This week we talk about the player that plays the game just for the joy of playing the game. This might seem a bit strange if I had led the series with it but since we’ve already gone over a couple of the other reasons people play, I think it’s finally safe to talk about this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just someone that likes playing a certain game but rather someone that gets their enjoyment out of interacting with the actual mechanics of gameplay rather than any of the other myriad things that surround the gameplay. The two sub-categories of the Mechanics Gamer are quite different this time around as we look at The Competitor and The Gambler.
In general, the Mechanics Gamer is the person that loves to play with how the game is played. Where the Power Gamer would look up the best strategies and only want to play with the most powerful of abilities, the Mechanics Gamer would rather explore the abilities of certain things within the game itself. Possibly finding new and interesting ways to solve problems within the game is one of the things both of the sub-categories share as common loves. The Mechanics Gamer is also most likely to have many different characters or playthroughs in a game because they want to explore all the avenues of how you can play. For another example, the Immersion Gamer likes telling you how they swing their sword, the Power Gamer likes seeing the massive damage their sword deals when it hits, and the Mechanics Gamer likes actually rolling dice to see if their sword hits. At this point I’ll have to get into the specific types as, this week, the overlap isn’t quite as broad as the other ones.
The Competitor is exactly what you would imagine. He likes to play the game and he likes to be good at it. While this may sound like the Power Gamer, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being optimized or finding ways to cheat the system to just be better. Rather, it has to do with being better at actually playing the game and a Competitor will often look down at someone that would, say, look up what the best tournament level deck is and build that rather than play something they made. The name might be a bit misleading as the Competitor doesn’t always need to be playing against someone else since they will also be looking to be better than they currently are. Getting through an FPS level faster or without taking damage or only using melee is the type of thing you would see them do. They love finding a challenge within a game and overcoming it using the mechanics given to them within the game.
Playing with a Competitor is a challenge since they are always going to be comparing themselves to either the other players or just comparing how they feel they should be doing to how they actually are doing. Problems can arise if you’re playing a game that they just don’t have much talent at. They will always be trying to get better but when they fall short of what the level of gameplay they think is appropriate, they are likely to either give up entirely or just no longer seriously engage with it. Now, if you’re playing a game that plays into the Competitors strong suits, they will be 100% attentive and have a joy for the game that can be infectious. When playing against a Competitor, you can usually have a good game as they are there to play to the best of their ability and not just there to win. Of course, that will depend entirely on the temperament of the person and whether or not they felt they played as well as they could. A Competitor is likely to be sullen after a game not because they lost but because they made mistakes that the feel were below their level of play.
The Gambler, while not quite the opposite, is playing with a whole different goal in mind. The Gambler loves to set up combos in game and enjoys the high risk, high reward type of gameplay. For those of you familiar with the terms used for Magic: The Gathering types, the Gambler is a Johnny. The uncertainty of whether or not something will actually work and then putting it into play is where a Gambler will get the most joy. They love to try to see if they can beat the odds with something they came up with. For example, if there is a power that hits 90% of the time and deals 1 damage and a power that hits 30% of the time and deals 3 damage, the Gambler will always pick the second power. While they might both equal out to be an average of 9 damage over 10 attacks, the Gambler instinctually gravitates towards the power that could end up being amazing. They might have an entirely improbably combo that takes 4 or 5 different things lining up to go off and it might only happen once every ten times they play but that’s fine because just the fact that it could happen is exciting and when it does happen it’s even better.
Playing with a Gambler can be an odd experience. Most of the time they will be trying to set up some elaborate thing and attempting to convince the rest of the group that it’s a great idea. They are also the most likely to be playing something that can end up doing as much harm as good like the old AD&D Wild Mage that would have to roll on a table of 100 different effects that had a chance to go off randomly when they cast a spell. (Side Note: I played and loved the Wild Mage and am totally a Gambler). If the randomness of what/how they are playing stops being a novelty and becomes actually detrimental to the group’s enjoyment, don’t hesitate to try to reign it in. Most games involve some degree of chance and they can still enjoy playing without having to gamble with the other players’ enjoyment. If you want to make a Gambler happy, give them a Deck of Many Things and ask how many cards they want to draw.
With any Mechanics Gamer, the big thing to remember is to get them to engage in things other than just the gameplay since. They will often be so focused on either getting better at the game or making something cool happen that they can lose sight of everything else. It is probably best to have them at a table with someone like an Immersion Gamer that will encourage them to look at the story or interact with the other players. Of course, if you have an entire group of Mechanics Gamers you are probably all having a blast just rolling dice or pressing buttons. They are probably the easiest type to make happy since they will just enjoy playing so all you need to look out for is conflicts where someone might try to take their ability to play how they want away.