I knew The Thoughtful Gamer would look different in 2023, as I couldn’t sustain what I was doing last year, but I didn’t think I would go the first couple months of the year hardly posting anything. The reality is that my attention has been diverted and doubts about what I want to do with this website have rapidly multiplied, infecting my mind.
What have I been doing outside of TTG the past couple of months? Mostly I’ve been working on expanding my speech and debate coaching work. I have a few fantastic students who are seeing regular improvement, and I’ve created three semester-long classes from scratch (which is more work than I anticipated – props to all the teachers out there). There’s very little in this world more fulfilling than seeing a student understand something for the first time or think about a concept in a genuinely new way. My film class in particular stood out. Amber told me I was risking catastrophe assigning Vertigo to high schoolers, but even though some disliked the film, we managed to have a truly delightful conversation about it, touching on Hitchcock’s use of color, feminism, the Kuleshov effect, dreams, and the way two people can talk to each other while not genuinely conversing. (Two new takeaways I had upon my re-watch: 1. Trying to piece together the particulars of Judy’s life and psychology is a fascinating exercise. 2. Notice just how much of the film is us looking at Scottie looking at things.)
I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to mostly rid myself of social media. I still spend far too much time staring at its vapid walls, but now I’m more acutely aware of their vapidity, so I suppose that’s something of a success. I’ve tried to replace the time saved with books and poetry, and while I’ve certainly increased the rate at which I’m reading books, it still hasn’t surpassed the rate at which I purchase books. Re: poetry, I’ve started a document cataloging poems that have been recommended to me and poems I love and want to continue reading, but again progress is slow. I’ve managed to become somewhat obsessive over the line “self-love is the one weedy stalk of every human blossoming” in the past couple of weeks. I don’t know what significance this has to my literacy progress, but in some vain corner of my mind it feels very intellectual.
None of this explains why I’ve stopped writing about board games, though, because despite a modest increase in the number of hours I’m coaching and teaching I certainly should have found the time. The real reason is that I’ve needed to learn how to love board games again.
The spectre hovering over every board game reviewer is the fact that the moment this gig starts to feel like it’s only a job you’re screwed. The way you look at board games shifts and flattens. There are no games there anymore, only assemblages of mechanisms you’ve seen before a hundred times. It’s not that you’ve lost your enthusiasm or you feel a bit down, it’s that the games themselves, channeled through your brain, have changed, and it’s the games you’re supposed to be writing about. People who can write their way through these times are—well I don’t know what they are (normal?) but I want to transplant myself into their brains and figure out what the secret is because I’m more jealous of them than I’m jealous of anything and second place isn’t in the same hemisphere.
So I started playing games for fun again, not worrying that I’ve already reviewed them, and slowly began to remember why I started this all in the first place. I’ve played a lot of Spades, Dominion, Photograph, Great Western Trail, and Netrunner. I’ve pulled out long-time favorites like Through the Ages, Above and Below, Suburbia, Dominant Species, The Crew, and The Castles of Burgundy. Great games are curative.
Throughout this process I’ve reexamined my motivation behind The Thoughtful Gamer. 2022 was the test to see if more diverse, frequent output would help get more eyes over here. It did not. I’m done trying to make what I do popular. I’ve got better prospects, both monetarily and otherwise, with my coaching. For TTG 2023 is the year of experimentation. It’s the year where I write/record what’s interesting to me at the moment without any regard to how it might be received. Not that I bent to popular tastes much in the first place, but I still kept some restrictions in place, trying to keep reviews somewhat consistent, for instance, or trying to keep podcast episodes to about 60-90 minutes. The reality is that in my warped mind those sorts of things just provide convenient excuses to delay.
I’m done delaying.