Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Life of Games

Matt Carlson joins the Gone Gaming crew from over at where he writes a biweekly column about boardgames. Whereas his GamerDad Unplugged columns tend to target boardgamers new to the hobby, Gone Gaming will serve as a regular platform to informally discuss thoughts and analysis more appropriate to fans who are already deeply steeped in the boardgame hobby.

Hello. My name is Matt Carlson, and I like games.

There, I’ve said it and now I can begin the healing process – but I don’t want to be healed. I think it’s because I’m a happy sort of guy. I am usually happy because I like to be happy. I’ve come to terms with that and seek out being happy. One thing I enjoy is playing games. While the word “Play” may give a middle school drama coach a heart attack, for most people it conjures up memories of having fun with other people, just for fun’s sake. Whether its “playing” tag with a bunch of little kids, “playing” a game of casual sports with other adults, “playing” a family board game, or “playing” a computer game, I enjoy playing.

This was true even as a small child. I loved games. For Christmas each child in our family would get a game from Santa. I usually looked forward to that present more than any of my higher-priced toys from my parents and relatives. My family would have official family meetings; each of us children would have a job. I was in charge of “Games and Snacks”, making the family play some sort of game together at the end of the meeting. I even spent my meager spending money on games. Each month my father would take each kid out to dinner alone to talk, AND we would be able to buy anything we wanted from the store (less than $3 if I remember.) I was in heaven because there was a whole series of cheap Disney-brand board games for sale at Walgreen’s for about $3 each. It was a sad day when they eventually raised the prices up to $5. One of the earliest purchases I remember making with my own money was sending away cereal box tops (plus shipping and handling) to buy a football game that consisted of a piece of cardboard with little red sliders on it that you slid back and forth to simulate a game of football. While many of my childhood games have been lost to the ravages of time, I still have a good-sized collection of board games hidden away (or not so hidden) in my house. I’m not so much of a collector as a board game lover that has a hard time parting with any of his boardgame “friends”.

Being a ravenous game-player, I was always interested in playing a game, but to my surprise, not everyone I met was all that excited about it. In the late 70s, I came across a few of the earliest mass market consumer electronic games and I was hooked. Here were games I could play ALL BY MYSELF! I didn’t need to spend the work to drum up two or three more players just to play a game of Monopoly or Payday. As long as I had a battery, I could play my Mattel Football. I was pulled into computer and video games because it was a way to play games. Sure, a little handheld electronic game isn’t going to replace a good board game, but that’s when I stumbled across computer games. Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI) had published Galactic Gladiators, a science-fiction based squad-level combat game for the IBM PC. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was a wargame that I could play against the computer – no need to try to con my older brother into playing yet another game! As the years went by, I continued to fall into a computer game (and later, with the Nintendo 64 and an actual income, video games) rut, but still preferred to play face-to-face boardgames whenever possible.

In the 90’s, with the arrival of collectible card games and Settlers of Catan I finally hit my boardgame stride. I had a circle of friends who enjoyed playing these types of games, and the new games were such that I felt that I could teach them to most of my friends and acquaintances. This coincided with an increased income and I began to acquire what might be thought of as a game collection. Sure, I had a whole pile of games from my youth, but now I was looking at games with a whole new viewpoint. These new games had all the rich decisions I found in my larger, more complex games, but the rules were simple enough for the games to be easily taught to an unsuspecting friend. Of course, the lure of the quick fix of computer and video games continued to plague me. It was so simple to pick up a game and play whereas a good boardgame required coordination of 4 or more people. But even in the area of video games I remained a fan of games that were closest to what I liked in board games.

In the heyday of the 90s, I started my own web site as a way to spread the good word about the many more cerebral types of computer games out there – wargames, strategy games, etc… This blossomed somewhat and then put me in contact with a new website about family computer gaming, I was able to help out with the site, and in late 2004 even started up a column about boardgames. I figure there have to be piles of people out there who would just love modern boardgames if they would only give them a try. Currently, I write a regular column over at GamerDad entitled: GamerDad Unplugged.

If I can convince just one video game player to pick up a board game and enjoy it, that’s one more person in this world who just might sit down and play a board game with me…


Melissa said...

Welcome, Matt. It's good to have you on board :)

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...


Hope this column doesn't sound like a shill for some of the other stuff I do. I felt that people might want to know where I'm coming from and how I ended up here.... deeper thoughts to come later... :)

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Welcome aboard, Matt.


Kris Hall said...

I'm not the new guy anymore. Any new gaming dad is welcome.

Gerald McD said...

Matt -- good to have you here. I look forward to your contributions. This is a neat group of gamers/writers, and I enjoy them all.