Welcome to this midweek retreat, here we can let go of the specific games this blog is about, relax and think about the wider place of gaming in the world. I'll leave out the historical perspective for now; a great many people have covered that more effectively than I could. I'd like to talk for a little about how I observe gaming fitting into the world and where we might go from here.
So this week, I've been in a few discussions that come back to the place of gaming in the wider world. Should board games be considered toys? Are game designers fighting a culture of passive entertainment? Should female gamers put up with the state of minis in gaming? Is the way that non-gamers approach games wrongIs the way that non-gamers approach games wrong? Each of these is worth an article on its own (though to summarise: no, no, hell no and how can you be a non-gamer if you're playing a game?) but they all come from the same place, thinking about the role of games in wider culture.
To a great many people games are kid's stuff, we can talk all we like about chess grandmasters and how modern games make chess look strategically shallow, but the perception is there. Sure we can get into linguistics and discuss the root of the word toy and how it might technically apply. Many of us are experts at stretching the technical definitions of rules, but at the end of the day it's just not true. When people call me a bastard they're referring to my actions rather than the legitimacy of my birth. When people call games toys they're not thinking "technically they're about play which is technically about enjoyment", they're being dismissive. We'd be fooling ourselves to think otherwise. This is a shame, because a lot of these games genuinely improve lives, there are so many groups of friends who come back to play games time and time again for what it adds to their lives.
So who's to blame for games occupying this space in culture? It's tempting to say it's stuffy, boring, closed-minded people who've never been willing to sit down with anything with more depth than Monopoly. I don't think that's entirely true though, at the end of the day I think that the blame lies with us, the existing players.
The sad fact is that I meet so many players who are ashamed of their hobby. Sure people get excited among other gamers, but they don't talk about it to family or work colleagues or strangers or dates in the way that other hobbyists will. I've never had friends I've met through rock climbing or martial arts acting like they're sorry for enjoying what they do, but I've a gamer respond to being asked about his hobbies with "I play games, I'm sorry" If we keep acting like there's something wrong with it then it'll keep being seen that way.
Attitudes towards computer games have been changing a lot lately. The Wii and smartphone apps have brought games to a much wider audience. Attitudes towards it are changing. Charitable gaming institutions are getting bigger and more recognisable. There's even a push towards looking at computer games as fine art. Board games have been around longer, but are less generally accepted, where's our cultural revolution? I could do a whole post on what computer gamers have done that board gamers haven't, but I've written a lot of words already so let’s focus on just one thing.
Board games, like computer games and books and paintings and almost every other expression of creativity are media. However we shy away from that - most people I speak to won't claim this and some actively fight being categorised that way. Games do involve real world ideas and ideals, they are an expression of the culture they're embedded in and they do influence the minds of people who encounter them in some small way. I think a lot of people don't like that last one, but a culture being shaped by its games is not so hard to imagine. A small, but important, part of stepping up and being a more involved thing in the world is taking responsibility for that and thinking about what we do.
I started reading the boardgamegeek forums seriously 23 days ago and the most common piece of advice I see for selling games on kickstarter is one word: "boobies". It's often said with great bitterness, which I find encouraging. We're better than that, or at least we should be. Many contemporary depictions are insulting to women and an artifact of a culture we've collectively been trying to move away from. It's insulting to us too. You know what, this deserves a rant.
In a hobby where you might mentally simulate the progress of an entire world through hundreds of possible outcomes based on a dozens of memorised physical rules, just to decide whether to move one of your guys one space to the left, aren't you at least a little bit offended by the notion that someone is ignoring a full half of your friends while trying to sell the other half a game on the grounds that one of the inanimate lumps of plastic is shaped vaguely like a tiny version of someone they might want to have sex with?
And that's just one of hundreds of issues. Let’s wrap this up. What I'm really saying here is this: I want to see a world in which you can invite anyone you meet to come play and games as easily as you might invite them for a drink in the pub. I want a world in which people are never ashamed of what they enjoy and more people get to do things that make their lives more awesome. I want a world in which games are as widely regarded as a part of culture as movies, with everything that entails - good and bad. In short, I want a better future. I don't think anyone seeks out a creative job because they're satisfied; it comes from a drive to make things that are better than what is already here. Getting there is a lot of work and I could fill a whole other post on how to make that happen, but it boils down to this:
Take pride in what you do and make sure that what you do is worth taking pride in.
We should also remember to have fun while we do it. In any case, that's enough soapbox for today. The rest of this week will be about progress on making games