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Powergaming (or power gaming) is a style of interacting with games or game-like systems, particularly video games, boardgames, and role-playing games, with the aim of maximising progress towards a specific goal, to the exclusion of other considerations such as storytelling, atmosphere and camaraderie. Due to its focus on the letter of the rules over the spirit of the rules, it is often seen as unsporting, un-fun, or unsociable. This behaviour is most often found in games with a wide range of game features, lengthy campaigns or prize tournaments such as massively multiplayer or collectible games. Those wishing to discuss the behavior without pejorative connotation may use the neutral term optimization.
Powergaming in roleplaying games can take several forms. One form is the deliberate creation of optimal player characters (PCs), with the aim of maximising the power the player wields in the game world. This is known as min-maxing, due to the practice of maximising desirable or "powerful" traits while minimising underpowered or unuseful traits. Such characters often draw criticism for not fitting the theme and tone of the game world or for being difficult to challenge. Another form of powergaming involves a focus on acquiring power during game progression, often by acquiring powerful equipment or unusual abilities. This lends itself to gameplay which is materialistic (and often, in the context of the game world, arguably amoral) and can frustrate other players who are looking to interact with the game world, score points, and not merely acquire game resources. Another term for a powergamer is a munchkin, who may be differentiated from normal powergamers to describe players who seek to acquire power and loot at the expense their teammates.
In online text-based role-playing games that emphasize collaborative role-play over acquiring levels or skills, a player can be described as a powergamer if he or she presumes or declares that his or her own action against another player character is successful without giving the other player character the freedom to act on his or her own prerogative. They may also be a player who tries to force others to participate in unwanted role-playing. For instance, a player who unilaterally describes his character as doing something with (or to) another character that would usually require the other to play along — such as having a fight or a sexual encounter — is considered to be powergaming. In such games, in which a sense of community and rapport between players is seen as crucial and conducive to the game's overall well-being, powergaming is generally regarded as extremely offensive behaviour if it is not stated in the rules as being a bannable offense. It is often seen as synonymous with twinking or godmoding.
In video games, powergamers enjoy being at the bleeding edge of progression of their selected game, taking part in every activity that yields the fastest progression, and bypassing the "lesser" activities or any other secondary job/trait/skill. This is a wide generalization however. A gamer that likes to maximise all aspects of the game and do so in an expedient manner is also classified as a powergamer, often seeing more of the world than the "average" player would.
- Taylor, T.L. (2003). "Power Gamers Just Want To Have Fun?" (PDF). Proceedings of the 1st Digra conference: Level Up. University of Utrecht / Digital Games Research Association.
- Ed Simbalist & Wilf Backhaus Chivalry and Sorcery (1983) p.10 3.03 Power Gaming
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- Taylor, T.L. "Beyond Fun: Instrumental Play and Power Gamers". Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. MIT Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-262-20163-1.