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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Confessions of a one-time would-be career gamer

“He’s not dead yet!”
By the power of
necromancy!
Emerging later than usual from the incommunicado of the long darkness of my annual slough of despond, I found myself drawn back into social networking via BoardGameGeek, as is my wont. One thread which attracted my attention was Deep or Wide: What kind of wargamer are you?, to which I added my tuppenceworth, you can be sure (deep, as we shall see). Before I knew where I was I’d been prompted to make an unexpected return to the keyboard for the benefit of my readers here at RD/KA!.

Never mind the depth, feel the width?
The original and
still the best?
‘Deep’ play- ie. playing a game many times to experience the full breadth of its content and to master its nuances, has been a strong characteristic of my gaming geek since I was a young adult. A quick survey of my 10 most played games shows how strong. Look at my 5 all-time favourite wargames:


All hype notwithstanding,
Space Hulk’s finest hour
What these games all have in common is that they are as much systems as they are games, and that they are driven by scenarios which gives them great replay value. This makes them ideal for deep play even if they might be simple by comparison to a multimap monster game, eg. the infamous Case Blue (10 maps with a total area of 49 square feet, 3640 counters and 288 pages of rules and scenarios).

Proper infantry action and,
ooh, look: tanks!
SL/ASL in particular are justifiably legendary for their inexhaustible coverage of the minutae of WW2 tactical ground combat. In ASL in particular: if it was there, somewhere, from China in 1937 through Western Europe, the Russian Front, the Middle East, the Pacific and back to China in 1945, then it’s in the game. The game really is that complete. I’ll wager that it’s simply physically impossible to play your way through all that is already available for ASL, even if you were to devote yourself to the game with monastic steadfastness for your entire life.

Try before you buy
 but if you like CE,
you’ll really like it!
My penchant for deep play isn’t confined to my favourite tactical wargames, as this list of my 5 most-played non-wargames shows:
None of these are games systems as such although some of them have a great variety of potential setups. In any case, I’ve played those 5 games about as many times as I’ve played the wargames, and that’s some 5000 plays per list; no game less than 100 times; and only backgammon or bridge even conceivably challenging Up Front’s 1500-plus plays at the very top of my all-time most-played games list. So I’m definitely a ‘deep’ gamer and gaming in depth is actually one of the greatest pleasures of my gaming geek.

I’m so deep, man, I’m, like, cosmic…
Cosmic Strings from the
Abelian Higgs model
Thinking about deep play struck a deep chord in me, one relating to the most recent crisis in my bloggery. This year, on top of all with which I am already depressingly all too familiar, there was the added dimension of the midlife crisis of turning 50 years old. Believe me dear readers, I’m the first person to recognise the irony there, since 3 decades of bipolarity has often seem like just one long ‘midlife crisis’. But, banality compounding irony, I couldn’t escape that most self-indulgent of moments after all.

The product of 12 years’
‘hard work’
And all this self-revelation relates to RD/KA! exactly how, I hear you ask? Well I don’t think that it’s a secret to regular readers that I’ve long nurtured the dream of being a career gamer, so that my moniker- JMcL63; the grinning greenie; and, naturally enough, this blog, were all parts of ‘building the brand’ on which hoped I might one day to be able to cash in. The sad reality I was confronting in my midlife crisis was that, not only was this dream dead, but I’d never really believed it. Not for several years at least. Why so?

All just a professional’s
box of tricks?
That all goes back to my pal Bill’s wedding in Prague in September 2005, where I met games designer Matt Forbeck, famous for his geniality and legendary for his capacity for hard work. The inevitable conversation ensued, in the course of which I learned two things from Matt. First, that he’d got his break in the gaming industry by putting in several years as a youthful volunteer helper at big games cons in the US. Already in my early 40s at the time, I clearly couldn’t do that. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Matt told me that his day job meant that rarely got to play games for fun. What he particularly couldn’t do any more was to play his favourite games in depth. Matt explained that he would play a game just enough to figure out how it worked, for the sake of finding new ideas for his work. I confess that my heart just sank when I heard that, as I shrank instinctively from losing my gaming identity for the sake of success in my dream job. My reaction is hardly surprising really, especially when you consider that I’d already put in well over half of the plays in my 2 lists above, including pretty much all of them to that point in the 5 most played (top 2 wargames and top 3 other).

From gaming geek to grumpy old geezer?
I’m getting too old
for all this crap!”
All of which brings us right back up to date and the midlife crisis of my hitting the ‘big 5-oh’. Unable any longer to sustain a self deception which had been to some degree enabled by my bipolar condition, I found myself wondering what RD/KA! is actually for. I mean to say, writing it had helped sustain the dream when I might’ve been better off listening to my gut that day in Prague. The reality was that the blog had long since been less a means to an end than the end itself. That wouldn’t’ve been so bad if I hadn’t already been feeling a bit frustrated with the content of RD/KA!, a frustration related to the changing patterns of my gaming and of my hobby interests.

Not quite, but almost
When I started RD/KA! back in 2005, I was playing games roughly twice a week, and building a games collection fit for that purpose. Since reviewing Infiltration back in October I’ve played once a week on average, a statistic which is slightly misleading because of clustering; ie. gaming sessions in which I’ve played more than one game. The reality has been that there have been more weeks in which I haven’t gamed at all than weeks in which I’ve played even just once. This is hardly conducive to writing about games, as readers will readily imagine.

AKA. I game therefore I shop
As if simply not playing as many games wasn’t enough, I was getting fed up with aspects of my hobby. I’ve written already about giving up miniatures gaming, and then more recently about almost being drawn back in: not just once, but twice! This consumerist dimension of the hobby (AKA. ‘the pursuit of the new’) had really started to get on my tits, a frustration which in my case takes the form of too many unwanted boardgames, RPGs and miniatures gathering dust on the shelves of my small flat (you’ll be seeing by now I hope, dear readers, why that unassuming BGG thread about “deep or wide” struck such a deep chord in me). The thoroughgoing reassessment of my gaming horizons here implied left me wondering if I’d have enough of a hobby to generate content sufficient to sustain a hobby blog.

New horizons to explore?
What will the future bring?
And so, although I was seeing RD/KA!’s readership growing to very satisfying new levels thanks to syndication via BGG and F:AT, I was left with the feeling that I’d taken my hobby bloggery as far as it could go. Of course, the fact that I’m here again means that I don’t believe that. I confess I’m not yet exactly sure what the ongoing redefinition of my hobby will mean for my bloggery, but I’ve got ideas I can assure you. In the meantime, I would just like to beg your indulgence, dear readers, for the overly personal nature of this post but this latest downswing left me with a lot of shit to get off my chest. ;)
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