Thursday, December 22, 2005

Chess, Go, and all those other games

Chess players play chess. Go players play Go. Scrabble players play Scrabble (and sometimes Anagrams). And so on. Rummikub. Bridge. Poker. Magic: the Gathering. Backgammon. These games attract single-game game players. These players are not playing a "game". I think that, generally speaking, they don't even like games. This is a hobby, a devotion. They play it because they like THIS activity; it just happens to look like a game to other people.

In a little more broad category are the multi-game genre-only players. RPG players may play a few types of RPGs. CCG players may move between a few types of CCGs. Wargamers, or "grognards", may play a catalog of Avalon Hill titles and maybe some newer titles. Some people will only play party games. Or abstracts. And so on. Genre players like THIS activity, and they can only immerse themselves in the activity through a certain set of tools. Anything outside of the genre is some other activity. It can be fun, but it doesn't fill the belly.

Note that I don't lump computer gamers in here (see below).

More broad are multi-genre game players. They play a variety of games from different genres. These guys love gaming in general. They start game clubs, write game blogs, go to game conventions. If you get any broader than this, you simply get "fun-lovers", who are just as happy to watch a movie, play a game, or hike a hill. They have no particular interest in games or gaming, per say. It's just another fun activity.

Which of these is the "true" gamer?

Scratch that. I don't care. That's not my question.

I think a more important question is: are all these worlds doomed to be forever excluded from each other? Do CCG players and chess players have more in common with each other than with, oh, say, gardeners?

It may not matter to either of them, because, after all, they don't care about anything outside of their own worlds. But it matters a little to me. It's not that I don't like gardening. I do. It may be healthier for you and the world to be a gardener than a game player. But I'm not in the business of advocating gardening.

Speaking only for myself, as someone who loves all types of gaming (we'll leave computer gaming aside for the moment), it seems to me that these two worlds could have a positive influence on each other and on the world of gaming, in general, if they would sit in the same tent. Let them stay on their sides of the tent, if they so desire. So long as they share the tent. In this way, the tent becomes an inclusive arena of sharing those things that we have in common: at the very least, a love of sitting across the table with a friend, devoted to a shared experience, and battling your wits.

An article in Wired about computers beating humans in chess shows the media's real perspective about games: it is about winning, not companionship. Chess, one of the foremost examples of a zero-sum confrontational game, is essentially a cooperative experience. Two players have to work together to create the game, by adhering to a rule set, by agreeing to spend the time, by making the game enjoyable. The same is true of all board games. Even in tournaments, there is still that sense of companionship across the table (well, not always, I guess).

That is one of the reasons that games against a computer are so different from games with other people. The nature of the activity changes from one of cooperation to one of loss or victory. I think of computer games more as puzzles and hand-eye coordination tests than games.

I told you all that to tell you this:

The worlds of Eurogamers and war gamers are no less insular than the world of CCGers. So many of us play only "these" types of games, and not "those" types. Now, I'm not talking about preference; I don't like war games. But I don't exclude them from my world or notice. Or game group. I don't tell chess players that we "don't play chess" here, only that, sadly, the people in my group don't generally like chess, but that shouldn't stop you from coming with other chess players and joining us. I know that other chess players will have no interest in the other games in my club, and probably not much in the other people because we don't talk and breathe chess, but that doesn't mean that we can't share the same space. We are more alike than different. We all need a table on which to play.



Anonymous said...

A first (french) comment on a fantastic blog.

I think some communities are far more separated than they are. Each gaming community, whether game-specific or more general, shares :

* game theory on specific games, which may include more than a little jargon. All euro-gamers know that mud is far more precious than sheeps in the beginning of a catan game, all chess players like to discuss the sicilian defense as an agressive option for blacks

* a few iconic characters. Jerusalem euro-gamers seem to know a cool guy name Yehuda. More generally, people bonds.

* A system of values. Wether you like it or not, some games have different philiosophies. Euro-gamers like game as a fun, social and brain teasing activty. Wargamers like history, conflict, victory and sometimes rules lawyering. MtG players value apraisal skill, combination, probabilities and some rule lawyering.

So there are 3 points 1 / 2 / 3. Second point is social and doesn't make much of a wall between communities. Point one means community are separates but doesn't exclude bridges between them. This what you call "different corners of the tent".

Point 3 is the definite show stopper. Gamers from different communities do not mix that well with each other, mainly because they chose games of interest that matched their center of interest (though their personnal history also played a part).

IMHO computer games are games exactly like the others, you just excluded them because they conflicted with your interests in gaming and system of values.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Anon: You make some really good points.

I think that the gap you describe is there, but is one that would only benefit people to overcome. In my first post, for instance, I described a clash between wargamers and eurogamers that came about due to not understanding the other's values. More socializing might have overcome it.