Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Am I Here?

I’ve been kicking around the idea of a blog for some time, torn by two competing thoughts:

First Thought: I’m a big fan of blogs and new media.

Second Thought: I’m not a big fan of working for free.

Sorry if that sounds mercenary, but there it is. Writing is how I earn my daily bread. My dad didn’t bend sheet metal into ductwork in his off hours, and my mom didn’t sneak into the offices of NJ Bell to answer phones on her down time.

What finally got me to start blogging was the simple realization that a) I love the subject with the passion of a fan, and b) I have a lot more to say that I have professional space in which to say it.

I also felt the need to cover subjects and angles that I would never cover for a magazine or newspaper. Since I have a reputation as a technology reporter covering computer and video games, I have far less opportunity to write about the conventional games that give my family and me so much pleasure.

The desire to blog has been growing over the past year or so, as my daughter finally got old enough to start playing more complex games. This gave our family a chance to bring out the Euro-game classics, and titles like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride came to life again when seen through fresh eyes.

We started making a run through the entire roster of classic games, and began teaching the kids all the card games that seem to have fallen out of favor with the younger generation. The simple process of teaching basic Rummy with a deck of Bicycle cards was like teaching them a new language, and gave me the opportunity to see these past-times, both the simple and complex ones, as though they were new. (I had assumed everyone just somehow KNEW that the face cards ranked Jack-Queen-King, but how could they if they’ve never been told, or if they’ve been playing other games with a deck of Looney Tunes cards in which the suits were Porky-Daffy-Bugs?)

I also began to see how much was being lost in the over-saturated world of electronic media. Now, I love electronic media. You will have to pry my iTouch or my Xbox 360 from my cold dead hands. But I also realize their limitations, and as a traditionalist in almost all other aspects of my life and belief system, I prize the chance to keep alive simpler pleasures. No one with a deck of playing cards need ever be bored, and a generation of kids that has never heard of Shadow Tag or Spud is a generation that has lost something precious.

This will not be a political or religious blog. I believe traditional pleasures and values are neither liberal nor conservative. However, because both subjects seem to color modern discourse and divide people into competing camps, I’m going to clarify just where I stand, so there is no mistake.

Religiously, I am a Catholic Christian. Politically, I am a Distributist, which is a “third-way” economic system located between Capitalism and Socialism on the political spectrum. Articulated by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc—the twin titans of 20th century English literature—the system is best summarized in Chesterton’s phrase, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

I’m not going to bang on about these subjects, and (yes, I’m saying it once more) I will not make this either a political or religious blog. I may well never mention it again, but I think it cuts to the heart of what I believe, which places me in the camp of traditionalist conservative (NOT Republican: there is a big difference). Like Chesterton, I believe the family unit is at the heart of civilization, and I believe that one of the ways families share joy with each other, their friends, and their community is in the way they play. In this way, games are bound up in our lives and our attitudes, indeed: in our very culture. Play cuts clean across all lines that would divide.

Now, as someone who spent a year as an anthropology major, I have an unfortunate tendency to try to attach meanings to things that are probably meaningless. Nonetheless, I think games in all their many manifestations can tell us much about a society. Each episode of Iron Chef begins with the quote from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you who you are.” Much as I love good food and The Chairman, I think it’s more correct to say, “Tell me what you PLAY, and I will tell you who you are.”

Of course, the human experience cannot be reduced to such a simple equation, but there is still much truth in it. We are defined in part by work, in part by belief, and in part by leisure. Our ample leisure time is one of the most profound products of modern civilization. Compared to our forebears, we are presented with bounteous free time in which to pursue our interests, but too often we just wind up watching TV.

I love TV as much as the next guy, but it’s passive and largely anti-social. When a family is watching TV, they are facing a single direction and rarely interacting. When they’re playing a game, they are face-to-face. You’ll know someone a lot better after a round of Settlers of Catan or a hand of Rummy than you will after an hour of Wicked Housewives of the Jersey Shore, or whatever garbage is currently lapping at the edge of the media swamp.

Since this post is also running long again, we’ll break it into one final introductory piece, called Part the Third, In Which I Explain What this Blog Is and Isn’t.


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