When I talked about metagaming last time, I mentioned that it was in a category with min-maxing and power gaming, in that it is very common in games, and frequently discussed, and might be a good or bad thing in a particular game. Now, I think that examples of how min-maxing and power gaming can be bad are likely to leap to the minds of most gamers who read this, so I won’t spend much time talking about that. What I do want to discuss are a few ways in which I see min-maxing and power gaming as good, and then see what you think.
Niche Protection/Time to Shine
Niche protection is, again, a thing, and not just in ‘gamist’ games, or games with classes and levels and task-resolution dice rolls. A rogue wants to be good at rogue-ing, and the story game character with the conflicted family relationship might want to have the most conflicted family relationship. Certainly more conflicted than the other characters, just as the rogue doesn’t want to be outshone by the druid or even the bard.
There are also times in a game when you want your character to shine. We don’t generally play games to portray characters who ceaselessly fail and are embarrassed – there’s enough of that in life. Except in the case of a game that is played for humor, and even then, we want to be hilariously bad, not just vaguely sad and unsatisfying. So, it is good to min-max and power game so that your character can shine, doing what you imagined your character doing when you created her.
As a player, especially in games with a strong GM/player divide, your main interaction with the system is through your character. That’s where all of your levers and buttons are to get what you want out of the system. If you are playing a fighter, and you want to fight and win, then a big lever for you will be your Strength score, for example. So you could certainly create a fighter with a below-average Strength for solid story reasons, but you are going to lose that lever in the system. You are going to be a fighter who fights and loses. When fights are presented as an exciting part of the story, you will have less influence on that story because you are bad at fighting.
In games without the strong player/GM divide, this principle is still in play. There are still particular ways you are expected to interact with the system and pull it in the direction you want it to go.
Story leverage is maybe the most interesting reason I personally have for min-maxing and power gaming. I do this regularly with games I know well and GMs or player groups that I don’t know well – I create a really effective character. I make those levers in the system and the story as strong as I can. Then I am able to pull things in a direction I think is more fun or interesting. With a great GM and fun players, this just makes a good game better, but with a weaker GM and less fun players, it can salvage a game session.
I can think of one game in particular with a newer GM. I could see some things that he was doing that were likely to be frustrating, and I wasn’t sure where the story was going. But I had created a character, being really familiar with the rules, who was kind of unstoppable at what he did well. So when a roadblock was put up that seemed arbitrary, I could just smash it through my character and get on with something more fun. I’m even willing ride the rails in a game with a strong narrative thread, and sometimes through my character I would make the choice that seemed most likely to get the game back on the rails because that seemed most interesting. Then, since my character was so effective at influencing the story through the system, I could set things up for the other characters to shine as well.
Was this topping from the bottom? Yeah, kinda. It was also more fun than it would have been if I didn’t min-max and power game.
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