Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Berlinger Test: Five Rules for Articles about Tabletop Games

In the spirit of my post on mainstream articles about board games (8 years ago, already? wow!) and the Finkbeiner Test for articles covering women in science, here are five rules for not sucking in your article covering a new tabletop game or the people who play tabletop games.

Your article may not mention:
  1. That tabletop games are relics of the past.
    Corollary: or any of the following phrases: "old-fashioned", "back to basics", "remember [something from thirty years ago]", "[back of the] closet/attic/basement", "dusty", "nostalgia", or "comeback".
  2. That generally only young children enjoy tabletop games.
    Corollary: or that "nowadays" older children and adults enjoy other activities, such as video games.
  3. That tabletop games promote obvious, superficial benefits.
    Example: such as family togetherness, strategic thinking, decision making, or basic math and reading skills.
  4. Any game originally published before 1990 as a comparison or as an example.
    Exception: unless your article is about a new game that is explicitly derived from that game.
  5. The author's own lack of patience, lack of intelligence, or propensity to cheat at games.
    Clarification: thereby insinuating that people who play games are fanatics and nerds who take gaming too seriously.
In essence, your article about tabletop games should have the same integrity that is required when writing about a sports event or new video-game release. The tabletop game industry is a more than billion dollar a year industry (not including tabletop gambling, which is something like a hundred billion dollars); smaller than the sports and digital game industries, but not a quaint hobby or pastime. More than a billion people play tabletop games; they come from every social, national, religious, ethnic, professional, class, age, and gender group.

It's not a problem that you're ignorant about tabletop games, just like it's not a problem if you're ignorant about mutual funds or macrame. But your article about mutual funds or macrame shouldn't condescend to those who deal with them, nor your readers who have already seen hundreds of articles on the subject over the last twenty years, even if you haven't.


Steven Davis said...

Why 1990? Sorry, plenty of notable, designed games before then. Avalon Hill, 3M, SPI, Sid Sackson, Steve Jackson, and many others. Too many new board gamers act like there weren't any interesting, original board games before Settlers.

And let us have a bit more integrity than video game and sports writing.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

There are plenty of good games before 1990, but if a journalist can't name an example or comparison tabletop game from the last 25 years, he or she should consult someone before writing the article.

Anthony Simons said...

IANAJ, but does this mean I now have to shut up and never mention The Game of Nations again?


Yehuda Berlinger said...

You can mention that fine game, just not as a comparison or an example. For instance, you can mention your new game which is derived from Game of Nations, or you can include it in a list of ten best games of all time that have the word "Nations" in their title.

I would add a general exception to top ten lists, but, unfortunately, I've seen too many articles like "Best Games to Play with Your Family this Christmas" that contain nothing but thirty-year old games (or older). So you get no exception.

Steven Davis said...

Your metric is not really capturing game literacy.

If a writer cites Acquire or Hare and Tortise, they are OK in my book.

I just discovered Realm courtesy of Counter magazine. We all would do well to learn our history.

How about a test for game designers?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

I see that I may have to reformulate point 4, since it seems to be causing confusion. I thought that qualifying the point with "as a comparison or as an example" was robust yet sufficiently permissive.

Any suggestions on a rewrite for that point? I want to target sentences like: "X hopes his game will be the next Monopoly", "The game is like Candyland, but instead of a board and spinner you use foam bats and a surfboard", or "Good games to play include Sorry and Chutes and Ladders." I did not mean to target: "The history of train games includes 18xx" or "classic games from the 1980s include the Gamemaster series".

Steven Davis said...

I don't know, I've been considering a personal design challenge to build some good games starting with those same mass market games.

I'm not sure there is an easy surrogate for "board game literacy" in quip format.