Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why I game

That's my buddy Karmin and I after completing Forbidden Desert, a cooperative board game with individualized player roles and an ever-changing (and hostile) board. With the help of some gaming buddies, we survived sandstorms and the desert sun to explore, find artifacts, and build a flying machine so we could escape. (That's us escaping in the flying machine above.) It was tough go - the first session lasted all of five minutes before we collectively lost, so victory was even sweeter when we pulled together and won. Karmin is making fluttery victory fingers, even.

But moreover, it was damn fun, win or lose.

Games have been occupying a lot of my consciousness lately. I took an on-ground class in Fundamentals of Game Design through the University of Washington last quarter, and followed that up with a Coursera MOOC on Gamification from the Wharton Business School this quarter. Those efforts were in service of my becoming point person for "Gamification in the Classroom" on our campus, and I have been supplementing it with lit reviews and outside reading.

Nothing is hard work if you enjoy it, I guess, and the classes have sure seemed more like play than work. I don't know what else, besides comics, has been as consistent a hobby or avocation for me as gaming. I had to to take a break from actively gaming for a bit, but now I have the space to add some game time back into my schedule, and I am relishing it.

One pal has started a regular board game get-together on Monday nights. We're not talking Monopoly here; we have mostly been playing complex, cooperative games in which all the players work toward a common goal- and against the nasty stuff produced by the draw of a card or the roll of a die. A great example is Arkham Horror, in which a team of adventurers tries to avert Lovercraftian doom:

That one is awfully complex, so we have also played a simpler, more streamlined version called Eldritch Horror:

I find these games cool the because collaboration is a nice switch from competition and because in most of them, there's no elimination of players, even in multi-person games. Everyone gets to hang in until the very end, and that allows everyone to hang out and have a good time.

Which is not to say we don't enjoy a little head-to-head once in a while. Last session we played King of Tokyo, in which players assume the roles of giant monsters and battle each other for control of the city.

 I lost twice and still had a great time.

Of course, the centerpiece of my gaming activity is probably not board games, but tabletop RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons is the version most folks recognize, but there are other flavors as well. Some are very "crunchy" - rules-intensive - and others are looser and more story-oriented.

I have played a lot of Pathfinder, which is a very close relative of D&D. Of course, in this case "playing" means "sitting around with a pencil and paper and bunch of dice and creating a story together." From a distance, it looks more like writer's workshop or a meeting than a game.

But it can start looking a little board-gamey as well, when the crunchiness requires miniatures and a grid to establish the scene and the physical proximity of characters.

Currently, I am running a FATE game (a bit less crunchy than D&D) set in a sort-of ancient Rome and will be starting up a d20 (sort of generic D&D) game set in an alternate-history 18th century North America in a week or so.

I have been taking this walk through this garden of gaming to try to figure out what draws me to it.

One obvious answer that shouldn't be overlooked is the simple enjoyment of the settings and "plots." I'm still a sucker for swashbuckling, and exploring deserts, fighting monsters, and intrepid adventuring will suck me in regardless of the mode: comics, movies, books, or games.

But of course, there's interactivity with the game rules. Learning the rules, figuring out successful strategies, and reaching success through your efforts is rewarding. We've talked a lot about this in the classes, and it all rings true with my personal experience: finding that sweet spot between challenge and frustration gives a satisfaction like no other. We don't often get a chance to feel that in real life, but games can give it to us almost on demand.

Probably most importantly, games facilitate social interaction. From bowling leagues to bridge clubs to Bunco, people use games to make connections, and I am nothing if not a connector.

But moreover, it is damn fun, win or lose. 

I haven't talked as much about games on this blog as about my other geeky stuff; I think I was worried about which register to write in. 
I'm not gong to worry about that anymore, so there'll be some more gamey stuff here in the future.

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