Monday, May 22, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Is that a humungous telescope in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me?

One of my very first customers, way back in 1982, was an ex-Army, gun collecting, long haired Nam vet named Steve. Put all of those aspects of who Steve was together with the fact that he was a grognard AND a postman and you have a recipe for "Film at 11 ~ War Gamer goes postal - while delivering the mail!"

So Steve, being a grognard, pissed and moaned every week about those newfangled RPG's... he poo-poo'd fantasy, he put down non-simulation games like Ogre and Warhammer, he ridiculed the younger gamers and just in general he looked down on anyone who couldn't ID every WWII military ship by silhouette and bought their ammo rather then loading it themselves.

In short, even though I'm talking here about a gamer who I first met 25 years ago, Steve was an elitist. He really was (and still is) a pretty good guy. He worked hard, served his country, raised a family and, to the best of my knowledge, never shot anyone on his carrier route that didn't have it coming. But he still was an elitist. He looked at any game that wasn't accurate in its reflection of historical accuracy as not worthy. And that elitism transferred to his opinion of the people who played those "fluffy" games. Steve could have cared less about art, die-cut counters needed to reflect the capabilities of the unit they depicted and if "art" reduced the data on the counter then the game was getting a bit too fluffy. Maps were all about topography, difficulty in traversing the terrain, cover and situational awareness. A box was created to hold the pieces, not entice lesser people to pick it up and wonder if it might contain that elusive quality we know as fun.






This is a real game. It's certified non-fluffy. Nobody really plays games this non-fluffy because they can't. Well, I suppose somebody could, but why would you want to? This game has individual frickin' counters for 50 gallon drums of diesel fuel! The only reason to own this game is so you can say you own it.



















This is a fluffy game. It's visually appealling, has cool miniatures, is easily played by all ages, generates gales of laughter and the colorful parts and pieces generate interest to even the casual observer. Anyone playing this game obviously has no real taste and is easily amused.

Hmmm... that description fits me.




About 18 years before I met Steve I was at a sock hop at my high school in El Paso, Texas. The hired DJ brought a Beatles album and that night changed everything about how us pointy-toe, shit-kickin' boot guys looked at music. I dug the Beatles. A lot. And after that school dance I began listening to music other than Hank Williams, Ray Price, Johnny Cash and Elvis. For the next several years, particularly the time I spent in the much more "with it" city of Dallas, I combed the record stores and discovered British Rock, British Blues, Talking Blues, Bob Dylan, Gospel, Blue Grass, Acid Rock, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Berry and a bevy of R&B artists. But until the final days of the Beatles, they remained my favorite band of the 60's and early 70's. I also discovered the musical equivalents of Steve The Grognard. The music elitists. To the man (and occasional woman) they looked down at my fascination with the Beatles. The Beatles weren't "real", they were too commercial, they didn't play well, they didn't do REAL drugs, they had no real musical roots, blah, blah, blah.

You know... it wasn't that I didn't like the music the elitists liked; I just had more fun listening to the Beatles. And to be honest, I viewed the elitists as beneath fun, perhaps even miserable, because everyone else but them seemed to be really enjoying music whereas they were somewhat offended that people listened to music for a good time and more than a little bit superior in their attitude that they, above all the lesser folks around them, really understood what music was all about.

Ha. What a bag of burning dog-crap that is.

This unendingly annoying trait, this elitism, this personality that demands it's "fun time" be spent seeped in accuracy, thoroughness, relevance and seriousness, it runs in all aspects of human endeavors. It just happens to be more annoying than normal when it comes to games. The music elitist can be ignored easily. I don't need him to listen to Travis Tritt, Rusted Root or Vivaldi Guitar Concertos. He can have his purity, I'll pop a beer, spin up Big & Rich's "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" and laugh my butt off listening. Even the auto or motorcycle elitist is easy to ignore. I no longer collect motorcycles and I never had enough money for a serious Porsche line-up, so I'll dial to Speed Channel's Barrett-Jackson Rich Guy Rip-off Auction when I want to see elitists spend the family fortune on a Chevy.

But the gamer elitist... now that guy is seriously annoying. We all need like-minded gamers to play the games we enjoy and that increases the chance of contact with one of these Game Geek Elite. I've met at least 100 or more of them in my career and the devious means I've had to employ to not have them at my game table have taken a lot of effort. Oh they're good enough people, Just like Grognard Steve. But man, they just grate on me. I don't care if something is misidentified, or rendered in less than historical accuracy. I don't care about the physics, the math, the engineering, the context or any of that. I just want to spend a few hours playing games... and the better the games looks, the more fluid and intuitive the mechanics, the more ergonomic the parts and pieces are... the more I enjoy it.

The thing that got me off on this tangent is a recent thread on BGG carping about the new artwork for the upcoming reprint of a game that is, at best, a passable way to spend some idle time but that I still did enjoy playing... mainly because the other players made it fun. Now the guys carping about the art may or may not be elitists, that's not the point. The point is - the publishers want to add some pizzazz! to the look of the game. They want it to have that "eye-candy" factor that grabs the eye. They want to, in short, sell even more copies of the game.


This is the artwork in question. Not only is the telescope unrealistically large, I mean John Holmes large, the math on the leftmost card, according to a few people who need a life, is wrong for the era. Now that I think about it, the Builder on the right? Doesn't he look a bit like Wolverine? And he isn't really "building", he's sculpting.




What struck me the most about this particular discussion was how seriously some people take their games. Even though I have made fun of Euro-Snoots many, many times, I never really saw any of them in the same light that I used to view Steve The Grognard. Steve was the iconic Game Elitist to me. In fact, grognards make really good elitists because you really have to know your silhouettes to be a war game elitist. Whereas to be a Euro-Snoot Elitist all you have to do is practice a good electronic sneer, write a few aloof and acerbic lines on BGG and rate anything low that is wildly popular and uses dice... and if it's designed and published in America, rate it lower... and if it even remotely touches on the theme of trains, Italian Princes or pleasing royalty, then rate it really low because it's a pale imitation of the real games dealing with those themes.



The image here shows similar tastelessness as the young lady has obviously been altered to appeal to the lowest common demoninator. While most elitist men would claim they were above her "type", I'd bet they'd see things differently if she dropped that set into their lap and they knew their shrewish wife wasn't around. Hey, fun is fun! The packaging is sometimes part of the fun.





I knew I was mingling with Euro Elitists when more than one person on the thread suggested they just might not purchase the game, when it was reprinted, because of the fantastic nature of the art. Huh? I thought it was such a great game? Really, really great. As a Beatles fan that would be like me wearing out my vinyl copy of the White Album and refusing to replace it with a CD because the cover was not plain white. If the music is good, it's good. No matter what's on the cover. If the game is good, it's good. No matter whether the art depicts the era fantastically or accurately.

The entire discussion reminds me of Steve the Grognard's virulent rants about D&D, Car Wars, BattleTech and even Axis & Allies... because it was not really a game, it was more like a toy set with dice.

In the summer of 1965 I was having a discussion about music with a friend who was a musical elitist of the era. He flat out told me, in no uncertain terms, that The Beatles sucked and had sold out. In his mind the real music was The Stones, Them and a few other (at the time in Texas) more edgy and obscure bands. Since my part time job was at a small radio station broadcasting on the recently opened FM bandwidth, I had heard pretty much all the edgy music of the time. For you Texas people, the lead station in Dallas was KLIF, an AM station playing The Beatles and endless hours of Surf music and The Ronnettes while the station I was employed at, KVIL, was broadcasting to techies who had purchased radios capable of FM reception... all 16 of them at the time. Nobody listened because nobody technically could do so, and KVIL played some pretty hot music for the time.

Essentially, my elitist friend's argument never got beyond this - You, and people like you, have heard of the Beatles, even purchased their music, therefore, their music is a sell-out and inferior to my music, which though it may suck and never be commercially viable, is still better because I am one of the few people I know cool enough to have listened to it.

I wonder if that guy even recalls the lengthy conversation we had... in light of the fact that The Stones, despite having already died, been embalmed, brought back to life, fallen from palm trees, slept with David Bowie, actually worn spandex on stage barely covering 60+ year old bony butts, had their classic "underground" sound used in hundreds of TV commercials, murdered people for body parts (especially lips) and in the process generated up several billion in sales... in light of all that, I wonder if that guy still think The Stones are hip.




Anyone who suggests that Keith Richards hasn't been repeatedly unearthed, filled with embalming fluids and then pointed in the general direction of a guitar has probably smoked way too many bowls of ganja. I'd have added an image of Mick's lips except the sight of them makes me hurl.












I know I don't. I think the last good track they laid down was "Under My Thumb".

Game Elitists, be they grognards or Euro-Snoots are pretty good people, at least the ones I know. But they do a minor disservice to the community in much the same way that any elitist does not serve their community of like-minded fans of the cars, music, stamps or whatever. The elitist attempts to take a basically classless activity, such as games or music, and add different classes to it. They seem to want to stratify the activity along the lines of this is good and if you think that is good, well then, see? You aren't quite as smart... or perhaps quite as discerning... or not nearly as tasteful... or perhaps blissfully ignorant... therefore the things you like, because they aren't __(fill in the blank)___ or are too __(fill in the blank)__ are just not as hip.

One thing I will say in defense of the elitist is this; usually they are themselves blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are an elitist. Which is why I don't take it personal when a guest in my pick-up truck can only find Country Western or Classic Rock on my radio presets and that puckish sneer starts to appear on their pinched up and judgmental little faces.

I took Steve's commentary for years and pretty much ignored it. I got him every war game he ever ordered, and some he didn't know existed, and I listened to him bitch about how hard it was to find anyone to play a war game with. I commiserated with him when he told me the horror story of meeting a war gamer on a BBS and then the guy was so fat that when he sat in the chair in Steve's dining room he put permanent dents in the linoleum... or that his boy only wanted to play BattleTech, D&D or later on MTG and the Star Trek CCG. Steve meant well, he was just a lost soul... he was living in an imaginary world that he had put boundaries on that very few people cared to enter. Steve assumed wrongly that there were viable groups of people who viewed games the way he did back in the 80's and 90's. Sadly, for Steve, 99.9% of game lovers view games the way I do... like this - Is it fun? Does it look cool? Can I teach the rules in something less than 20 minutes? Do the other people at the table laugh? Do they break out in a sweat and start asking if I will open the store at 3am to sell them a copy?

My way of judging a game has a whole lot to do with the impact that game has on me AND others. I want other people to want the game. I want them to be eager to play. I could give a crap if the game art depicts a telescope that is not historically accurate, or has a color selection that was probably not available in that era, or uses any fantastical elements that are intended to make the game attractive enough to buy, whether you have ever heard of it or not.

Those are all fun factors to me.

Grognard Update - About 1997 or so Steve's son convinced him to play a game of BattleTech. It was a bonding experience... Steve learned that when raising a child it's often best to ask them what they like and then do that with them. If you spend enough time teaching your kid that their time is as important as yours, they have a way of repaying that kindness with a very high rate of return. Over the next several years Steve and his son Marc played lots of games. Mostly non-historical ones. They even played EverCrack online together. And Steve, after he went through a divorce, found his current wife via that online game. I'm not going to suggest that Steve's elitism was keeping him from connecting with his son or seeing the need to get out of a bad marriage... but I do know that when he relented and started playing games for fun, despite their fantastical nature, some important things in his world improved.

But I'm still glad he's not my postman... I know he loads all his shells hot, and that scares the hell outta me.

22 comments:

Dwayne "aka okiedokie" said...

Omigosh!! We have a postman/grognard in our game group too!

Do I smell an Illuminati group?

Michael Leuchtenburg said...

So, I don't like the new Princes of Florence art. Not because it's historically inaccurate. No, because I think it's ugly and generic. It looks like it could be on the cover of a Forgotten Realms novel. I think the previous art looks better.

If the quality of the art ranks a 10 on my care-o-meter, then the historical relevance of that art probably comes in at about 1.

So while I respect the designers' right to change the art in order to, hopefully, sell more copies, I'll be hunting down a copy of the earlier edition, because I like pretty games.

DWTripp said...

So, I don't like the new Princes of Florence art. Not because it's historically inaccurate. No, because I think it's ugly and generic. It looks like it could be on the cover of a Forgotten Realms novel. I think the previous art looks better.

I was sure somebody would make exactly that point. It's a good one. It's nice to live in a world where earlier versions exist so you can hunt them down. In the "old days" you took what you could get.

GrillTech said...

Just wondering but does these type of elitist apply to those that ride Harleys and sneer at those that ride other brands of bikes?

GROGnads said...

What could be WORSE than an up-close "greeting" of "Keith Richards" in person? How's about a 2-story BIG, up-close facial depiction of HIS, projected upon an IMAX 'screen'!?! I don't exaggerate when I state that the attending crowd let out a collective *gasp* when THAT was shown & seen! Many a person swore off "drugs" forEVAR, once they could wipe THAT grisly image from their minds, I'll tell you!

Jeff Coon said...

I agree with Michael above.

A lot of the people who agreed with the original poster (like me), aren't game snobs or elitest. We made the point that the type of artwork that Fantasy Flight likes to use appeals to a particular type of crowd. It appeals to mostly the fantasy fans - the Dragonlance readers, Tolkein fans, etc.

Some of us who posted think it's harder to get family or non-gaming freinds to play games with this type of artwork, because they're put-off at the notion of anything related to fantasy. Right or wrong, they think it's very juvenile.

For that reason, I'm disappointed with the new artwork on the box. So while there may have been some posters in that thread who were gaming elite, there are those of us who didn't think the artwork was very appropriate to the audience.

DWTripp said...

Just wondering but does these type of elitist apply to those that ride Harleys and sneer at those that ride other brands of bikes?

Now Mike... you know me better than that. I don't sneer at the wussies who ride all the girly-bikes. And since you and I have played our share of games together, we both know that neither of us has any taste at all when it comes to gaming. I think that's a good thing, but I'm not sure why.

Coldfoot said...

That picture of Keith Richards may be the single best item ever posted on the internet.

gnome said...

He could have used a group of groupies, just for the all-needed, anti-elitist fluff-effect.

PS. A great read that post...

Anonymous said...

A lot of the people who agreed with the original poster (like me), aren't game snobs or elitest. We made the point that the type of artwork that Fantasy Flight likes to use appeals to a particular type of crowd. It appeals to mostly the fantasy fans - the Dragonlance readers, Tolkein fans, etc. ,

Somebody is making DW's point, specifically about "being blissfully unaware."

Anonymous said...

Hey,

With umpteen kazillion blogs about gameing, 6 new geeklists per hour (during workday hours anyway) and a new BGG forum post every minute: If we aren't writing about the math on the chalkboard behind the new art on card number 17, then what the heck are we supposed to write about?

Steve Kearon said...

Speaking as someone named "Steve", and as the guy who first mentioned the telescope in that BGG thread, I feel I should rise to defend a couple of the criticisms of the new PoF artwork...

The art: my disappointment wasn't with the style per se - it was the fact that game art can turn somewhat generic. To me, some publishers (FFG, for example) have too many games that look similar - not identical, but similar "tone". After a while you yearn for something that stands out from the crowd, be it Splotter, Doris+Frank, Samurai or Hey, that's my fish! On the other hand, the original PoF was also part of a generic series, and perhaps too similar to Traders of Genoa. Looking too similar to other boxes isn't normally a great way to increase sales.

That telescope! It's just out of place in a game (or book or film) based in the Renaissance. Does that matter? To some people, yes - it's simply jarring and suggests a sloppy design process.

So would I buy the new game? Of course: it's a great game, apparently improved in this edition. Would more people buy it if the old artwork were retained? Probably not. The new edition has to emphasise its newness to tempt people who own the old PoF; new is good, but being samey or having jarring content is a little disapointing.

Peer Sylvester said...

Funny thing is, I still remember that quite a lot of people complained about that the artwork of the original was a bit "bland" and the fonts not quite so readible.
But of course, the old one is always the better one :-)

Al Tabor said...

Another wonderful post! Seriously consider that this all belongs rolled up into a book some day.

Reminds me of why I find it necessary to defend Kenny G now and then to the Albert Ayler freaks even though I is one.

Reminds me also of my point to adults that used to tell me they hate Barney namely, "Dude, why do find it necessary to have an opinion about Barney one way or another?" It's a show aimed at 2 years olds for chrissakes.

If someone can have a great time putting their feet up and listening to Kenny G while watching Barney and swilling a wine that never involved actual grapes then the world is a better place simply because they're having a GREAT TIME and doing it in a way that causes no harm to boot!

Over time I have developed a policy of liking what I like and only disliking something if there's a clear percentage in it.

Anonymous said...

You are saying what I think far better then I can ever articulate! Thanks again

MWChapel said...

*sniff*...wow, this is the most words ever written about me in a long time. My fans love me, they truelly love me! But whatever.

That PoF artwork is still warmed over fanart crap. I couldn't care less about the fact that the telescope is out of place, the art just plain sucks!

I'll accept the fact that i'm a game elitist. everybody has a passion in life, things they wish to remain pure. I'm an elitist in "lots" of things besides gaming. Beer, music, movies, on and on. I live by the motto, if it's perfect the way it is, why fix it!. Don't change good games, make good games. Blaze a damn trail, and leave perfection alone.

DWTripp said...

*sniff*...wow, this is the most words ever written about me in a long time. My fans love me, they truelly love me! But whatever.

I've known you were an elitist for a long time Mike. I'm also one of your fans so I accept you the way you are.

But seriously, while the PoF art may not fit everyone's idea of appropriate, it doesn't make the game itself worse, it just changes the look. Think Edsel.

Chris Bailey said...

One poster said "Some of us who posted think it's harder to get family or non-gaming freinds to play games with this type of artwork, because they're put-off at the notion of anything related to fantasy. Right or wrong, they think it's very juvenile."

But the funny thing is, if you sat a bunch of non-gamers down and showed them these pictures and the others that will come with the game WITHOUT telling them what the game is about or what the title is, I doubt very seriously they're going to think it's "Fantasy" or "Tolkien-esque." They're more then likely think it's a game about the renaissance period. Now if those pictures had dragons and elves instead of astronomers and sculpters, they would probably react the way this poster is sure everyone will with the current art.

So I guess that's what's confusing me. People see these pictures and start screaming "D&D! FANTASY!" where I just don't see that. Non gamers don't play a lot of games. It doesn't mean they're stupid as well.

JP said...

"But the funny thing is, if you sat a bunch of non-gamers down and showed them these pictures and the others that will come with the game WITHOUT telling them what the game is about or what the title is, I doubt very seriously they're going to think it's "Fantasy" or "Tolkien-esque." They're more then likely think it's a game about the renaissance period."

Actually, Chris, I did just that -- I showed the referenced artwork to friends of mine, told them it was for an upcoming board game, and asked them what they thought the theme of the game was.

I received two "Ayn Rand" related responses, two "superhero game" responses, and one response stating that they weren't sure what the theme of the game was, but that the artist had some latent size issues to work through (and, lastly, I received one acerbic comment related to Ernst Röhm's little black book, but he's a sarcastic bloke that likes to go for shock effect.)

Anyway. When I informed them the theme was based on the Renaissance, they said they could see it, but that it wasn't their first impression. Now, I didn't get any "Fantasy or D&D" responses, so you're right, Chris -- but in my limited experience, people didn't exactly think "Renaissance" either.

*plunks $.02 into the jar*

Marshall said...

Chris,

I showed the artwork to my wife without any explanation or preamble and asked her what she thought (she's not a "gamer" but she does enjoy playing games). Her response was that it "looks scary and evil". This is only one datapoint but it seems to reflect the experience of a lot of people that the new artwork would not be as well received by families and nongamers.

I don't think it's elitist to say you don't like the new artwork. I suppose it's elitist to say others shouldn't like the artwork but by that measure it's elitist to say that others should like the artwork.

I don't like the artwork because it doesn't serve the audience I game with.

Chris Bailey said...

OK, apparently you guys didn't read my post. It said if you showed ALL of the artwork and the game itself. If I showed someone 3 works cards from the original Princes of Florence without showing anything else, I doubt they would be able to say what it was they were looking at either. Remember: The WHOLE PACKAGE. Not just a few pictures.

Fellonmyhead said...

True elitists like me will eventually hit the same problem I have. I have become so elitist that I can't meet my own standards. Now I can't leave the house because people might see that I am not good enough to be me.

The solution; Reverse Elitism*, where you criticise everybody and anything that tries to reach a level of refinement, ability or quality above that which you can accept, achieve or afford.

I think what we have here (and however much you may protest "the artwork is bad" I still think this the case) is as much traditionalism as elitism. Most people who play an original game often find it difficult to come to terms with changes in newer versions. That's why I can't get our group to play Mike Doyle's PR rework.

I don't buy the marketability aspect of the artwork; simply look at any of the worldwide best-selling games that don't employ fanciful paintings and colourful gameboards.

Oh, by the way, I won't be buying the new edition because I have a German copy for which I am in the process of making my own English set of cards (just for the Bonuskarten and the Prestigekarten).

*I know there's probably a word for "reverse elitism", I'm just not elite enough to know it.