Blog Post #3: Power Gaming, and the Flip Side of the Coin

T.L. Taylor’s Play Between Worlds is a really fascinating look into the details of gaming culture, along with it’s benefits and limitations… But one thing I wish she had talked about more is the reception of power gaming that the general player base holds.

We have come to understand that there are many types of gamers throughout this class, and like Taylor touched on in her chapter about women, most of these games that span different demographics tend to not target subsets of those demographics as their players (for example, Taylor mentions games that were deliberately catered toward women/girls to try and expand the gaming market, which ironically partly failed because of their objectification of their audience). Examples of these games include EQ and WoW, among many others, that even females have come to enjoy and play. It is another topic in itself, but the exclusion of voice chat built into these games has made it possible for everyone to come together in the game world for different reasons, interact more or less as equals, and all take away something different from the game.

Power gamers, in my opinion, are a slight exception to the rule. I agree with Taylor in that the perception of the game world is fundamentally different for these players, and rather than seeing a world to interact in, they see a puzzle that needs to be solved. As a computer science major myself, I can definitely see the allure in playing a game in this way (although it is not my style). But power gaming is slightly akin to the spoilsport, as Huizinga describes the role, in that they both consciously recognize the boundaries of the game. By power gaming 100% of one’s actions, the game becomes less of a world and more of a machine. And while players who are world-focused are free to live in their own world, the effects of a machine-focused player tend to rub off negatively on fellow players. The fact that they know somewhere out there, power gamers exist and will always be infinitely better than any casual player, is very off-putting for those who want to stand a chance at becoming the best without investing the hundreds of hours needed to absorb numbers and statistics. This seems to be a large symptom of games with any amount of statistics, such as Pokemon, where EV/IV training is used to level up hidden stats of a Pokemon that most normal players wouldn’t know about.

Also, players do not just fall into either power gamer or non-power gamer; there is a gradient involved. I have at times, to get the upper edge in a game, looked up some information about different skills I could use in tandem with each other to produce victory. But I would not memorize the math behind any buffs, and maxing my character stats in a particular way to get the greatest possible buff. Every player picks a point in which they stop using external information to the game, but there seems to be an unconscious consensus about when the line is drawn between “power gamer” and “casual gamer.” Power gamers may be having fun in their own way, but the way that they peel apart the game to examine what is inside is often displeasing to many players, including myself. Many players don’t want to be good at a game by looking up numbers all day, they just want to have fun. And unfortunately for the average gamers, the world they co-inhabit is being undesirably and systematically taken apart (as they see it) by these power gamers.

It is not a solvable problem when a game at its core is run through calculations, like WoW and other MMORPGs, and especially when power gamers take a certain pride in what they are able to do. And why shouldn’t they – the amount of effort it takes to gather such a knowledge basis is pretty incredible. But for those who do not have much time to invest in playing the game, they want to use what time they have to do just that: play. And bringing in a vast repertoire of outside information is seen as somewhat invasive, and at times on the brink of cheating, to these casual players.

No one wants the game world to look like this, do they?

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2 Responses to Blog Post #3: Power Gaming, and the Flip Side of the Coin

  1. dargan99 says:

    Blog Post Response #1:

    The Starcraft franchise has jokingly been referred to as South Korea’s quasi-national sport. Yet with big ticket tournaments, an enormous fan base, and live media coverage, tournaments such as the one I’ve linked above have come to be a very common occurrence. I strongly agree with Kyle’s blog post about the nature of power gaming, but I would go further to question at what point does the game stop being a game and start being a way to earn money?

    To take a very simple example, look at poker. Playing with pretzels, pennies, or other such arbitrary tokens has been one of the easiest ways for friends and family members to enjoy playing poker without worrying about any large investments of money. And as such the game becomes more a method of social interaction than anything else (in my personal experience, the Super Smash Brothers trilogy from Nintendo has been a facilitator of “hang out time” much more than a means to dominate my friends). Yet when money becomes a legitimate factor in the game, the stakes are raised and many players’ perceptions of the game are drastically altered.

    We’ve discussed in class the devastating influence that money can have on a society of gamers, in particular events that occurred in Eve Online. For example, this short article (http://www.computerandvideogames.com/180867/features/murder-incorporated/?site=pcg) by Tom Francis for PC Gamer Magazine covers a ten-month assassination plot that “inflicted financial damage upwards of 30 billion ISK [Eve Online’s Currency] – $16,500 US dollars at IGE.com’s prices”. Albeit an extreme example, it’s easy to see from Eve Online how effective real world money can be at altering a gamer’s perception of their game.

    Thus, I return to my question: how many power gamers are in it for the sheer domination aspect, and how many are in it because of a perceived financial return on their time investment? Tournaments for Starcraft, Pokemon, League of Legends, even card games such as Magic: The Gathering all offer substantial monetary rewards, prompting players to treat the game differently, maybe even as something entirely unrelated to the game. As Kyle stated, I believe there is a gradient of intensity between power gamers and non-power gamers, but I believe this gradient should extend further to include those who play games as a means of acquiring real world money. For although by some definitions they should not even be considered “gamers”, the fact remains that when we log on to League of Legends or connect our DS’s to the Pokemon Battle Network we will encounter them, play against them, and (most likely) lose to them.

  2. cstabile says:

    Very rich and thoughtful posts. K. is there always a performative dimension to power gaming? What I mean by that is the acting out of certain kinds of elitism — anyone who’s played an MMO can tell you stories about grouping with players’ who feel compelled to demonstrate their superior grasp of *everything.* But are all power gamers invested in those displays? Or are there power gamers who simply love the mathematical dimensions of game play, but do so quietly and not at the expense of other players? I’ve encountered some players who might be defined as power gamers (they level quickly and have a knowledge of the game mechanics that’s quite sophisticated) who like to white knight a lot (e.g. help other players in a way that’s collaborative rather than competitive). Maybe the problem is the category of “power gamers”? Worth asking Taylor about when she visits class on Thursday.

    Also worth asking her are the questions that P. raises in his response to K. What’s the distinction between amateur power gamers and professional power gamers? Are they even the same species?

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