Burnout and the Endless Quest
A little while ago MadJay Brown posted a link to what appears to be a really elaborate fan site all about the dark-Nordic fantasy game Symbaroum. It got me thinking about stuff.
When I read through Symbaroum I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what might make it awesome. Nothing jumped out at me as novel or clever or innovative. It looked like, you know, a fantasy game. So I shrugged and put it back on the shelf. Then folks like Ara Winter started talking more about the interplay of its systems and I was all hmmmmaybe? And then this site, wow, full of so many interesting-sounding ideas and leads. Are they talking about the same game I read?
Honestly the whole process reminds me so much of my struggle to get The One Ring up and running, except in that case it is such an elaborately designed engine. Lots of interlocking economies, and not especially well explained what might emerge from them.
I had Symbaroum at one point but I ended up selling my hardcopy to, ta-daaa, MadJay Brown! And now I’m semi-regretting that decision. Is it another TOR? Are there lots of cool experiences waiting under the hood if only I can decipher them?
And thinking about that, right now, in the shadow of my ending our TOR campaign, all I can do is shrug.
Like…who knows if there are cool experiences waiting under the hood? Who cares if there are cool experiences waiting under the hood? I mean unless you’re gripped with having to stay on top of every game design development everywhere — which, I confess, I often feel — there are plenty of cool experiences under the hood of every game ever designed. I mean unless you’re talking about games that actually don’t work at all, but even then if you’ve got folks who are committed you can probably shoulder your way through and find something worthwhile. Work-to-fun ratio and all that.
FOMO is so irrational. I mean, good grief, I have the PDF. I can pick up the hardcopy again.
Something that’s been on my mind is this thing I see in gaming, this desire to find That One Perfect Game, the one you’ll play until you grow old. It’s probably like finding any other perfect thing: a faith that perfectly reflects and indulges your biases, a workout program that gives you perfect fitness, the meal or lover or movie that leaves you perfectly satisfied.
I think that, unless you’re irreparably broken and/or immature, you eventually figure out there is no One Perfect anything. You figure out that you have a template of stuff you like against which you first compare something/someone, then you look for show-stoppers, then you…try it out for a while.
But not in gaming! For every group that’s settled into playing hundreds or thousands of D&D sessions (and will probably continue until dementia or death), there are so many dissatisfied folks on this endless quest for the One Perfect Game.
I don’t know that it’s necessarily unhealthy, mind you. I do this myself, although my quest isn’t per se to find the One Perfect Game. The quest, for me, is itself the point of the exercise: keep trying on new experiences, keep seeing what spools out of a particular set of procedures, keep allowing your mind to be controlled.
A sense of constant dissatisfaction is also the core of what a lot of folks believe leads to greatness in this innovative/entrepreneurial/capitalistic system we live in. Like, we’re rewarded so very well for gnawing on something that bugs us and creating something that other folks might like. It’s conditional of course: constant dissatisfaction with our life partners is just asking for misery.
I’ve been typing here for a while and tbh I’m not even sure why. Just kind of meandering in my thoughts. I guess what is going to keep me healthy, given I don’t think I’ll ever find or want to find the One Perfect Game for the rest of my life, is cultivating a sense of constant satisfaction. What were the good parts of that thing we did together? What interesting ideas or techniques or whatevers can we poke away and enjoy later?
A lifetime of successful experiments seems like a better way to go than a lifetime of failed experiments, you know?
Oh, I remember why I started writing this: because I’m looking at my shelf of games and right now I’m all fuck all these games, I don’t feel like playing any of them. Which always troubles me a little, given how important they’ve been for …. lordy … 35 years now. Low-level depression? Maybe. But also there’s some inevitable bitter-sweetness to thinking about the games I’ve already played. As much as I rationally know that the journey is point, at least a little of me wonders if there really is or was that One Perfect Game once, and I walked away from it for no reason at all other than I wanted to try something different.