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Notes on Board Games

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14 May 2019 17:06 - 14 May 2019 17:42 #297017 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic Notes on Board Games
@Vysetron: As the nominal copy editor here, I didn't get to this before it was published, but I didn't really need to, since Jonathan appears to be diligent enough about checking his own work to not really need someone stepping after him. I did start looking it over as I usually do for almost everything published here (usually just for obvious punctuation errors or whatnot), but ran into the same problem Shellhead did, which is where we talk about your actual point, which is content editing...

So, when MB first suggested overhauling the site, I think everyone had a vision of "games journalism" making this the one site that wasn't just someone doing their unboxing ritual in front of a shelfie. Thankfully, the idea that video has totally replaced writing has since been dispelled in the shameful detritus of Facebook's farcical "studies". But there can still be no debate that encouraging a modern audience to read a thousand words rather than watching a five minute video is still a challenge, but it's even more of a challenge when what gets published here isn't really about games.

I'm fine with Sontag. She has her voice and she's made some important contributions to public perceptions. But I'm not sure it's a worthwhile endeavor here because it doesn't come across as journalism or criticism or even criticism of the concept of criticism, so much as it does simple posturing. That's a charge that has been leveled against her writing, too; in that it's not so much about the topic at hand, as much as it is about the author's intent to declare him or herself above said topic and wondering why everyone else hasn't come to that same conclusion.

Like Shellhead, I got through about half of this piece before I simply gave up, because it felt like nothing pertinent or interesting was being said. It was a ramble, based on Sontag's most famous essay about a cultural style and not just one medium. I think it worked in her piece because its approach was broader than simply talking about films or books or TV. I'm not sure it works here because the focus is ostensibly narrower but the delivery clearly is not and, in the end, this isn't a site about cultural styles. It's a site about board games.

Now, there's nothing wrong with wandering off the res, stylistically. I've done a couple pieces and so have other people that don't have anything to do with a particular game or even a particular type of game... but they're still about games. I could sit down over the next couple hours and write a detailed analysis of how the 4-3-3 is superior to the 4-2-3-1, especially in the case of Liverpool with their extensive use of the high press and advanced fullbacks... and most of you wouldn't have a clue as to what I was talking about because 1) this isn't a football site; and/or 2) you're not football fans; and/or 3) you've never analyzed the game to the level that incorporates knowing the difference between formations and how they work. In short, that piece really doesn't have any place here because the audience for it isn't here and me saying: "But it's still about a game!" isn't really relevant.

I don't have any editorial input here. All I do is fix run-on sentences and police commas. If MB and Matt and Shellie are OK with this kind of piece, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong. Likewise, I'm not going to tell Jonathan he's "wrong" for having written it or taking a stab at a higher level of discourse about our (presumably) mutual interest. But there's a difference between discussing a topic at a higher level than "How long does it take to play?" and getting to what music critics used to call "self-indulgence" on the part of the artist. This piece is largely about what's going on in Jonathan's head, which is the source of the "self-indulgence" criticism and, again, not really about games.

But, again, if the genuine editorial group is fine with it, then they are. I'm not going to rail against it. I just question whether it's accomplishing much of anything other than providing a thread for two or three people on the site to demonstrate their cultural bona fides while everyone else really wants to talk about the main topic at hand. I thought the previous piece about criticism with Gloomhaven as the trigger point was relevant because it was about a perspective on criticism that involves board games, even if the Reddit crowd decided to get in a twist about whether he'd actually played the game, which wasn't really the point. But he did have a point and one which is relevant to the main thrust of the site. This one didn't do that or at least it didn't in the first half before I gave up on it. Feel free to criticize me for not having actually played Jonathan's piece, either, I suppose. (I've also never played Gloomhaven.)
Last edit: 14 May 2019 17:42 by Jackwraith.
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14 May 2019 18:13 - 14 May 2019 18:16 #297019 by GorillaGrody
Replied by GorillaGrody on topic Notes on Board Games

Jackwraith wrote: I'm not sure it works here because the focus is ostensibly narrower but the delivery clearly is not and, in the end, this isn't a site about cultural styles. It's a site about board games.


I guess this is the heart of the matter. If games are just games and don't have any interplay with culture, then I don't really see the point in NOT just producing content which is unboxing games in front of a kallax shelf. Or having a lot of people in the forums grope at the proverbial "review elephant" in the dark, attempting to describe the tail of reviewing, the trunk of it, the hide of it, and so on, everyone stumbling around and trying invent a vocabulary for it.

That said, Jonathan is adopting a very discursive style because the art of examining culture as a whole--reviewing, criticism, etc.--is in very deep decline. There are more questions than answers, and Jonathan is walking us through the questions. If the questions are important, or hit at relevance, then they'll be uncomfortable.

For my part, I enjoyed Jonathan's piece, though I may be one of the (unofficial) writers here who's style, like Jonathan's, tends toward the more effusive.

Had it been, say, a floor-covering specialist talking about how they just don't make rayon and padding they way they used to, and why this sort of vinyl resists water better than that one, I suppose my eyes would have glazed over, too. But he's writing about something I care about, something I think is relevant to games, so I was all there for it.
Last edit: 14 May 2019 18:16 by GorillaGrody.
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14 May 2019 19:30 - 14 May 2019 19:32 #297028 by boothwah
Replied by boothwah on topic Notes on Board Games
I enjoyed reading it.

/I read Grody's missives as voiced by a 50 year old Anthony Hopkins, two martinis in.
Just a bit of a snarl to go with the nods and winks.
//I'll buy you a beer if you ever come to my little village, GG.
///I miss the post that Barney would have put here....
Last edit: 14 May 2019 19:32 by boothwah.

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14 May 2019 19:33 #297029 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic Notes on Board Games

GorillaGrody wrote: I guess this is the heart of the matter. If games are just games and don't have any interplay with culture, then I don't really see the point in NOT just producing content which is unboxing games in front of a kallax shelf.


Except that's not what I was saying. Please don't minimize my arguments; firstly, because it sounds like you're engaging in that posturing that I was writing about; secondly, because it sounds like you're dismissing everything I've written without considering it for a second. If all you're going to do is respond with the "stupid gamerz might not like the questions being asked about their precious hobby", then we're just talking past each other and I have zero interest in continuing this conversation.

GorillaGrody wrote: That said, Jonathan is adopting a very discursive style because the art of examining culture as a whole--reviewing, criticism, etc.--is in very deep decline.


That's an assertion that's both debatable and unsupported by significant evidence; in other words, an opinion (man.) Despite the fact that there are more critics out there for various media, it doesn't mean that the voices that do exist are any less good at their job, as it were. If that were the case, this place could have remained the sideshow clubhouse that it was and any of our efforts to redirect it would be a waste of time. You can say that Jonathan is helping to redirect it and I absolutely agree with you. My preference would be for something more pointed than a stream-of-consciousness piece that has only vague relevance to what our audience actually comes here to read.

Having played editor for a comic studio in the past, if someone had pitched me something similar to this idea, I would have kicked it back to them as being too much like Rick Veitch's abominable dream comics: of real interest only to Veitch and largely a waste of the reader's time and money. Tighten it, focus it, give me a point (or several) that the reader can latch onto and, by doing so, follow the thread of an argument, and we're in business.
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14 May 2019 20:20 #297039 by GorillaGrody
Replied by GorillaGrody on topic Notes on Board Games

Jackwraith wrote:

GorillaGrody wrote: I guess this is the heart of the matter. If games are just games and don't have any interplay with culture, then I don't really see the point in NOT just producing content which is unboxing games in front of a kallax shelf.


Except that's not what I was saying. Please don't minimize my arguments; firstly, because it sounds like you're engaging in that posturing that I was writing about; secondly, because it sounds like you're dismissing everything I've written without considering it for a second.


I guess really didn't communicate my point, and I didn't mean to dismiss your editorial position, Jackwraith. It's a solid position, and one I would take if I were an editor. It's drawing the line that's difficult, for many reasons. 1) because there's little to no shared language except "it does X like Y, and X like A, four stars" which is helpful for consuming stuff, but not helpful for culling, or asking why and 2) because the forces of consumption are very powerful, and critical attitudes tout court have sort of been pathologized as "not useful to consumption." This is not just true of games but of, well, lots of things already discussed under this heading. The "decline" I mention above is not due to writers not trying, or to their atrophied skill, but to an environment which needs everything to be value-neutral in order to meet different market realities at different times until we're all dead from exhaustion. "Get to the point," is not a sufficient editorial policy in this environment...and I rush to add that I know your attitude is more nuanced than that, JW. Also that Jonathan has stretched the limit on the farthest end of it. But the limit does require some stretching. It's not just posturing.

(For my part, I was astonished to learn that I could just get on the blog and start writing on a member blog. I've always been a person who benefits from strong editing, so it was a little terrifying, and while I don't regret my own indulgences in the HSB, it would have been interesting to see what the pushback might have been. I don't know if that's how it works for the official writers here, or not.)

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14 May 2019 20:31 #297041 by Michael Barnes
Replied by Michael Barnes on topic Notes on Board Games
I brought Johnathan on specifically to write this kind of fussy, difficult, and experimental article. No one else is doing anything like it. You might hate it. You might find it refreshing. You might be annoyed by it. Or you might just not get it. But Jonathan is a very unique, very forward-thinking games writer that is just about as far away from the Vasel school as possible.
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14 May 2019 20:45 #297042 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic Notes on Board Games
And I wasn't trying to imply that I had an editorial position, because I don't. I mentioned my experience in another venue just to cite an example of what I'd seen before and why I would have reacted that way (and am reacting this way.) As noted, I just do the copy editing on a volunteer basis (no one asked me, but I told Shellie I was doing it because I was trying to keep a consistent professional look to what we do here) and if what Jonathan is doing with this article is what the actual editors want, then so be it. As I said, I'm not opposed to it. I think it just falls outside my realm of interest and what I believe is that of the majority of our audience. That's not to say that it doesn't have value. At least three people in just this thread have mentioned that they enjoyed it.

This is the quandary of running a site like this: Do we aim for clicks and page views? (REVIEWS!) Or do we aim for quality writing? That's not to say that reviews can't be or aren't quality writing. But, clearly, there are already many sources for that kind of output. We'd like to do things more interesting than simply "Here's the latest consumer draw of the week!" But then we risk always having a niche audience in a niche hobby. What I don't want is the random reader to click on to something that he or she simply doesn't understand and not bother clicking back again. As you may have seen in the Reddit thread from Jonathan's Gloomhaven piece, there were the usual collection of "Saw he didn't play it, stopped reading, and knew I had no reason to go back" responses. Granted, those are the idiots that you probably don't care about losing as an audience... except that maybe he won't always be so closed-minded if he doesn't keep coming back to neo-Sontag arguments that he doesn't understand or feel inclined to connect to plays of Gloomhaven.

FWIW, I really enjoyed your blog about the Warhammer tournament. Having had many experiences similar to that, I could relate and, even if I hadn't been a regular player, I think the humanist perspective that you infused it with was really appealing. I hope you continue with it, Warhammer or no.
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14 May 2019 20:57 #297044 by Vysetron
Replied by Vysetron on topic Notes on Board Games
Not my intent to say staff/admins aren't doing their jobs. If my earlier comment came off that way I apologize.

Jackwraith wrote: I thought the previous piece about criticism with Gloomhaven as the trigger point was relevant because it was about a perspective on criticism that involves board games, even if the Reddit crowd decided to get in a twist about whether he'd actually played the game, which wasn't really the point. But he did have a point and one which is relevant to the main thrust of the site. This one didn't do that or at least it didn't in the first half before I gave up on it. Feel free to criticize me for not having actually played Jonathan's piece, either, I suppose. (I've also never played Gloomhaven.)


This is exactly my issue. I read it, then picked through it for specific bits that stuck in my craw, then opted not to even bother because this piece wasn't written for anyone but Volk. I'll be the first to admit that there's an inherent self-centeredness to putting our opinions out there. A certain amount of ego is required in order to portray one's opinions as if they're worth a damn. This though,? This is on another level and it rubs me the wrong way. It's a mile long, chock full of fluff that doesn't support the points, and of use to a niche of a niche of a niche. If this is what greeted me on my first visit to FAT/TWBG I would have done a 180 on the spot.

Also I haven't played Gloomhaven either, though I don't think that should be a brag. If I haven't played a game I typically try to avoid writing a piece about it.
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15 May 2019 12:01 #297079 by JonathanVolk
Replied by JonathanVolk on topic Notes on Board Games
I do want to talk about self-indulgence and intellectual masturbation, since it seems to be a really easy way to dismiss an argument without getting granular. I wrote 4000 words about games as art as moral/immoral works that we gamers and critics could stand to interrogate more thoroughly. And I put my points in numbers, for ease of refutation!

The purpose of my essay was to examine critically games as works of art that, like other mediums of art with far more critical scholarship and writing that isn't relegated to some GeoCities barn fire of a site like BGG, we can hold morally accountable. Say what you will about whether the essay does that successfully, but to see my motives called into question is disorienting. What are we even asking for here? An egoless writer who lives to serve the fans? Computers can already write convincingly human news stories about sports--I suppose, if the hobby were bigger, these computers could write about bad games too, since mechanics lend themselves to programmatic, mechanical analysis.

Y'all realize that one essay you disagree with doesn't mean you have to burn the whole house down, right? If "readers" decide they'll never return to TWBG based on this essay, something tells me they aren't readers.

And why is a moral argument about art being thrown back in the arguer's face? Especially by folks who didn't read the argument to the end? Right, Jonathan, but you didn't play Gloomhaven! Hypocrite! Except...I've said enough about why games, which foreground their laws, pretty quickly reveal to players like me whether or not I'm going to want to participate. That's point 15. And, as I try to argue in this piece, games that limit player choices to "Ever killed. Ever failed. No matter. Kill again. Level Up. Kill better." are morally questionable games--they're nothing to live by.

The irony of accusing me of self-indulgence, in an essay dedicated to Wilde, that springs from an essay about camp, doesn't escape me. Oscar Wilde was (and still is!) dismissed for being self-indulgent, campy. But he had important things to say about art and what's right and what's wrong. And Wilde largely doomed himself to imprisonment, by suing for libel, even though his friends warned him not to. I wonder if people forget this fact--the political madness of what Wilde did, self-indulgence that was also self-destructive, even though he was morally right.

In prison, Wilde wrote:

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.


Wilde knew you couldn't take the critic, the tastemaker, out of the equation. It's all gorgeous ego, all the way down.
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15 May 2019 12:30 #297080 by Vysetron
Replied by Vysetron on topic Notes on Board Games

JonathanVolk wrote: The irony of accusing me of self-indulgence, in an essay dedicated to Wilde, that springs from an essay about camp, doesn't escape me. Oscar Wilde was (and still is!) dismissed for being self-indulgent, campy. But he had important things to say about art and what's right and what's wrong.


I've read your piece in its entirety. I've read the material you "dedicated" it to. I'm aware of the necessity of ego in writing. That is literally the last point I made. Reiterating it as if it's a gotcha will get you nowhere. What "important things about art and what's right and what's wrong" were explored here? "Violence bad"? Yes, games have an incredibly troubled history with violence. This has been discussed in depth by many, but not here. What am I, the reader, supposed to glean from this piece?

The difference between you and Oscar Wilde is that you are not Oscar Wilde.
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15 May 2019 12:52 #297083 by JonathanVolk
Replied by JonathanVolk on topic Notes on Board Games
LOL. I'm troll-feeding at this point, which makes me more the chum than the chum I'm throwing at your smug purple head.

I just don't know how to engage you, dude, in a critical conversation, if even quotation counts as identity theft--that shit is literal citation! I cower before the quotes of Wilde.

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15 May 2019 14:13 #297092 by Anjou Valentine
What am I supposed to be getting from "Chess is the YAS QUEEN of the ancient world"?
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15 May 2019 16:04 - 15 May 2019 16:05 #297104 by GorillaGrody
Replied by GorillaGrody on topic Notes on Board Games

Jackwraith wrote: We'd like to do things more interesting than simply "Here's the latest consumer draw of the week!" But then we risk always having a niche audience in a niche hobby. What I don't want is the random reader to click on to something that he or she simply doesn't understand and not bother clicking back again.


I'm not sure, in this specific case, there's any alternative to being a niche audience in a niche hobby. Might as well be interesting while you go about it. And that comes down to vision, taste, background, etc.

I had to look up YAS QUEEN, but I did, because I was curious. It's a pretty common cultural touchstone among people, especially LGBT people, who were maybe not born yet when I was legally able to drink. I'd make an argument that if younger people knew that somewhere those touchstones were being reached (I know many younger and queerer gamers) someplace, anyplace, they'd be gratified to return to the site and read more. The first challenge is one of acceptance of difference.

Okay, so then:

Anjou Valentine wrote: What am I supposed to be getting from "Chess is the YAS QUEEN of the ancient world"?


I guess I had to puzzle over that, too. But I like puzzles. And I suppose I could translate it to 40-plus dude speak by saying, "Chess affirmed the hierarchies of its time." But then, do we want only 40-plus dudes reading stuff here? And would we ever then be forced to go online and figure out what YAS QUEEN means?
Last edit: 15 May 2019 16:05 by GorillaGrody.
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15 May 2019 16:33 #297113 by ubarose
Replied by ubarose on topic Notes on Board Games
Was I the only one who was tickled and delighted by this article? Was it not intended be funny? Did I miss something? Am I supposed to be upset by it? I don't understand.
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15 May 2019 17:10 #297115 by GorillaGrody
Replied by GorillaGrody on topic Notes on Board Games

ubarose wrote: Was I the only one who was tickled and delighted by this article? Was it not intended be funny? Did I miss something? Am I supposed to be upset by it? I don't understand.


You’re not alone! He had me at “Thulsa Doom”! But people started dogpiling on and I put up my dukes.
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