Random Ruminations

It seems to be part of my nature to reflect on all my experiences--even the hobby experiences many people consider trivial. And I reflect best when I'm typing. So, here are some of my thoughts on games and gaming. Enjoy them if you can, comment if you like.
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The Real-World Side of Gaming

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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
Microbadge: 2022 RPG Geek Play-by-Forum Initiative participantMicrobadge: Solitaire WargamerMicrobadge: Live and let liveMicrobadge: Civilization V fanMicrobadge: I completed the 2022 VGG challenge: played 25 video games or played for 250 hours
For some reason, I've always had a good deal of reluctance about anything physical. I was mostly living in my head, so to speak, even in early childhood, and that pattern never changed. To me, it seems the material world makes a lot of demands and imposes a lot of challenges, and I'd almost always prefer to bow out and retreat into the more comfortable worldview I imagine--the world of my thoughts and dreams.

Games straddle the two worlds. There's the physical aspect, where you operate an electronic device, manipulate tabletop game components, or run out onto the playing field and actually do stuff. And then there's the mental/emotional/imaginative aspect, where the game becomes sort of a world in itself--a space apart from daily life, a space where only game events matter and you can become totally absorbed in them.

I've always loved games mainly because, to me, they're a portal to some alternate reality--an escape. Something to get engrossed in, as when reading a novel. Yet I've never been all that big on novel reading or movie watching or anything like that. Why? I think it's because games have always been available, and games afford an opportunity for me to participate--to take action and experience the consequences of my action. I want that; I'm just hesitant to do it physically. I'd rather act and experience the consequences in a game world than in the real world.

Of course, it's actually a false dichotomy. Games are as much a part of the real world as anything else. But I think anyone who has ever enjoyed the "escape" aspect of a good game will know what I mean.

The other aspect--the physical aspect--is the subject of this blog post, though. To me, it's the irritating part--the bad that I feel obliged to take along with the good.

In the case of video games (the central theme of this particular blog), the physical aspect includes electronic devices and their connections. Some people (my wife, for instance) love gadgets, but I generally hate them. For as long as I can remember, I've had a distaste for anything mechanical or electronic.

The positive thing about gadgets is they increase the amount of work you can do with a given amount of effort. Walking, for example, gets you from point A to point B quite nicely, but with a bicycle you can get to point B in a third of the time--or you can go three times as far.

At first, that seems like a real time-and-energy saver. It should make life easier. However, there are downsides too. For one thing, gadgets need to be maintained, and they eventually wear out, break down, or become obsolete. You have to clean and lubricate mechanical devices, and you have to clean and recharge electronic devices. I have enough trouble just taking care of my body; it pains me to own a bunch of other things I also need to take care of. It's worse when I come to depend on those things and then periodically need to repair or replace them.

Besides that, there's the changing nature of the world to adjust to. The more high-tech we get--the more mechanical and electronic devices there are--the faster life in the material world moves along. Since we now have easy access to so many effort-enhancing devices, we're all expected to take advantage of them and get more work done in a given amount of time. That can be hard on people with a low-tech mind-set, which is why we see some people heading back to nature or opting for a minimalist lifestyle.

Personally, I waffle in the middle somewhere. I have a strong low-tech, Luddite streak in me that would like to completely abandon gadgets of all kinds, but I've also grown used to the convenience of many devices. I can't bear to hand-write a letter now that email is available. I can't take time to walk to the store when it's so much quicker to drive there. And so on.

In the case of games, I now have to force myself to play any tabletop game. But it feels very weird for me to say that, because I grew up playing tabletop games, and they still seem perfectly normal to me--the very definition of what a game (my kind of game) is. But in fact, it takes considerably more time or effort to set up and play a tabletop game than a computer game. And about double that amount of time or effort if you're playing solo, as I almost always do.

Sometimes I ask myself why time even matters when it comes to gaming. While playing, I always feel I'm off the clock anyway. I've got my work and chores done, and all I'm doing now is enjoying a bit of recreation, so why should I spoil it by counting the hours?

Unfortunately, those hours still do pass.

So, it comes down to what I enjoy doing during those gaming hours. If I enjoyed shuffling cards, rolling dice, and moving pieces on a game board, then a tabletop game would do the trick. If I enjoyed running and jumping and kicking a ball around, then some sport would be better. But what I actually enjoy--as noted above--is simply escaping into the game world and forgetting about all aspects of the real world for a while.

Hence, for me, a completely nonphysical game would work fine. I just haven't found a way--aside from daydreaming--to enjoy game playing entirely in my own mind. I don't like the physical aspect of electronic games, but the computer at least frees me from the comparative drudgery of dealing with a tabletop game.

When I was growing up, there were no video games, so tabletop games always seemed like a welcome alternative to sports. At least I wouldn't have to run around on a field; I could just sit in a chair and move the little pieces on the board. Now that there are video games, they often seem like a welcome alternative to tabletop games--less setup and take-down, less looking up rules, and more time to just be immersed in play.

But there are a couple gotchas. One--not so important anymore--is that when something goes wrong with an electronic device, I can't fix it. For me, that was a huge problem through the 1990s, when the games I wanted to play wouldn't run on my machine until I bought a new sound card, updated drivers, or whatever. I hated dealing with those technical problems so much that it periodically drove me right back to tabletop gaming.

Another gotcha is electronic games sometimes being too fast and convenient. As far back as the 1970s, many video games were modeled on sports rather than on tabletop games. That meant there was real-time action involved. For me, that was always a drawback, not an appeal. I preferred tabletop games because they broke the real-time action of sports down into turn-based segments. Hence board games felt slower and more thoughtful. They freed me to enjoy the game mostly in my own mind, at my own pace; I wasn't pressured to keep up with ongoing action.

Luckily, it's easy enough to steer clear of real-time games nowadays. Because, even early on, lots of players wanted to play computer chess more than they wanted to play Pong. So turn-based games have evolved side by side with real-time games.

Another way electronic games can feel too fast to me, though, is processing time. In a face-to-face board game, I feel I ought to keep up with the pace of my opponent (and I look for opponents who are neither too fast nor too slow for me). In a solitaire board game, there's no such pressure at all; I can take all the time I want or rush through my moves if I feel like doing that. In an absolute sense, that's true in single-player computer games too: I can spend all the time I want on my own turns. But when the computer opponents finish their turns in seconds, I feel a bit of a push to hurry up.

Also, there's the insidious effect of owning--and wanting to play--so many games. They're so inexpensive now that I've ended up with a big collection I'd like to work my way through. So, even if I'm taking my time with the game in front of me, in the back of my mind I'm saying to myself, "Let's hurry and get through this so we'll have time to play those other games."

A third reason video games can seem too fast to me is that they remember all the rules and take care of any record keeping. In a board wargame, I have to periodically stop and check the rule book. Or I might have to refer to a chart and note a change on my player card. Every time I momentarily forget a rule--or how it applies in the exact situation at hand--a tabletop game pauses; and it resumes only after I've got the needed clarification. But in an electronic game, the most I ever have to do is hit the F1 key; usually a tooltip feeds me all the info I need. Or I can just try something and find out if it's legal.

I like reading game rules and building up some facility in applying them. As I do that, I feel I'm gaining a real understanding of the game. Unfortunately many computer games deprive me of that, by keeping game rules (or algorithms) under the hood, so I can only learn via trial and error. And in games where most of the rules are explicit, the info I need is fed to me so rapidly that I feel I'm rushing along and not learning much.

Obviously, a lot of these are just subjective perceptions--biases established through years of playing board wargames and other complex tabletop games. If I'd never gotten used to the pace of those games, the pace of today's computer games would probably seem normal.

As it is, though, I'm experiencing some kind of push-pull effect. Part of me wants to go back to the rule-book reading and slower pace of tabletop games, while another part of me objects to the clunkiness of dealing with printed rules and physical game components.

In addition, there's my lingering minimalist, or Luddite, attitude--a general (and probably irrational) distaste for electronic or mechanical gadgets. I resent depending on a device just to play a game. For many centuries, dice and dominoes were as high-tech as gaming ever got. And with some patience and effort, I could make those implements myself. They're also durable, so I might have to make them only once. In contrast, electronic devices need to be recharged. They're also relatively fragile and extremely complicated, so it would require the work of experts to repair or replace them.

Hence, I can't help but resent the very devices I play games on. I don't like paying the cost of them; I don't like having to be careful to keep them from breaking; I don't like the bugs and misconnections and power failures and such that interfere with their operation; I don't like the fact that they're far too complicated for me to rebuild or repair.

Similarly, I resent many of the video games I play. They're cheap and can be stored digitally, but that means that, in a sense, they're not real (they're just bits and bytes). How they work is beyond my ken, and more often than not even some of the game rules are hidden from me. Some come with user options and game editors, but except for a menu of choices I can't tweak these games to suit myself, the way I easily can with board games.

So it would seem my desire to avoid the physical dimension of reality has taken me too far. Now most of my games exist only in the cloud rather than on my closet shelves. And I'm enthralled by the internet and a complex of electronic infrastructure, as without it I can't even do something as simple as enjoy a good game.

Because of all that, I keep finding myself repeatedly pulled back toward tabletop gaming and the like. It can be hard to readjust to, but once I've made the switch it feels perfectly natural again. And it certainly has its advantages.

Not that the two modes of gaming have to be mutually exclusive. But I find that electronic gaming draws me in and spoils me. So unless I limit myself to indulging only in small doses, I end up becoming a full-time video gamer--and resenting it.

I don't resent the inner, mental aspect of it, though. Only the outer, physical part. It's great to load a computer game and immerse myself in that artificial world for a couple hours. That's as satisfying as any kind of gaming I've ever done. I just wish it didn't require an electronic device.
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