All right. You're bored. You've had two months and more to diddle around with your game design and try gaming by video ... how is that going?
Making you think, isn't it? Oh, I know some of my readers are stubborn, very stubborn. It may take five or six more months for it to sink in with them. What, you might ask? Ennui, my friends. Ennui.
Yesterday, I came across this little screed from Gygax, in issue #16 of the Dragon
. You can find the start on p.15 of the link. It is dated from July, 1978. Prior to the passage shown, Gygax wails about the fact that D&D is a game, and games are for diversion and amusement ... and then in explaining what a game is demonstrates he's never read a book about what a game is. This does not surprise me about Gygax; never was a man so ignorant, and so sure that he knew best. He was the Dunning-Kruger effect walking.
In the passage shown, Gygax makes the same mistake that every anti-realist makes, with the same arguments and the same supercilious pedantic nonsense about how the game can never be real or represent reality, nyah, nyah, nyah. And like every other anti-realist, he absolutely misses the point. He misses the point by a country mile.
Being that this was written in 1978, more than half the readers of the magazine would have gotten their start in wargames. Early D&D is soaked in wargame rhetoric; it drips from most of the pages in the Dragon and floods their advertisements. D&D is a new game. I was deep into wargaming in 1978, had been since I was 10, hadn't even heard of D&D yet; and everyone I played with in those early years played D&D and wargaming, exactly like the picture shown. D&D hadn't proved itself yet ... whereas the "realistic" games that Gygax carps about in his essay HAD proven themselves. Realism wasn't a bugaboo, it was functionally proven. Gygax must have really looked like a dumbfuck worm to those people when he wrote this. He didn't make any friends with it.
[hm. reminds me of me. that can't be important]
How was realism "functionally proven"? Wargamers did not only care about little figures on fields of green. They cared about the real thing, too. They studied, re-read, argued over and lived accounts about Napoleonic battles, WW1 and WW2 ... hell, some of the people I played with had BEEN in World War 2, that ended only 33 years before 1978. Some of Gygax's readers would have been in Korea and Vietnam, too; and some in the Arab-Isreali wars. Imagine how Gygax's crying bullshit about realism went down with that crowd!
Realism mattered to them, and it matters now, because whatever may be going on with the little metal figures on the battlefield, or watching my 12th level D&D character die, the feelings I am having ARE real. Realism is about having real feelings. And the reason that people work so hard to insert realism into what is happening during the game is so that they will care what happens.
D&D, and the way it is played by millions of people, is unrealistic, silly and infantile. The sheer magnitude of Gary Gygax's misconception absolutely astounds me! He tries so hard in the article to sell D&D as a "fun time," as an "amusing diversion," or gambling, or sheer fantasy, or any of the other frivolous ways he chooses to describe the game ~ particularly in the way he tries to hammer home the facetiousness and shallowness of game play as something that should not be taken seriously. Well, exactly. The way he saw the game, it wasn't.
And the way that his detractors saw it, then and now, is simply, "If it isn't serious, then why should I give a fuck?"
Checkers isn't all that serious. It seemed like fun when I was 9, but I don't play checkers now. I haven't played checkers in 20 years. And when I last played it, I didn't care. I played it for the sake of my nephew, who wanted to play. Right now, I would rather do the dishes, or pull up all the carpets and wax my floors, or carry garbage out to the dump, than play checkers. At least I'd be doing something I vaguely cared about, where the result was meaningful. If Gygax, and all the little droids who have followed him through my 40 years of playing, want to argue that I should change my view of the game to make it something insubstantial and pointless, then guess what:
I would quit playing.
And most do. Most of the people who have ever played this game, quit this game. And mostly, I would argue, because they ran into this brick wall of a philosophy that said, "NO! We will not make this game matter! Damn it, the game is supposed to be fun! It is just a game!"
Shut up, Rudyard.
I can't imagine what an obtuse, thickheaded self-important little vain, preening egomaniac Gygax must have been, but reading this article with a clear eye ~ and others he wrote in those early days of the magazine ~ sure make it pretty damn plain. We know from hundreds of sources that he did not make D&D on his own, yet every reference he makes to the game sounds like he's defending his own baby child, which is helpless to defend itself without he himself girding on a sword and going to war. Given the man's actual experience ~ his minimal success as a student, his lack of ever holding a position of real responsibility, the utter fuck-up he made of his company, basically handing it over to sharks ~ I have no idea where his certainty came from ... but his rhetoric and approach to everything reminds me of another inexplicable "success story" that managed to bloat his way into the highest office of the land.
Okay. Not bored now, are you?
If you find yourself grumbling after some rough isolation about what the game is to you or what it means, or why video seems like a stillborn birth with the cow's placenta poured out on the ground (thank you, Disney channel), the reason is this.
You've managed to distract yourself with company and babble and jokes and personal social contact. You've convinced yourself that good company came about because it was a good game. And now that you're stuck with the game, and just the game ... which you've tried to work on, because hell, you've got the time and you're bored ... you're feeling an inexplicable ennui about everything. You're hoping this whole covid thing can just end so you can return to your friend's company and escape having to resolve this issue between you and the game as it stands; but that doesn't look like it's going to happen soon. In the meantime, you're looking at this game, this game you love, and for reasons you can't put your finger on, it doesn't seem to love you back.
In fact, it just sits there, waiting to be played. Only, you're not having as much fun playing it. For some reason. You get online and set the game up with cameras and ... you don't feel anything. For some reason.
If the game is just a game, then why do you even care?