Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gaming Rant - Lighten Up, Francis

I write a game review site, like about every other fourth gamer nerd on the planet. So I feel qualified to make unreasonable assumptions about people I haven't met, because I must be an expert - I write a game review site. And one thing I feel compelled to note is that gamers take this gaming crap way too seriously - me included.

Two of the last three games I reviewed were games that are commonly labeled Euros. Darjeeling and Oregon are both Rio Grande games invented by people who, if they spoke English at all, almost certainly used it as a second (or third) language. Being as I am too ignorant to speak more than one language, I like to poke fun at Europeans to make me feel better about myself, kind of like NASCAR fans who make fun of people who play polo (real polo, on horses, not water polo - everyone makes fun of people who play water polo). So my reviews of the games indicated two things: first, that taken merely as games, they were both pretty good, and second, that the themes were way too watery for my uncultured American tastes.

In my never-ending quest to get more people to pay attention to me, I posted both reviews at BGG. And I found out something that did not surprise me at all - people were not always happy with me. I managed to offend some gay rights activists, some hardcore Euro gamers, and at least one Norwegian. All of these people were irritated with me for saying bad things about games they liked (except the Norwegian - he was displeased because I called Norwegians peaceniks). Of course, I was at BGG, so I'm not sure what I was expecting - pointing out that Darjeeling, a game about collecting tea, is about as manly as wearing a skirt and buying open-toe sandals, may strike a little too close to home.

I would like to say that only hardcore Euro nerds are this filled with high anxiety, but that would be a biased lie. For one thing, I have enjoyed countless Euro games, and will generally play anything Rio Grande Games ever produces. For another thing, Ameritrashers are just as guilty of taking themselves too seriously. They just do it in a completely different way.

The difference is, Euro games tend to think that they are smarter than people who want their games to include bloodshed. Ameritrash fans, on the other hand, think that Euro gamers are square-headed stuffed shirts who wouldn't know fun if it bit off their tiny peckers. For the most part, both groups are wrong, and they even know they're wrong, but good luck getting them to admit it.

However, even if you're not firmly in one camp or the other - and I'm not, I love Risk and Settlers of Catan, Descent and Dungeon Twister, Battlelore and To Court the King - even if you can play any game based solely on the enjoyment you're having at the time, if you're a serious gamer, you probably take games way too seriously.

You can probably discuss games and compare them based on their mechanics. You probably know what I mean when I say mechanic, for that matter. You may or may not use the word 'elegant' when describing a game, but you're still able to evaluate it based on the complexity of the rules.

I'm actually not going to say there's anything wrong with taking games seriously, especially because I'm more guilty of it than most people. I did mention I write a game review site, right? If you love games, you take them seriously. When you're deciding whether to drop fifty clams for a box of plastic bits and a cardboard map of Poland, you want to know whether you could enjoy the game or not. Comparing it to other games you know you love or hate will help you make that purchase, and if you do make the purchase, you'll be more able to persuade friends to play with you.

But you can get a little overboard. I mean, it's one thing to like model trains; it's another thing entirely to have a full-scale steam engine driving around the basement. It's awesome to be able to remember how flame breath works in Descent, or to know why 'got wood for sheep?' might be funny to someone (for the record, that is not funny to me). But when you can't enjoy a dumb game with your friends because you're unhappy with the unbalanced ruleset, you're taking it too far. When you can't enjoy the Pokemon Adventure Game with your kids because the collection mechanic is too clunky and the battle system too arbitrary, you need to remember why we play these damned things in the first place - to have fun.

Now, I'll be the first to tell you, not every game is fun for every player. Even more unfortunately, some games are just not fun at all (Monster Quest springs to mind). But even when you're not playing a game you like, you can still have fun. You can just say, 'hey, this isn't my bag, but I'm spending time with friends and/or family, enjoying some downtime, and playing a game. Life could be worse.' Play Candyland with your tots, and don't whine later to your gamer buddies that Candyland just has too much luck to be entertaining. Let your wannabe-game-nerd cousin teach you how to play Ticket to Ride. Maybe even let him win.

Throughout this whole rant so far, I've counted myself among the people I'm describing - I think the battle system in the Pokemon Adventure Game is arbitrary, and I hate Candyland for having too much luck. But there's one facet of the too-serious gamer that bugs the everlovin' horse apples out of me, and it's the rules lawyer. Nobody admits to being one - especially the rules lawyers - but if there was ever a gamer to avoid, it's the douchebag who overthinks the rules. Even if you love a game so much that you write strategy articles about it, or you start an Excel spreadsheet to organize your game collection by genre and game mechanic, you're still OK if you don't nitpick stupid crap about the rules to try to get an edge.

Because these damned things are supposed to be fun. I write this site to get free games, because I love playing games, because they're fun. I go to GenCon to play games, because it's fun. And nothing sucks all the fun out of a game like a gamer who takes them too seriously. Winning is only important because the fun is in trying to win. You don't prove larger manhood because you can whip my ass at Heroscape. You're not more awesome because you managed to win with the zombies in Last Night on Earth. Everyone comes out to have a good time, and the guy with the rod up his ass who takes his hobby too seriously sucks the fun out of a room like a ten-year-old sucking the blue juice out of a snow cone.

So lighten up, fanboy. Have fun, but remember that your hobby seems retarded to the little old lady up the street who collects Franklin Mint plates.


Steve Severino said...

Matt, I couldn't agree with you more.

There are WAY TOO MANY people who take the simple pursuit of playing board games much too seriously. Frankly, that's why your games blog has become one of my favorites (maybe even my #1 fave). You inject humor and fun into your writing and make me laugh, which is exactly how it should be. Games are supposed to be FUN. You make reading & learning about them FUN. Don't change a thing!

One of the things that really pisses me off about internet blogging and forums in general is that a disproportionate number of people like to BITCH & COMPLAIN about things, rather than sharing the joy of life. It saddens me to think that the majority of society seems to be comprised of whiners and complainers who have nothing better to do than spend their time nitpicking things and unleashing their frustration upon anyone who will read it. If I wanted sadness and negativity, I can just turn on the 6 o'clock news! I come to the web to seek fun and get away from all that crap. Far too people deliver fun.

In a nutshell, it's not just gamers that need to LIGHTEN UP. It's everybody.

Stay positive and funny Matt. It's what sets you apart (in a great way) from the masses of other folks who write about gaming.

Anonymous said...

You did this whole rant cause you know I am going to kick you ass at Heroscape come GenCon - just admit it and get on with your life already!

Great Rant, I am sorry I missed your reviews at BGG, I will look for them ( how long ago did you post them ), I am over there a lot, I enjoy a lot, but it is more eurogamers it seems. I figure then need more ameritrash fans over that way. I have posted your blog site a few times over there in my session reports.

Elf Ball is complicated!

Can you review

Cowboy: The way of the gun.

I am so getting it.

Matt Drake said...

Thanks, guys. I appreciate the kind words. And Hendal, I'll look into that Cowboy game. I love Cowboy games.

Anonymous said...

There are good games and bad games ... But, it entirely rests in the hands of the players and the amount of fun had while playing. I played Monopoly as a kid because it was fun, I do not play Monopoly any longer as my tastes have grown. Whenever someone gets snobbish because they play EuroGames I can't help but picture the gamers sitting around the table dressed as like Mike Meyers' "Sprockets" character ...