gen option isnt copiously described in the sample bitcoin.conf file ... does that mean that the daemon started up will attempt to mine for coins?
That configuration parameter no longer has any effect because the CPU mining engine has been removed from the mainline client.
Earlier versions of the client did have a built in miner and the gen parameter controlled if it ran in the background. Given the much higher difficulty today the developers felt it no longer served a purpose and would be confusing to new users (who could wait months of even years without generating a single coin). It was removed from the client. The wiki should be updated to reflect that.
-gen=1 on the command line or in the configuration file,
bitcoind will use its built-in miner to search for blocks. It is inefficient, does not support pools, and does not use GPUs. It is only left as a reference and for testing, and will probably be removed completely soon.