Monday, April 10, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ The Politics of Gaming

I sat down the other night to try out the Power Grid expansion boards. Shaun and Lyle, two of the local gamer people were the only other players. Before I get to what occured to me that evening I'll say this about the Power Grid expansion... I really liked it. France is a great 3-player board. The small "tips" section warned of concentrating overly on the inexpensive Paris connections, three links with no access fee, and since I won the die roll to be the lead player both Shaun and Lyle cut me off from the western section and forced me into Paris. Because the links to the south and east are very expensive I had to pay very close attention to stay competitive. I believe their error was both of them began their connections in the west. Had one of them chosen the eastern region we selected I probably wouldn't have won the game.

Needless to say, in a 3-player Power Grid game using France I recommend garbage-fueled power plants... at least it worked for me and I eked out a narrow victory. France apparently works well with both nukes and garbage.

But back to what has been on my mind... politics and world issues. Here's why, during the game I made an offhand comment about the American economy. Basically I just grumbled a bit that despite having a roaring economy, record employment, record home ownership, low interest rates, a healthy stock market, cheap gasoline, reasonably fair tax structures, cheap education, an outstanding infrastructure, free press, religious tolerance and so forth, the supposedly "unbiased" polls give the President a below 40% approval rating and the Congress a below 30% approval rating.

Shaun and Lyle grumbled about the same thing, slinging out a couple of comments about biased media. Whatever. This is a Red State. Idaho is to Republicans like the Texas I grew up in was to Democrats. Back in the 50's and 60's all you had to do was have a "D" next to your name and you could get elected. Thus the term Yellow Dog Democrats. Essentially, in the Old Texas even a Yellow Dog could get elected to public office if it was a Democrat.

Okay, continuing on here... that was all the politics we discussed. We played Power Grid and had a fine time. Which made me think about the fact that I have rarely, if ever, had discussions about politics, religion or money with my gaming friends over the decades. I suppose that's because being a gamer transcends personal beliefs or ideology. It's just not important, nor is it appropriate for the hobby. If anything, discussing current events is not only a distraction but it could potentially be a disaster for the group. Given the fact that both Lyle and Shaun are hard-working blue collar types who would lend you money if you were broke, lend you their backs if you needed to lift things or help you out with no expectation of compensation, I was hardly suprised they voiced somewhat conservative commentary about the media. I suspect I have gaming buddies who lean to the left and my guess is they'd help me move something if I needed it. I'm not so sure about the money though, most of the more liberal people I know are affluent and a bit miserly. You may have different experiences in that regard but I'm thinking my private poll is probably about as accurate as the official polls that sample about as many people as I have gamed with in the last decade.

Which brings me to the politics of gaming.

Is there a distinction between the games people enjoy that somehow corresponds to their political views? About the only way I can gauge that would be to review the people I know strictly via the internet, meaning specifically because I have pretty much abandoned other internet sites for human interaction. After a brief review of the BGG members who I selected as GeekBuddies and those who I read most often, I can't see any lines being drawn that seperate gamers by politics. There's one guy up in Canada who is a self-avowed socialist (though he seems to have acquired many more games that he personally needs, a direct contradiction to the socialist doctrine, so I'd recommend he send some of his extras to me) and a wargame fan. Then there are people like the very vocal and funny lefty in NYC who I long ago realized is a frothing Bush-hater, but who I take advice from because he is an excellent gauge of the quality of games and is intelligent about why certain games are worth the money and others not.

There's the Manly Man and his his Dice Tower review-happy buddy in Korea and I suspect they both line up politically with me, but each of them rates certain games much, much higher than I do. The list would go on and on to case after case of people who are in harmony with each other only in the area of board games and when they're not they don't take it personally. Even though the guys in Korea rate some games higher than I do, their likes and dislikes are as similar to mine as many of the supercilious Lefties on BGG.

Politics seem to be meaningless when it comes to games.

I could sit down to a table of board game fans and I could have a terrific time for hours on end and never once think about whether they align with me on any subject other than what is being played at the moment.

So what are the Politics of Gaming?

I only ask that rhetorical question because for most "believers" in any ideology there is an uncertainty about the truth of their beliefs that manifests itself in an annoying and habitual need to convert others to their way of thinking. This ought to be obvious to all but the most dull humans on the planet. Be it religion, politics, national pride, racial pride and other assorted dividing lines among humans, the weak links are the ones who proselytize the loudest. It's annoying because I always come away with the feeling that the preacher of that viewpoint was really just using me as a sounding board to convince himself that he really is right.

So I have come to the conclusion that the Politics of gaming can be compared to Michael Moore and Shawn Hannity. Moore is a fat and piglike Uber Liberal who makes a very, very handsome living attacking Conservatives, making biased movies and writing books telling you that you, unlike him, are doomed to being oppressed. Hannity is a fit and toned Uber Conservative who makes a very, very handsome living attacking Liberals on his TV show, writing biased books and telling you that unless you become a conservative you will make Michale Moore right and be doomed to a life of poverty while Michale Moore consumes every piece of meat in North America.

I suspect both of these individuals have a problem. They are secretly so unsure about themselves that they must assert their viewpoints and convert you. Every conversion they make augments their personal sense of self-worth and each conversion is another little brick in the foundation of their ideology.

It sure seems to me that BoardGameGeek has a similar political environment. Actual politics aside, the most heated discussions and name-calling threads that occur on The Geek revolve around the merits and the rank of certain games. Be it Puerto Rico, the #1 ranked game, or War Games as opposed to Euro-Snoot games, or CCGs, or even the methods of acquiring games... there is a lot of heat regarding position and worthiness. It escalates frequently to the point where people will be shunned, shun others, cease to participate or even (and this really happened once) make sinister threats to the targets of their ire.

Am I wrong here?

I dunno.

Every time I play Puerto Rico I lower it another notch. When it hits a 5 for me I'll get rid of my copy and eliminate my rating. How on earth does that game rate #1 unless it has an entire movement of advocates behind it? But the real question is this: Does it matter to me that Puerto Rico is rated #1? The answer is, no. But it sure seems like it matters to the Puerto Rico Politcal Action Commitee. And those people are fearful of The Caylus Contingent... because Caylus seems to be a game that might threaten Puerto Rico's Top Dog status.

And let's don't go into the recent bruhahah over the revision in ratings that, for some, was intended to humiliate War Game advocates. I found that to be an unusual and unsatisfactory solution to a problem that I am still not quite able to define. Why do that? It's arbitrary to the extreme. Yet still, seeing my personal favorite Command & Colors:Ancients go from #4 down to #20 in the revision didn't shake my commitment to the game.

I suspect that the human need to convert others to your thinking in order to eliminate the nagging feeling that you may not be right in your thinking is as prevalent in the arena of boardgames as it is in the arena of music, politics, religion, sexual proclivities, truck model choices and the great Coke versus Pepsi dilemma. I am all for finding out what's good or bad about a game and it was BGG that convinced me to buy Puerto Rico in the first place. But my point is this... Puerto Rico really isn't the best board game on the market. Not by a long shot. If you haven't played it 30 or 40 times then you may still be convinced that it is. Trust me on this though, it isn't.

Gaming politics, like real world politics, is all about finding concepts that cause a desired effect to the largest possible number of targets with the least possible expension of energy. In short, like in the real world, gaming politics is all about selling an idea. For the casual gamers it's a vanity issue. So, if I like Puerto Rico and I can get you to like Puerto Rico then your affinity for the game validates my choice. Once we have a Puerto Rico Politcal Action Commitee then we're kind of, sort of, stuck with it. To abandon something one has preached high and low about is to abandon one's own structurally weak self-esteem.

Which brings us right back to Yellow Dog Democrats and Texas politics of the 60's. I grew up there and many people in my circle of friends and family voted Democrat because...well... because they had already commited to that ideology. I'm having trouble seeing any difference between those politics and the Puerto Rico politics of the internet gaming community.

Mostly, this whole dialog today is meaningless. I certainly don't expect too many people to agree with my viewpoint and thankfully, I don't care an awful lot about that. It just happened that I made that comment to Shaun and Lyle and that led me to thinking how little real world politics matters when people assemble for leisure activities.

I have a very good friend here in the little valley I live in who is a committed gamer. I've known him for about 20 years. He is a great guy. Shortly after we met he married and now he has 6 kids. I had known him for 10 years before I discovered he was a Morman. Even now, after 20 years, he has never even mentioned it in passing to me except to explain why he can or cannot game on certain days or evenings. I have no real idea what his politics are, though since he's an ex-military officer and a native Idahoan, I'd assume he's conservative. But our discussions have always been games, horses, hay, trucks, games, tractors, cattle, games and then games.

He seems to me to be a person who's personal beliefs are so strong that he has zero need to augment them by converting others to his way of thinking. This guy knows what works for him and he knows why and he doesn't need any help to keep on knowing those things. I mention him because he seems to me to be in actuality what a lot of preachy gamers I have met strive to be, but aren't.

Every time I see a list or thread on BGG asking for advice on what to buy I know before opening that link who the main responders will be. Not that I'm picking on those people for responding, I've done so myself, but it is part of the politics of gaming to reach out to the newbie and add another number to your gaming ideology. One thing is for sure though when you read enough of those threads, some respond to offer sincere advice and others respond to keep the newbie from buying into a political faction of gamers that they oppose.

All this makes me wonder... you suppose ego has anything to do with the politics of gaming?


Other thoughts for today

* I'm not a techie and I'm sympathetic to Aldie and Derk's issues with their site. But 30-120 second page loads are way too remindful of my old dial-up days. Will someone email me please when BGG becomes useful again?

* I grew up on the Texas/Mexico border and have watched the recent demonstrations with interest. Especially interesting to me is the planned May 1st, "Day without Hispanics" boycott. Wasn't there a movie called "A Day without Mexicans?" So anyway, what if all the non-Latino people in the USA decided to do a "Day without non-Mexicans" strike? I think that would be much more effective in establishing for the sucking, greedy, bottom-dwelling politicos in America who they ought to be listening to.

* In keeping with the recent political character of France, President Chirac has caved in and decided that the rioters are right in their assertion they deserve womb-to-tomb state-sponsered job security. This concerns me because Asmodee is a French company and I like their games. I suspect they will soon transfer their headquarters to the USA. I would if I were them. Can you imagine hiring a game designer who created one good game and then being forced to keep publishing his inferior games until he died? Wow. That'd be way too much like WotC or Steve Jackson Games... except that those companies do it because they can, not because they must.


Unknown said...

First, nice post. Did you enjoy the Power Grid expansion? We find it almost impossible to win the Italy map when starting at the Southern end, which makes that map suck with > 3 players.

Second, regarding all the improvements made during the Bush era, you left out the part about the exploding deficit and massive debt incurred. Any leader could do fantastic things in his/her country by running the country's finances into the ground.


Anonymous said...

I am also convinced that politics really doesn't enter into one's choices of games. In my (somewhat) local groups, we range from a guy that likes playing Germany in WWII and I'm afraid may only be half kidding about wishing they would have won to a former hippy. We have a seriously religious right-winger and an avowed socialist. So the spectrum is covered, but we always seem to agree on a game eventually. We do engage in political debates during game sessions, but fortunately, they've always remained friendly even while we disagree. Either we're all confident in our views or we really don't care (or some of both). The only game evangelism that takes place is in trying to convince me that WiF is a game not a simulation and new games are worth learning.

DWTripp said...

We looked at the Italy map and determined it could be tough with 3 players unless, as you suggested, you stick to the north. I really like the expansion, it breathes new life into an already excellent game.

Any leader could do fantastic things in his/her country by running the country's finances into the ground.

One of the most basic understandings that can be had about wealth is that debt matters little unless it's taken into context with productivity. The sky is always falling for those who feel they aren't being given the attention they think they deserve. It's way too easy to overlook the fact that a nation of 300 million people is much more powerful than any single person in it, even if that person happens to be the one elected to drive the big bus for a short while.

I have a lot of faith in America and Americans, no matter who is President.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts and as an independent voter I'll remain out of the red/blue debate. Go green!

I too find all of the ranking politics on BGG kinda silly. Most of us didn't care what other people thought about games when we got into the hobby because, if we did, we'd be like the "masses" who think games are what you do to pass time between the turkey and the pumpkin pie. Every person who got into our niche hobby got there through independent thought and now ironically some try to supress that thinking.

I have a lot of faith in America and Americans, no matter who is President.

You need to spend more time with high school kids. I worry about this country...a lot.

GROGnads said...

Hey "DW", and JUST what would you think upon a "Powergrid IRAN" game? Would this "involve" having 'Airstrikes' being conducted from "Israel"? perhaps even a "U.S." assembled 'reaction'? I'm hearing upon the possible use of "Tactical Nukes" being brought UP in 'discussions' as well.
"BIG yellow Cab, put in a GLASS 'parking lot'!"

Unknown said...

Good thing the expansion is worth the price for France alone. I'll cede that Italy is okay with 2, 3 or 4, but with 5 or 6, those guys are getting screwed. Then you need to bid for initial turn order.

Contrary to what the rules say, France with 5/6 is awesome when you eliminate the middle region. Just remember it's legal to build through an eliminated region.

Debt isn't always okay when the workers are very productive. They can't maintain that forever, and the debt is *accumulating*. Heck, when the president has to pass a law to allow him to raise the maximum debt, there might be a problem.

The United States has a long and proud history of doing great things, but they're not doing them now, and they're going to have to start doing them again to recover.

DWTripp said...

You need to spend more time with high school kids. I worry about this country...a lot.

Ha. That's almost word for word what my dad said about me and my brother in the 60's Mike. Consider me the eternal optimist.

Ryan ~ I deduced as much about the Italy board. Bidding for turn order might work. We have experienced similar problems with 6 on the USA board but since discovering that you can start anywhere the competition heats up in the east and midwest and then gradually expands westward. perhaps Italy will be the same with 5 players?

You'd have to understand that for some reason it took me quite a while to extract the actual rules to Power Grid from pages they were printed on. Vital clues as to how the game is supposed to be played are hidden in odd places and disguised with queerly worded sentences. Maybe it's just me, but the least impressive thing about Power Grid is the rules translation.

Anonymous said...

I respect your opinions regarding games, but pretty much tune out the political trolling.

Politics doesn't seem to effect much, I game with folks across the spectrum politically. The only important thing is if folks are jerks or not.


Pawnstar said...

I was with you right up until you brought up the Puerto Rico versus Caylus issue. That's a political statement too far. Everybody knows it doesn't matter because Martin Wallace invented Age of Steam (but perhaps that's more religion than politics); not to mention the several predecessors and successors which basically seal the election in the Steam Party's favour.

You see, politics within boardgames is a representative democracy with every game group counting as a seat. Most of the seats round here have gone to the Steam Party as AoS, RT, Volldampf and other games under the same system have been played far more than PR or Caylus. Indeed, AoS alone has.

The BGG influence counts for something, but it's just an opinion poll and not the vote itself.

Outside of games I have tried to stay very apolitical; but it's difficult. If such discussions occur in the game group I try to ignore them to avoid offending anybody who might have a strong leaning one way or another. But when they offend me you can sit back and watch the fireworks.

I'm not a fence-sitter; it's more a case of not having faith in any politicians. If they don't screw you one way they always find another. But they do say if you can't beat them, join them; so perhaps the way forward is to make a career in politics?

Joe Gola said...

...the supercilious Lefties on BGG.

Both sides have an equal capacity to be supercilious, no? For every smirky, smug, holier-than-thou Democrat there is a smirky, smug, holier-than-thou Republican. Basically, when you achieve a critical mass of people with the same viewpoint, they forget to say "this is the way I feel" and slip into the bad habit of saying "this is what's right." It goes the same way with gaming websites.

Given the fact that both Lyle and Shaun are hard-working blue collar types who would lend you money if you were broke, lend you their backs if you needed to lift things or help you out with no expectation of compensation, I was hardly suprised they voiced somewhat conservative commentary about the media. I suspect I have gaming buddies who lean to the left and my guess is they'd help me move something if I needed it. I'm not so sure about the money though, most of the more liberal people I know are affluent and a bit miserly.

Assigning unflattering personal qualities to the members of the opposing viewpoint is a bad road to start down. The next step is joint and muscle strain caused by excessive patting of one's self on the back, and this has been clinically proven to lead to the terminal superciliousness mentioned above.

It's funny, I just now realized something: working-class Republicans see the Clintons and the Kennedys on TV and they say "all these goddamn liberals are richer than God, they don't know nothing about the common man"; meanwhile, working-class Democrats see the oil tycoons on TV and they say "all these goddamn Republicans are richer than God, they don't know nothing about the common man." It's actually a really big favor to a certain class of people that all the country's anger and frustration is directed left and right as opposed to up and down...but then that would be REAL politics, and that's a little too real, no? It's a lot safer and more fun to stick to the "rah, rah, red and blue" variety.

DWTripp said...

Joe Gola

My comments about your insight and penchant for saying just the right thing are yet again validated Joe.

You get it. Not only that, but you typically say it better than me.

The politics of gaming, as I see it, is how I wish politics really were. When enough local gamers show up for two tables there is a shuffle and alignment so that everybody gets to play a game that they want to play. We have a little mini-campaign that's similar to the Caylus/Puerto Rico struggle or the AoS/RRT debate, but in the end we settle the seating arrangement so most end up enjoying the day.

The crux of my argument is that game politics tend to exhibit the same "extreme" points of view that real world politics have. There are radicals on each side of a debate and they lose sight of the common good in their strident demands that their choice be the only choice.

I once had to explain to my dear old Right Wing father why I had voted for a Democrat for a state office. I dragged out his record and his platform talking points and compared them to the Republican opponent and proved to my father that despite the man being a Democrat, he had a fiscal record that was more conservative than the supposedly conservative Republican. My dad voted for him two years later.

Damned if I haven't accomplished the same thing within a gaming group by proving that there really are many excellent designs.

And, of course, I've been shown the light by other, brighter, people... many times.

Joe Gola said...

Yes, everyone's entitled to an opinion...except Rick Fawkes of course. I mean, really, Blue Moon an inferior spinoff of Magic: the Gathering? That's just crazy talk. Why do they let lunatics like that on the internet? There oughta be a law!

Joe Gola said...

I once had to explain to my dear old Right Wing father why I had voted for a Democrat for a state office. I dragged out his record and his platform talking points and compared them to the Republican opponent and proved to my father that despite the man being a Democrat, he had a fiscal record that was more conservative than the supposedly conservative Republican.

Incidentally, I wish more people were able to do this sort of thing (on both sides of the fence).

Friendless said...

Hey DW, you're full of it. The reason us lefties have to keep bashing W (and in Australia, John Howard) is because they are taking the world down a very dangerous path and we cannot believe that the people who support them can be that stupid. We just think that it we say it often enough you'll stop being stupid and see what we mean. Of course you're not stupid, and that frustrates us so much because then there is no explanation whatsoever. I don't mind if you guys screw up your own country, but it annoys me that you're doing to others as well.