I have a weird relationship with games. I have always loved them, whether as boards or cards or roleplaying. (I love computer/video games too, but as mostly single-player experiences they don’t fit into what I’m saying here.) I love them as systems with rules to learn, and processes to follow. I love them as deliberately-vague simulations — this matchstick is a road, this tile is a farm, this wooden cube is an epidemic in Zaire. I love them as the visual aesthetics of grids and maps and icons and colored shapes, and the tactile aesthetics of wood and cardboard and slick paper.
But there are things about playing games that are difficult. I’m trying to explain this in a way that doesn’t make me sound pathological, because I’m not, but I’m introverted and sometimes shy and often sensitive to rejection. So … the hard parts come with actually playing the games.
Competition, of course, can be difficult. Many geeks are cutthroat players, but I’m the opposite; I’m not naturally skilled at strategy or tactics, and I frequently feel bad for someone who’s losing a game. Even if that person is me.
Even if that trigger isn’t coming up, there are other tangles I sometimes get into, if I’m the one who suggested the game: Are they having fun? Is this taking too long? Do they think this is a dumb game?
And yet there are often times when it’s just plain fun. Yesterday I was out with my friend M. We visited a game store, where I bought Ghost Stories, and then found a shady table on campus at which to play it. After opening the box and punching out the counters (which is always a joy) we settled down to figure out the rules and stumble through a game. It helps that this is a cooperative game — so we found ourselves as kick-ass Taoist monks defending a Chinese village from marauding evil spirits that pressed in from all sides. And we were overwhelmed and went down in defeat.
But we sat there side-by-side in the gentle breeze and laid out tiles, and tried to figure out ambiguous rules, and pulled out cards with their ghouls and mud spirits and vengeful dead brides. It was a little shared space we built together, with mechanisms we traversed together, and we lost ourselves in a shared purpose for an hour or so. It was beautiful.