me. If I wanted that I’d play Magic. I also think that the competitive players should perhaps be careful what they wish for. If real respect and money came to be attached to the 40k scene, a lot of the top players now would suddenly be facing real competition, not the hordes of casual players they currently smash through. I know what it’s like being a grown man with responsibilities competing against young adults who have nothing in their life but mastering your game. It’s really hard!
I’d like to say I’m an old school games workshop hobbyist and I don’t want my game to turn into a competitive nightmare, but really . . . I’m not going to fight any wars over it. I’ll just keep painting my models, and if the scene gets too intense I’ll stop playing, except against like-minded friends.
I’ve had more than 20 years of 40k. I think that’s a pretty good run.