2016-07-07 Barbie Gaming

In a thread on G+ about Burning Wheel, Christian Buggedei introduced us to the concept of Barbie Gaming.

In regard to Character Burning: In some german RPG circles, there exist the term “Barbie Gaming”. (This might sound a bit derogatory, but it isn’t meant as such.) The idea is that there is, for some folks, a source of fun in tinkering with their character, figuring out how the different mechanisms interlock, how to plot the path to this or that power, how which lifepath choices affect the outcome, etc.

The point here is that what to me (and apparently Zak Sabbath, too) is a horrible tedious thing that stands in the way of actually having fun, is for them one of the big sources of fun in the game. Also, there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction when they figured out that system and end up with something that they really like.

And it’s fun that they can even have when for some reason the weekly game just got cancelled!

It is as if you combine the fun that a kid has trying different dresses and shoe variations on the Barbie doll with the satisfaction of a jigsaw puzzle coming together.

A bit later I wrote the following:

To be more specific in arguing why Barbie gaming is something I dislike: even if some people enjoy it, chances are that not all of the players will enjoy it. If some enjoy it and others don’t, then you’ll get very different characters at the table. They might differ a lot in combat effectiveness, as happened in my D&D 3.5 game, where I distinctly remember having set up a fight with a ranger with humans as favorite enemies, and human slaying arrows, riding a nightmare, to fight one particular character, and using a bunch of demonic boars for the rest of the party because all their characters were hopeless in combat. That’s when I decided that I no longer wanted to run games with rules that afforded this kind of spread. To bring this back to Burning Wheel, I’d argue that spending more time in character creation does result in a wide variety of characters, but at least the spread is more overt. You can have an abbot skilled in words, and everybody at the table will know. Those that did not manage to plan their life paths well enough will end up with less of a leader but they won’t feel totally outclassed. In addition to that, a typical game has a wide variety of skill checks, on the topics you expressed interest in via beliefs and all that, so it’s not as bad as playing D&D 3.5 with a dedicated character builder friend. Specially since there, the gap widens as you go up in levels where as in Burning Wheel I’d assume the gap to close over a campaign as advancement is easier for those who fail at Barbie gaming.

But still, these observations still don’t recommend rules that provide for Barbie gaming. When I run a game, I’ll be careful to choose a system that does not. Even if the effect is not as strong as for D&D 3.5, some players will still want to talk to me about it, have questions, and I just won’t care for that kind of conversation. Better to pick rules that don’t afford this kind of conversation. So, even if some people enjoy it, I’d prefer it if they played it as a solo game and didn’t talk to me about it, and didn’t outshine the other players at the table that don’t care for character building, and didn’t bring a big book to the table and talked the others through character creation, establishing a power dynamic at the table based on an interest I do not share.



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