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Worldwide Ace » This is Not a Game

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This is Not a Game

11 November, 2010 (17:44) | Growing Up

Settlers of Catan, one of the original staples of our gaming crew.

I cherish the simplicity of games.

Every Thursday, my friends and I gather, our collections of carefully boxed time wasters piled in a corner as a few are selected, played, and returned neatly. Some games are unpredictable and random, dice dictating outcome and Lady Luck whimsically awarding victory and defeat. Others are refined paragons of order, each maneuver and play sliding toward a logical, and often apocalyptic conclusion.

Regardless of the game, my enjoyment often stems from the fact that everything is clearly defined: the rules are given, static, even in games like Flux in which the game is to change the rules; the pieces are limited and consistent, not a nuclear weapon to be found in a game of swords and sorcery; the problems and quandaries are limited and temporally assured to be answered before the game is out (or at worst after a visit to an FAQ and hours of pleasant argument). In essence, games encapsulate a perfect world which mirror Livy’s famous statement calling women fickle and unchangeable.

Games are fickle and unchangeable. They cannot be perfectly predicted and yet they never stray far from the expected. This is their simplicity.

Over the course of the summer, I sat idly by waiting for the fates to intercede and lead me on to my next endeavor. So many paths, so many choices, and not a rule book to be found. When I sought council, advice varied so vastly it was overwhelming.

Life isn’t a game. It can’t be broken down into simple instructions that will guarantee at least a semblance of success. Even physics seems to bend at the edges and absolutes are more theory than reality. Every rule seems to have its exception, and the platitudes that seemed so significant and true in my youth have long since been sullied by my own jading:

  • The sun will always rise in the East.*
  • Everything will happen for a reason.**
  • You can be anything you want to be if you just put your mind to it.***
  • Do good and good things will happen.**
  • Everything changes.****

* Unless you’re near enough to the poles that it doesn’t rise or set.
** Except when they don’t, cause it just doesn’t work like that.
*** Except a frog, horse, other animal, different sex, amphibious, fly, etc. Most of these take surgery, or machinery.
*** Unless it’s theoretical, in which case it can’t change cause it doesn’t exist… wait, does it exist? I’m confused.

When a game is too simple, its outcome is too predictable and its mechanics provide no challenge. When a game is too complex, its outcome is not nearly predictable enough and its mechanics only obfuscate things further. A great game strikes a perfect balance, something which life fails to do (and unlike games, no amount of badgering the designer ever seems to elicit a response nor a second edition).

To continue to make legal moves yet gain no ground is possibly the most frustrating situation to experience.

I awoke anew this fall, finally discovering a means and a path onward, however overgrown it might have seemed. I took a job as a mover, squeaked by thanks to help from friends and family, and survived just long enough for the edge of winter to descend, its promise of ski season enough of a carrot to keep me stumbling forward. How I ended up here and where I am going are still a mystery, but for the moment here is where I am.

Tonight, as every Thursday, my friends and I will gather around a table and move plastic pieces across a cardboard map in hopes of collecting the most meaningless paper chits. Some will win, others lose, but, for the briefest of moments, our purpose will be clear.

Here, among the lost souls of geekdom, I will hover over the table, every quirk and happenstance of the game within our collective control. Here, in the midst of unclear reality, I will help create a bubble of the unreal, basking in its clarity and absolute finitude . Here, between the smattering of chit-chat and boistering cries of laughter, I will find contentment in the fact that, for once, I can truly profess to understand.

Perhaps this is my madness alone, clutching the false sense of control gaming provides.

Then again, these might be my only moments of sanity.