Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wargame Snobs

After listening to more than ten episodes of the only wargaming podcast out there, Point 2 Point, I've decided that I just can't take it any more. From the general unpreparedness of the hosts, to the focus on "what did you do last week" to what has to be the worst interviewing style I've ever heard, these guys simply shouldn't be doing what they're doing. Mind you, I am fully aware of what is involved in putting together a podcast, even an amateur one, and thank Jason and Scott for the hard work they put in. Hard work, however, even when combined with being the only wargaming podcast out there, is simply not enough.

The thing that finally drove me from the ranks of their listeners, however, was their constant bias against anything that smacked of a Eurogame. Some episodes were better than others, but in the most recent one Jason's bias simply became too much. During an interview with Rick Young, designer of FAB: The Bulge but also of Leaping Lemmings, Jason bemoaned the fact that Rick plays Euros on a fairly regular basis. Rick came right back with statements that make sense to anyone without blinders on, pointing out that games like Power Grid were not fluff, but Jason just couldn't help himself. A little hint for Scott and Jason - many of your listeners also play and enjoy Euros, perhaps you should not work so hard to alienate them. Especially when you barely have enough talent and technical chops to get a podcast out the door.

I noticed a similar attitude in the letters section of the Oregonian today, where a reader complained about Bruce Springsteen's music as being nothing but noise, and he would stick with established "good" music, such as opera. As a classically trained musician in both piano and voice who also enjoys popular music, I can only say that this reader is perfectly entitled to his opinion, but he certainly does himself a disservice by refusing to open his ears. As someone who has prepared and performed literally hundreds of works in a very wide variety of genres, I can say that if you don't at the very least appreciate a work by the time you perform it, you are doing something wrong.

This is not to say that all music (or games, or political views) are equally valid. Far from it. The pulp adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, while dear to my heart, do not stand up in a literary sense to, say, Dune, even though I greatly enjoyed them when I was young. With time comes appreciation and discernment for well crafted prose (not that I make any claim to my own ramblings to be anything other than a cathartic stream of consciousness). The same goes for any creative work - there are established criteria that exist outside of opinion that can be used to judge the quality of any given work, whether it is "art" or a board game. An intelligent reviewer will separate these from matters of taste, although many may argue that the idea of an "intelligent" reviewer" is itself an oxymoron. While you may not particularly want to listen to Stravinsky's seminal work, "The Rite of Spring," only a complete idiot would argue that it was not only a work of genius in it's structure but also in it's effect on 20th Century art music. OK, maybe not a *complete* idiot, but certainly anyone with musical training recognizes it's one of the most important pieces out there, even if it did cause a riot at it's premiere.

By disdaining Euro games, Jason and Scott set themselves up to miss out on some great gaming experiences. Sure, they may not enjoy Euros, and even Euro enthusiasts will have games they don't like playing, but to dismiss the entire field based on what seems to be a handful of experiences strikes me as egotistical and shallow. The reasons they usually give during their podcast include such gems as "there's no killing" or "I was bored to tears" or "You have to be too nice to the other players". I have an acquaintance who, when I suggested that he must have enough stock options to retire from a job he was getting weary of, replied without a trace of humor that then he couldn't go yell at his reports anymore. If your only rush from gaming is that you like to beat the other players, then I'm not really interested in gaming with you.

Because boardgaming offers so much more. Be it the social interaction, the elegance of seeing a group of mechanisms come together to present a system greater than the sum of its parts, the historical insights created by good wargame design, the tactile pleasure of working with all of the bits on the table, even how a particularly well crafted game takes you away from the world for a little while, there is much more to gaming than competition. Listening to Scott, you'd think that anyone who played for any other reason was an idiot.

I've been burned before for dissing beloved podcasts, notably the Dice Tower (which I went on to contribute to for a short time). Joe Steadman (who almost certainly will read this - Hi, Joe!) was a big part of the problem I had with that show - his style included putting down entire segments of gaming simply because he didn't like them and thus they were worthy of the contempt of the world. Because the theme of Evo involved evolution, a concept hostile to his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, he didn't like the game. He wasn't able to actually articulate any good reasons he didn't like the game (although he claimed that his beliefs weren't a factor), but that didn't matter. It was a bad game.

That was his loss, and a loss for Jason and Scott as well. Because when you close yourself off from looking at the world with fresh eyes, you are the one who loses. I endeavor to separate my ego from appreciation of the world around me, and often I fail at this, but I'm certainly trying my best to keep an open mind. A notable failure on my part was a game about the Republican Primaries that came out in 2004 during the presidential election that claimed that whoever won said party's convention was going to be President because only Republicans won (and thus were worthy of the office). You might see how I put that box down in a hurry, more because I didn't want to consider encouraging anyone who thought that way.

Right about now, any of you with conservative tendencies have been tearing your hair out, thinking that I am quite the hypocrite for bashing our current president on a regular basis while saying that we all need to be more open minded. I can only respond that I would be bashing our current president regardless of his party affiliation or ideology were he or she committing the sorts of crimes and short-sighted acts this crowd has. In other words, I am criticizing specifics, not generalities. The same goes for my comments about the evangelical Christian church my daughter joined - I am not criticizing evangelicals, but rather the elements of the service that concerned me and their effects on my daughter's ability to think critically.

Because that is the real sin here. The inability to see what other people might find of value. When it comes to conservative viewpoints, I can definitely see how the concepts of fiscal responsibility and social stability are of great comfort to those who benefit from them, just as I can see how the disenfranchised might not be quite so happy with the way things are. With evangelical Christianity, I can see how a dualistic world view where the good are rewarded and the evil punished would be very appealing - I am simply incapable of seeing the various beliefs that are required to prop up this view. The big difference is that I try to understand what people I disagree with are saying. Some of the time they make no sense to me, such as in claiming that we don't torture, but we should be able to if we need to. I'm not quite sure what the difference is other than degree in that case - the legal system already makes provisions for self-defense in murder cases, but it has to pass muster with a jury. Why shouldn't something as reprehensible and ineffective as torture fall under the same guidelines?

I'm getting into a defense of my own positions, which is not what I'm trying to do. All I'm saying is that the act of denigrating an activity simply because you don't like it (hm, there's a pretty solid look at homophobia, come to think of it) is not only shallow, it is self-defeating. I'm not saying that Jason and Scott need to play or even enjoy Euros, I'm saying that they are fools to condemn the entire hobby because it doesn't contain enough carnage for their tastes. And they are particularly foolish to antagonize those they interview.

Anyway, I give up on these guys as a result. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I'm not the guy who will go out and demonstrate how an interview should be handled, or do my own wargame themed podcast, because far too many people want something to be something other than what it is but aren't willing to do the hard work. Me, I'm not going to waste breath explaining to Jason and Scott why I won't listen to them anymore because they really won't care. I'm not the guy they're doing the show for, nor am I the guy who should be playing games with them. I just think that their attitude will cost them in the long run rather than help them, and I choose not to listen to it anymore.

If anyone knows of any other wargaming-oriented podcasts out there that are, if not more open minded, at the very least hide it a bit better, please let me know.

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