I’ve not posted anything here in a couple of weeks, and in the heavily competitive world of trying to get people’s attention on the internet, that feels like a sort of half-suicide. The fact is that I’m not playing many board games right now and I feel worn down. The pandemic has hurt my ability to play games in person (which I’d really like to do before reviewing–there’s a great loss when playing board games online), and the past week (or two? I’ve long lost track of time) of national grief and anger has left me paralyzed.
I’ve probably talked about it before here, or on the podcast, but my core instinct is cowardice. When confronted with the biggest challenges in my life it takes all of my efforts to not run and hide. Usually I fail. I’m of two minds about what’s happened the last couple of weeks with The Thoughtful Gamer. One part of me thinks this is another classic Marc situation where I freeze and hide when confronted with difficulty. Another part keeps saying that by staying silent I’m acting wisely, because I honestly don’t know what to say.
I mean, I’ve got half a review of some EXIT games sitting open in a tab and another ten article ideas on a list somewhere. I could write those to some minimal level of acceptability and toss them out into the world for the sake of content, but that feels like a betrayal. The Thoughtful Gamer has always been about actually being thoughtful, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. None of my words lately feel right. They’re grey and flat and lifeless.
So instead I’m writing these words, squeezing them out here at four in the morning with some whiskey in my stomach. The whirlwind of thoughts are staring to settle down in my mind. A bit. They’re still sort of swirling around in there, taking some shape but refusing to settle in an acceptable arrangement.
I adore the movie Unbreakable. It’s gotten a better critical re-evaluation over the last 20 years but most of the complaints are still about the ending where (spoiler) it’s revealed that Samuel L Jackson’s Elijah Price character is revealed to be the villain. I think it’s masterful, as Jackson bears his soul about feeling left out of the world, saying “You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here… That’s… That’s just an awful feeling.”
I don’t know my place during this time, when people are taking to the streets to protest injustice and righteous anger fills the air. I want to hide. I don’t think I’d be much help at a protest. I know that protests are blunt instruments, grabbing attention and riling emotions, but critical work happens afterwards as (hopefully) laws are rewritten and evil power structures are toppled. I don’t see how I have a hand to play in any of this, apart from feeble retweets. It’s a symptom of the digital age, where seeing something is immediate and accessible (and overly plentiful!), but our options for genuinely reacting to that information is relatively distant. We can find whatever evils we want, but at the same time we’re merely a body in front of a screen.
I’ve not been doing nothing during this time. In fact, my other gig teaching speech and debate has only grown, as I’m teaching classes nearly every day over zoom and I’ve just started a new enterprise to help train high school students across the country. There I feel more comfortable. Debate was the one thing I was good at, and within the rules of that game I’m safe. I know the shape of that space, it’s expanses and limitations. The Thoughtful Gamer is an extension of my love of debate. I can’t compete anymore, but I can get that competitive rush through gaming and the intellectual and creative stimulation through analyzing the games themselves.
But what are games at this time? I could offer a feeble defense of recreation as a distraction from the pains of the world, but that’s weak. Games are nothing. They’re a luxury good with some psychological benefit, competing with everything else in that category. Why write about games when the world seems to be falling apart?
In the midst of my worst depression I could see its form. I became a black box where all inputs channeled through my mind and reached the same conclusion of my own worthlessness. Now that I’m in a better state, due to medication and better mental practices that void has been partitioned off. It still feeds me ideas but it’s one of many competing thoughts. I’ve trained myself to run with the more optimistic ideas. I don’t know if they’re true, but they help me function. In this area I’ll take the utilitarian escape.
Here’s the optimistic idea. My role isn’t in the immediate victory, but the slow burn. I want to learn how to think better and be better, and I want to help others do the same. Games may not matter much, but they can help us understand the reality of things. When I write about games I refuse to isolate my analysis to “only games”. I want to see the connections that exist between what we build and what we believe. I want to explore how we can learn how to think better by fighting the worst tendencies of our own psychology. I want to fight to remain humble even as I seek truth and train others to do the same.
When I write this out it still doesn’t seem like enough. But what can be enough when we hoist the weight of the entire world on our shoulders every day as we scroll through news-feeds? But no one fixes the world. True change comes when we, individually, wake up each morning ready to extend grace to our friends, family, and neighbors. Small, everyday acts of love combine to overwhelm the impossible.
Game reviews will resume tomorrow.