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Monday 7 March 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The Omega Gamer

I wrote a few days ago about the Beta Gamer. Now its the Omega Gamer's turn.

The term is borrowed from the group dynamics of a wolf-pack. There's always an omega male in the pack, the one that is the lowest rung on the totem pole. He gets food last, gets sniped at by the other wolves, and essentially always has to defer to the rest. But there's also a very interesting dynamic in a wolf pack: if their Alpha Male dies, the wolf pack immediately chooses someone else to become the new Alpha and moves on, with little significant impact on their structure.
But if the Omega male dies, this has a tremendous impact on them, as they are disoriented and affected for quite some time, essentially until another omega male is selected. Its almost like they can't easily function without him.

I had commented in my "Beta" entry that I'd noticed over the years that not all gaming groups have an "Omega". There's always at least one Alpha (sometimes there's more than one person fighting to be the Alpha), there's usually one or more betas, but the Omega is kind of optional. And yet, I've also noticed, over the years, that RPG campaigns in a group with an Omega tend to be more successful in long-run play than campaigns that do not. That's not an ironclad rule, I've played in plenty of campaigns without an Omega in the group, but for some reason the groups that do have an Omega often do better.

And what is an Omega in the context of how I'm defining it for a gaming group? Well, an Omega is that player that is in the bottom of the social group. There's the Alpha (who ought to be the GM), Betas (those players who take very active leadership roles in the player group), the Disinterested Middle players (I guess you could call them "Delta" Players) who are those who are mostly just along for the ride, having a good time, but don't want to be in a very central role, and then there's the Omega. The Omega is a guy who really tries in his own way, but who the rest of the group tends to look down upon. Either his roleplaying skills are a little sub-par, or his choices tend to be poor, or his personal charisma isn't great; something, that kind of makes him the kicking-boy of the group. It is not that the Omega is a bad person; we're not necessarily talking about a lawncrapper here, nor are we talking about a Prima Donna player, which is a whole different phenomenon. In a way, an Omega could be seen as a Failed Beta player; if it wasn't for either his personal foibles or his lack of competency or poor decision-making or personal charisma, his enthusiasm for the game could make him a Beta. As it is, he is often the one who ends up the butt of jokes, or the one who's character gets screwed in unusual and interesting ways. Not on purpose, he's not a Joker (which I guess would be another kind of Delta player), he's not trying to be funny, it just happens to him. He's the guy that you think of stuff he's done in the game and it makes you roll your eyes, though not with disgust, just with consternation at someone who never seems to quite get it.

Why is he so essential? I'm not sure; but I suspect that as with the Wolf pack, in the gaming group the Omega becomes a source of stress-relief, or of shunting group-frustrations. However bad your player has it, the Omega is worse off. And his antics provide something the rest of the group can agree with in rolling-their-eyes at. When he's around, he's sometimes annoying, but when he's not you kind of feel the group is missing something. And that last sentence is what let's you clearly define the difference between an Omega and, say, a lawncrapper or a prima donna or a just-plain asshole. None of the latter are particularly missed, indeed, its often a relief when they're gone.

Some players are career Omegas; but in other cases, its a temporary condition, born out of a lack of experience or personal maturity, and an Omega player might grow to become a decent Beta, given time.


(Originally posted January 12, 2010)

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