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He hears with gladdened heart the thunder, or, A Quiet Spirit, or, On not being a better person after having left boardgamegeek for 3 months.

I've seen your face in every place that I'll be goin'
I read your words like black hungry birds read every sowin'
Rise and fall, spin and call, and my name is Carnival

He hears with gladdened heart the thunder
Peal, and loves the falling dew;
He knows the earth above and under —
Sits and is content to view.

He sits beside the dying ember,
God for hope and man for friend,
Content to see, glad to remember,
Expectant of the certain end.

Converse much in your thoughts with the dark and silent grave. You meet with many things now that disturb and disquiet you, and much ado you have to bear them: think how quiet death will make you, and how incapable of resenting or resisting injuries, and what an easy prey this flesh, for which you are so jealous, will shortly be to the worm that shall feed sweetly on it … And is not a quiet spirit the best preparative for that quiet state? Think how all these things, which now disquiet us, will appear when we come to look death in the face: how small and inconsiderable they seem to one that is stepping into eternity. Think, "What need is there that I should so resent an affront of injury, that am but a worm to-day, and may be the food of worms to-morrow?"


It took me less than a couple weeks to realize that I really and truly missed BGG. I finished out the self-imposed 3 month exile just to be certain, and, yes, mostly because I would feel like a loser if I came back any earlier than I said I would.

So, how was it away from BGG? Did I learn anything about myself? Did I use my time any more wisely? Not so great. Not really. Nope.

This BGG blog of mine has always been as much about my search for contentment as it ever has been about games. Contentment and games. The two are related. I’ve long understood about myself that games settle my mind, bring me peace. I’m prone to anxiety and despair, acedia and melancholia. So it goes. I know from long experience that there are physical actions that make these things better and physical actions that make these things worse. The right choices are pretty reliable, even if it often seems like I reliably make the wrong choices. One positive choice that almost always works without fail is to play a game. Works at what? Works at convincing me that all is right with the world and my place in it. For the time that I’m playing a game, any good game worth playing, there is always “a temporary, a limited perfection.”

“Inside the play-ground an absolute and peculiar order reigns. Here we come across another, very positive feature of play: it creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, a limited perfection. Play demands order absolute and supreme. The least deviation from it ‘spoils the game’, robs it of its character and makes it worthless. The profound affinity between play and order is perhaps the reason why play, as we noted in passing, seems to lie to such a large extent in the field of aesthetics. Play has a tendency to be beautiful. It may be that this aesthetic factor is identical with the impulse to create orderly form, which animates play in all its aspects. The words we use to denote the elements of play belong for the most part to aesthetics, terms with which we try to describe the effects of beauty: tension, poise, balance, contrast, variation, solution, resolution, etc. Play casts a spell over us ; it is ‘enchanting’, ‘captivating.’ It is invested with the noblest qualities we are capable of perceiving in things: rhythm and harmony.”

Play has a tendency to be beautiful. That’s it, right there. For the time in which I am playing, I am part of a rhythm and harmony, the rhythm and harmony of that particular table and those particular people, but also, I am convinced, in rhythm and harmony with the way the world itself is rightly ordered.

“The ultimate lesson games give is not about gratification and reward, nor about media and technology, nor about art and design. It is a lesson about modesty, attention, and care. Play cultivates humility, for it requires us to treat things as they are rather than as we wish them to be. If we let it, play can be the secret to contentment. Not because it provides happiness or pleasure—although it certainly can—but because it helps us pursue a greater respect for the things, people, and situations around us.”

This is something like a “posture of play” in the every way that one could (should?) engage with all of the world.

Bogost again:
“But games aren’t magic, and the most special thing about them isn’t unique to them anyway—their artificial, deliberately limited structures teach us how to appreciate everything else that has a specific, limited structure. Which is just to say, anything whatsoever. Play isn’t our goal, but a tool to discover and appreciate the structures of all the malls and fishbowls we encounter.”

I take Bogost’s point, but I'd quibble a bit. Games are indeed “magic” and supremely special precisely because they are “deliberately” limited structures. It is that deliberateness that focuses the mind (and emotions) in a special way. It may be true that they teach us how to appreciate anything and everything else, but they do so by providing a deliberate space in which the training of those faculties can happen. Playing in a deliberate way in closed environments built for play may train us to play, deliberately, in wilder, woolier, more open environments. I think so. But I also know that I play games because it is beautiful and right and proper to play games and there doesn’t need to be any further justification than that, any more than there needs to be a defense of birds or flowers.

So, what does all of this have to do with being off of BGG and with now being back on BGG?

In the past three months, I was more content with what I had and didn’t chase as many new games for myself while I was gone from BGG. I certainly didn't care about the commercial churn cycle. What’s maybe weirder is that I didn’t feel any pressure or care to play any of the unplayed games in the basement either. That pressure just lifted. I don’t know if this was really an effect of being off of BGG or rather just the natural culmination of the past year of public self-reflection, in which I discovered that I’m actually a lot happier playing traditional abstract games and card games than I am playing pretty much any new “designer” game. Being away from BGG meant that I was even further away from the cult-of-the-new churn, but also away from the cult-of-the-small-new-exotic-card-games crowd that I had been gravitating towards (I love you guys). I stopped thinking about what to play next, which meant that for a while I played less, but then I just played at whim or left things set up, playing chess or checkers with one of the kids several nights in a row, which was always satisfying.

Taking a moment to breathe, it was also easy to notice that playing or not playing the games in the basement does not matter. At all. One bit. I mean, I always knew that and would have told you that if asked, but I hadn't felt it. They are still there, but I've already let them go. Kondo-style, I'm grateful that they gave me some moment of purchasing/collecting joy, but I'm even more grateful that they've taught me an (expensive) lesson in the perils of accumulating too much too fast. I was just telling a friend that the best gaming decision I made last year was the rule to play a new game immediately (within 2 weeks) or mercilessly dispose of the game, with this lesson being cemented in my by bootleby calling me out on the massive trade and my then playing that massive stack of games. Barring illness or disaster, I will never buy another game and not play it within 2 weeks. This really is the key thing I've internalized. I've been reflecting on my bedroom as a teenager. It was stuffed full of crap, a clutter-hater's nightmare, and I loved it. I never felt bad about it and I really never have been bothered by clutter. The big difference, I can understand now, is that I never ever brought something new into that room that I did not read/watch/play/listen to as soon as I possibly could.

I’d still like to get to at least a few of those games in the basement before I dispose of them. I’m still going to stick to the Crates rules that I’ve outlined somewhere here. Play the games by sometime (I can’t even remember when) later this year or get rid of them. But I no longer feel any pressure at all related to this. It just doesn't matter. I also culled dozens more games, but that process probably deserves its own short post.

Being away from BGG also meant that I spent time other places on the Internet. Because I didn’t just suddenly stop caring about games and I didn't suddenly completely unplug, I found other gaming websites out there. They exist! BGG is not the only games-related site. I know, this is not news, but BGG was definitely my default, and when it is the default, it’s easy to default to wasting time on general threads on BGG that I’m not ultimately interested in just because it is the default. Away from BGG, I found a wider world of games. I read the rules to a lot of small free (or pay what you want) indie rpgs. I read about traditional parlor games. I read the rules to card games that I’ll never play. I read essays about games and about play. I discovered stuff like Ludocity, “a collection of pervasive games, street games and new sports - social forms of play that take place in public spaces, such as city streets, parks and public buildings.” I briefly joined the new community.consimworld, which is a sort of facebook for wargamers, and stayed there long enough, about half a day, to know that it wasn’t for me.

I’ve reflected a lot on this one Matthew Henry sentence, “And is not a quiet spirit the best preparative for that quiet state?” Quiet here does not mean silent, but being at peace. It was the restlessness that I sometimes associated with BGG that often “disquieted” me. Always something new. Always another update/notification, and if there isn’t a new something yet, I’ll just refresh a few times, and maybe there will be one soon. Outside of BGG, I was still on the internet. I did not quit that completely. There was some degree of restlessness in my searching, but there was always some greater degree of boundedness to the search results. I was able to sip at a thing or two, then put it down, which is a different feeling than the notification-driven "refreshing" interaction of BGG (just like "content" doesn't seem to bring contentment, "refreshing" webpages rarely feels actually refreshing), which is fortunately user-controlled so I can only blame myself, but I don't think it's any accident that BGG's new homepage changed to an endless scroll. That is the new model. Infinite Content, so some approximation thereof.

Sometimes I even went on BGG (gasp!) when it seemed like the best place to look something up. If I learned anything in all of this, I learned that BGG is a far worse place when not logged in than when logged in. Because despite my complaints, despite the degree to which BGG is complicit in a culture of dissatisfaction and continued acquisition, BGG is also home to a great community of other players, those whom David Parlett, following Cotton, likes to call Gamesters. You, my fellow Gamesters, you who understand the rhythm and harmony of play, you are the reason that I am back and the reason that I will still continue to consider BGG my primary home on the web. I think I understand that better now and I am more grateful than ever for it.

I love games. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop loving games. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about games or talking about games. This preoccupation with games is frivolous in a sense, but I’m also convinced that it’s a genuine groping at something more profound. If not, it’s at least a welcome respite from the pain and hardship experienced elsewhere. You all reading this might agree with my speculations or you might think I’m crazy. It doesn’t matter. What I do know is that you’re all here because you love games like I do, or like you do, in your own way. There’s something about the ludic life that can’t be shaken. Since those of us smitten in this way, self-concious of our ludobsession, are scattered far and wide, we might as well share our experiences with one another as best we can here on boardgamegeek. At its best, it is a marvelous place.

This time around, let’s talk about digital media and the dead.

As deep fakes, virtual reality, and virtual worlds become more commonplace, I worry that at least some of us will lose our ability to die.

From gallery of trawlerman

I’ve probably mentioned here before that I’ve deleted multiple facebook accounts and multiple twitter accounts. I was definitely active in both of those places at different points over the last decade or so. It might be weird to many of you, but one major reason I deleted those accounts and have not gone back is that I’m terrified that some social media account of mine will outlive me. So much ephemeral conversation, which is really what any of these accounts are, should be forgotten. They are all, at best, partial representations of some carefully cultivated version of some aspect of myself, what I felt like performing that day to that crowd. I don’t know. I just didn’t like it, and still don’t like it, the thought of some future ethnocultural-archivist specializing in early 21st century U.S. history reconstructing some version of me through the tattered scraps of online personas. Not that I imagine myself important enough to be worthy of study. The scenario is more like a future descendent researching his family history, looking into the Owen side of the early 21st century only to conclude that the most important thing in this ancestor's life, based on years of Google Hangouts conversation data, was the regular fart jokes exchanged with his friends.

It’s maybe even weirder that I don’t feel that way about BGG. If anything, this blog and my contributions here give an even narrower version of myself than other outlets. I present the Ludic & Ludological John as primary. And I think I’m okay with this because I wish it were true that the Ludic & Ludological John were the Primary John (here I distinguish slightly between ludic=playful and ludological=playing ordered by and consisting in Logos, which is my own spin on ludological, but also not too far from standard definitions; I'm also happy describing myself as someone who attempts to speak logical structured words about games). I'd like to be remembered for my playfulness. Following Huizenga and Bogost and others, I admire and appreciate and, most importantly, play games because they are beautiful in themselves, but also because in themselves they reveal something true beyond themselves. Not all human activity is play, but “it might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play.”

And maybe that all got too heavy. For the record, I'm definitely not writing this for any future folk. I'm writing it for all of you, right now, as part of an ongoing conversation that I'm enjoying. I've learned something from each of you about what it means to play and be playful. Being on BGG is its own form of play; I think that I can settle back in here happily without stressing too much. See you all around.

It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke—that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.

C.S. Lewis
I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?

How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?

No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”
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