WWE and WizKids: An opportunity to rethink game theory

by David Beard, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota Duluth

WizKids has announced that they have licensed WWE intellectual property for their tabletop games.

WizKids, the leader in high-quality pre-painted miniatures and established board games, today announced a new multi-year licensing partnership with WWE, with plans to bring the organization’s iconic Superstars to the tabletop with successful gaming platforms HeroClix and Dice Masters as well as branded board games.

The partnership will bring the likeness of popular WWE Superstars, including John Cena®, The Rock®, Charlotte Flair®, Roman Reigns® and The Undertaker®, in addition to WWE Hall of Famers such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin® and Trish Stratus™ to several gaming platforms, including Dice Masters, HeroClix and Boxed Strategy Games.

Product will be available in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and Europe. The first release is slated to hit shelves in 2019.

This is an opportunity, I think, to introduce a variety of game theory to readers of the PWSA blog.  It’s also an opportunity to rethink both these tabletop games and the pro wrestling product from within this theory.

About GNS Theory

The fastest summary of GNS can be found on Wikipedia, and I’m slicing bits of it below.

A gamist makes decisions to satisfy predefined goals in the face of adversity: to win.

Narrativism relies on outlining (or developing) character motives, placing characters into situations where those motives conflict and making their decisions the driving force.

Simulationism is a playing style recreating, or inspired by, a genre or source. Its major concerns are internal consistency, analysis of cause and effect …[E]vents unfold according to internal rules. Combat may be broken down into discrete, semi-randomised steps for modeling attack skill, weapon weight, defense checks, armor, body parts and damage potential. Some simulationist RPGs explore different aspects of their source material, and may have no concern for realism; Toon, for example, emulates cartoon hijinks.

Heroclix attracts players of multiple sorts. within this typology.

Some Heroclix players are very passionate about the narrative component:  while Heroclix allows DC and Marvel heroes to work within the same game system, they resist the idea that Superman and Spider-Man would ever be on the same team.  They might even bristle at the narrative unlikeliness of Superman and the Joker existing on the same team;  they exist within the same universe, but the narrative that would yoke them together on the same teach would be tortured.

Others are drawn to the game dimension:  they want to maximize their chances to win, based on the statistics of the individual pieces.  They tend to reduce the pieces to statistics and run these statistics, not the heroes and villains, against each other — much, I suppose, like a Fantasy Football player might.  [I’ve never played Fantasy Football, so this is extrapolation on my part.]

Occasionally, I have heard players complain about the simulation component — when they complain that a piece is “overpowered,” that can be a complaint from the perspective of gamism in that they want the game to be balanced for equitable chances to win.  But it can also be a complaint from the perspective of simulationism.  If, within the world of the comics, it seems unlikely that Howard the Duck could defeat Galactus, but the piece seems overpowered enough to make it possible, the complaint that the Howard the Duck piece is overpowered is rooted in simulation.

Already, you can imagine the possibilities for players of a WWE-branded Heroclix.  Who will win if the Undertaker fights Spider-Man?  Is Rey Mysterio as athletic as Nightwing/Robin?


About GNS Theory in the Ring

More provocatively, though:  Can GNS theory explain responses to actual professional wrestling?  Is a Mark just someone who wants to experience wrestling through the lens of gamism?  Does a Mark become a Smark when simulation breaks down?  [The childhood moment that broke the illusion for me was when Randy Savage crushed Ricky Steamboat’s larynx, allegedly;  I didn’t believe Steamboat could recover that quickly and so quickly came to believe that the whole enterprise was fake.]  And narrative, narrative, the dimension of wrestling that yarders never master, the dimension that makes wrestling the most popular form of American theatre.

Maybe recreating wrestling in the engines of Heroclix will open up new ways of thinking about Wrestling, too?


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