I know these two guys. I used to work with them had an experience that reminded me of them the other day. It’s about fishing. These two guys both liked fishing, and they’d talk about it at work all the time. For the sake of argument, let’s call these two guys “Rob” and “Grady.” The important thing is that both of them enjoyed fishing or – at least – talking about fishing. To be fair, I never went fishing with them so I’m not able to say with complete certainty whether either of them ever actually made it to water… I’ll just assume they do.
Rob was the kind of guy who was always bringing in catalogs of the newest, greatest fishing stuff. He’d go on and on about new lures and special kinds of reels, new materials, basically, he was really into the “stuff” of fishing. He constantly argued about the value of all the fantastic devices and fish-finders, and things with Grady… He’d go on and on about how his way was awesome and how all the stuff made him a better fisherman. And he was always looking for a new place to fish – a new spot.
Grady on the other hand was more of a traditionalist. Grady liked his old boat, and the same old lake, and the same old rod, and basically, just a chance to get away from it all and sit in peace for a restful while, drink a beer, commune with nature.
I don’t think the comparison needs much more exploration (or explanation) because I’m sure it’s pretty clear how this links to gaming. I’m not saying if Rob or Grady has the right of it – just that it’s sure nice to know that we gamer-types are not alone in this kind of division of desires in our preferred style of approaching our pastime. And all of the long, drawn-out conversations between Rob and Grady were at least grudgingly respectful – and despite my occasional outbursts concerning the state of gaming forums – we can often say the same between gamers. Heck, most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.
The part that got to me though? I’m not actually sure either of these two actually enjoy fishing… I mean, when they talk about fishing, neither one of them actually ever discussed actually catching fish. And I suppose if you are concentrating on the very “dictionary” definition of “fishing” (“to catch or attempt to catch a fish” – dictionary.com) then claiming that either one of them actually cared much about fishing becomes a more difficult point to prove.
And I suppose that’s what is really on my mind. What is it we are doing when we talk about our pastime? What is “the act of gaming” and how would we give a “dictionary” definition of it? Can we, should we, does it matter?
More important – to me – is the idea of what does it take to make a game? What do we really need to “game.” I have a huge library of gaming stuff. And those gaming supplies range from well-loved to barely touched. My wife has her own gaming library which is slowing growing , and we both trend toward different games even though we do have some areas of overlap. But what’s in a game?
It’s on my mind because I had decided, last year, to work on my own game – to create a diceless game to play with my friends which would give me the joy and freedom I get with Amber while not carrying the connotations of Amber in terms of setting, etc. But the longer I worked on it – and I had some ideas I was happy with – the more I kept finding myself asking the question, “does my game need this?” I kept coming back to that idea… how much “stuff” does the game need to remain consistently, mechanically interesting while also not surrendering the freeform enjoyment so prevalent in the style I want to achieve?
And I ultimately shelved my idea because I didn’t find an answer I was happy with. Now that I’ve walked away for a bit though, I find myself really wanting to finish what I started. But I still find myself asking…
What’s in a game?