System Mastery and Younger Gamers

Imaro

Legend
Okay, first let me state upfront that I don't have any data or proof or anything... and most of this is just thoughts and conjecture from observing my son and nephews play games ( videogames, ccg, roleplaying, board and SW miniatures)... but I'm starting to think system mastery might be something the younger generation enjoys and maybe even craves in games.

I know us experienced gamers have a tendency to decry system mastery as an objectively bad thing in roleplaying games... we tend to believe that we shouldn't have to sacrifice effectiveness in one area for aother or that there shouldn't be hidden traps and "not-so-obvious" choices that are objectively better or worse than others... but in observing my son and nephews I am starting to think this is an aspect of gameplay that they, and many of their peers, find enjoyable. Even though old hats may have grown into a dislike of it... is it really an objectively bad thing in game design.

My son and his cousins take pleasure in constructing their decks/Star Wars armies/rpg characters/etc. and showing how "awesome" of an entity (for lack of a better all encompasing word) that they have created. They also enjoy the fact that better choices lead to a recognizably better game entity.

This competitive build approach also causes them to become more interested in a particular game and it's intricacies in order to better show off their skill in said game. Now yes, I think some of this is due to the competitive factor in most young boys... but I also think most young boys are naturally competitive in some way with most "games"... even if it is a cooperative one. Most kills, highest damage, best items, etc. are all ways they may measure themselves... and games that require system mastery allow them to do this in a way that keeps them engaged and interested... it's one of the reasons I think CCG's were and still are so popular amongst young gamers.

I think I'll post some more thoughts on this later, but I really just wanted to get this topic out there and see what people think.
 

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Pseudonym

Ivan Alias
Okay, first let me state upfront that I don't have any data or proof or anything...

I've never let that stop me from posting before. :)

I know us experienced gamers have a tendency to decry system mastery as an objectively bad thing in roleplaying games...

Well YMMV of course, but I'm 37 and have been playing RPGs since I first sat in on my father's campaign when I was eight and I really enjoy all aspects of system mastery, as I define the term.

is it really an objectively bad thing in game design.

I'm inclined to disagree.

They also enjoy the fact that better choices lead to a recognizably better game entity.

I don't know how different this is from say, Basic D&D. A high strength is better for a fighter than an average or low one.

This competitive build approach also causes them to become more interested in a particular game and it's intricacies in order to better show off their skill in said game. Now yes, I think some of this is due to the competitive factor in most young boys... but I also think most young boys are naturally competitive in some way with most "games"... even if it is a cooperative one. Most kills, highest damage, best items, etc. are all ways they may measure themselves... and games that require system mastery allow them to do this in a way that keeps them engaged and interested...

I don't know as this is restricted to "young boys", but the aim may be less to show off than to avoid creating a character that is less than optimal in a given campaign. I do agree that becoming more aware of the intricacies of a system allows one to become more engaged.

I wonder though, can you expand more on what you mean by system mastery? I'm not sure I completely understand how you are using the term.
 
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Diamond Cross

Banned
Banned
Okay, what's system mastery?

It almost makes it sound like you're a power gamer into min/maxing trying to redefine power gaming into something more positive.
 


WheresMyD20

First Post
I agree, this is nothing new. There's always been a segment of D&D players that are mostly interested in showing off how awesome their character's stats are. Currently, we call them "system masters". In the past, they were called "min/maxers".
 

Imaro

Legend
Maybe I haven't expressed what I am talking about concisely and clearly, so let me try again. I am not talking about just min/maxing... I am talking about system mastery as defined in D&D 3.x. The expectation that only through learning the rules thoroughly and experimenting can one begin to approach mastery of the game. It certainly can encompass min/maxing but is not limited to it.

To further expound on my point in a game that stresses system mastery, there may very well be bad choices that look like good choices... but only someone who has spent the time experimenting and exploring the game will discover this... and only someone who spends even more time involved with the system will discover why it is a bad choice... this has nothing to do with power-gamming or min/maxing but instead, like discovering strategies, openings, etc. in chess, is a part of understanding and mastering the game. I think this keeps a game interesting as opposed to the opposite... where system mastery is not a premise of the game and pretty much any reasonable choice gives one a reasonable result. Synergies (both within one's build and with other players), tactics against monsters, game options, and so on are all part of system mastery. I hope that better explains what I am talking about.
 
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Imaro

Legend
Chess is very different than RPGs. It's just comparing cabbages and kiwis.

Okay, if you see it as power-gaming there's nothing I can do about that except agree to disagree.

Edit: I wonder, is it power gamming to know toughness in 3.x was a bad feat? Or was it gaining a certain level of mastery over the rules so that I can get what I want out of the game.... whether that is to be the largest damage dealer... or to have a well rounded character in stealth and fighting. Some games do this for you, make sure you can't mess up, though it ususally comes with some pretty big restrictions as well. To me and I think probably to many younger gamers there's a certain enjoyment and continuous engagement in figuring out how to do what you want with a system through experimentation and study... while I find systems that do it for you, don't engage me so much.
 
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