Back when I did my formative (WFB) gaming before I went away to university, the games I played had a narrative context. I used to play regularly against the same four or so people, and we worked out a backstory to our regular games which was advanced in one side or another’s favour when a game was won or lost. They were between more or less the same armies (because we didn’t have collections that were massively bigger than the standard sizes); decent-but-not-brilliant builds with some kind of vague theme (a minor Skaven clan, an undead knightly order and its men-at-arms, a High Elf citizens’ militia, stuff like that), named and backstoried units and characters (not that either of us could remember what the others’ pieces were most of the time, and declarations were still along the lines of “those Skeletons are going to charge those Clanrats there” – I think we could remember each other’s heroes’ names and that was about the limit). It didn’t particularly matter who won or lost unless someone lost so many games that the story really should be over by now (and that’s when we’d sit down and have a talk about tactics and some unit would be disbanded or some character would be executed in the story and some reinforcements would show up or something).
And then there was uni, and I ended up in a much larger gaming group with a much greater variety of armies where people tended to own larger and/or multiple armies, and so pickup games were the norm. It was quite hard to give the games against random armies any sort of context, especially since I was the only one doing it, and so I stopped, and I think that might be where I started giving a crap about winning the games, as a substitute for contextualising the results no matter what they were. I remember something similar happened with Warmachine: when I was only playing the same three people with small collections round someone’s house a backstory to the games sort of emerged, with particular units being tied to particular ‘casters, and defeats having an effect on the narrative. Then I moved up north, to a larger group with inconsistent attendance, in a shop environment where everyone had a couple of factions and a variety of options within their factions. The contextualising process just couldn’t happen in that environment, and without there being a contextual payoff to my losses I think I started noticing them more.
Not that I have a clue what to do about it, mind; I tightened my Cryx collection around an aesthetic and narrative that I like, and started doing an Agenda army for much the same reason, but I don’t think the environments I’ve spent the last couple of years playing in are appropriate for the approach I really want to take. Of course, I might just be kidding myself and I might want to WIN GAMES, but I don’t think so. I remember when I didn’t and I think I’ve worked out the difference between then and now. Then, any game outcome had an impact on the narrative, and that was the point. When there isn’t a narrative to impact, the outcome becomes the point, and it probably shouldn’t be.