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Vannotes on Video Games: Level 1 - Socialization Civilization

Stage 1 - Game Philosophy and Hobby

Roger Caillois’ philosophies on the elements of gameplay have inspired so much of what I understand about game theory, not because they’ve stood the test of time, but that they’re so aspirational. Caillois proposed that games are:

  1. Free

  2. Separate from the World

  3. Uncertain

  4. Unproductive

  5. Governed by Rules

  6. Make Believe

All of these have been challenged by recent developments like the notion of play to pay and the meta verse, which increasingly add socioeconomic ramifications to gaming, much like how athletics lives in the shadow of the high stakes of professional sports. There’s a nostalgia filter on this statement, but it seems like the concept of affordable play, hobbies, and free time are under attack more than ever by the oligarchs manipulating the global economy.

One of the silliest, yet most personally influential books in my library is a book Winston Churchill wrote called Painting as a Pastime. In the book he writes about the process of being a well rounded person and part of this is having hobbies; his was painting. But with a gig economy, play to pay, and the higher stakes of gaming in general, whether it be virtual or IRL, can gaming survive as one of modern culture’s beloved hobbies without perceived financial pressure? As much as I loved the Balance arc of The Adventure Zone, in its aftermath so many tabletop gaming sessions feel like profit generators that can be exploited through recording or documentation in some way. I myself have been victim of this, seeking clicks from fan art of my own campaigns.

An illustration produced while DM'ing a Monster of the Week campaign with Madeline McGrane, Brando Hughes, and Aaron King as players called Hebe, Idaho.

Stage 2 - Bean Ship

Meanwhile I am genuinely hopeful for the future of gaming as a social experience without financial expectations for playing. Playing Among Us appealed to me in the same way a German board game like Carcassone or Settlers of Catan does. It set parameters that allowed for a specific kind of social play I’ve also observed in jovial poker nights or the best tabletop RPG sessions. The goal is not so much "winning the game" for the average person (although there are certainly some competitive players) it's more about its continued repetition.

My Among Us-sona from the beginning of the pandemic saying my classic catchphrase.

The deception, conversational banter, and laughter shared over Discord servers was a saving grace of the earlier days of the pandemic. I met so many people I admired through playing, which felt like friend dating. None of it would have happened unless we manipulated our little beans around a 2000s era Flash game-esque game with Invader Zim-esque backgrounds. There’s a warmth to those nights which are now permanently tied in my mind to a certain period of the lockdown.

Stage 3 - Word Blocks

In recent months, my casual mobile play has been usurped by Wordle. The game's free once-a-day updates have the feeling of a newspaper crossword, but sped up in play time. There's also that nice, unique brain tingle at the end once you’ve solved the puzzle akin to a Professor Layton game. I love to see everyone’s daily outcomes and the commiseration over a shared challenge. The idea of an archive or bingeable version of the game seems imminent, but I hold on to the hope that the game can remain pure, wild, and free without losing its vibrancy or audience. For some reason, these little puzzles make me hopeful for gaming and the joy a tool like the internet can bring in the face of scams, pyramid schemes, and its oligarchs.

Checkpoint - Games I Played While Writing This:

FTL: Faster Than Light: I keep coming to this game as an absent minded experience while listening to podcasts. Anyone who can play on hard mode baffles my mind.

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