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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Believing in Gaming

I'm not big on gaming magazines. I've probably only read a handful in the last year. But when I saw that the Believer was doing a Games Issue, I decided to pick it up.

The Believer is a magazine published by McSweeney's, a publishing house founded by Dave Eggers (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). McSweeney's has published books by authors such as Jonathan Lethem, Nick Hornby and David Byrne. They also put out titles collectively like Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists (review
here). And then there are the magazines: McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (fiction/humor), Wholpin (on dvd) and the Believer (mostly non-fiction).

To get an idea of the McSweeney's "vibe" check out
their website which has a good amount of free content. Whether you think it's overly whimsical and smug or clever and entertaining depends on your personal preference. I go both ways with it depending on my mood. But I do admit that the writing usually pops.

I really enjoyed the Believer's Game Issue because it's fun to read articles about games from writers who aren't really games journalists or bloggers. You can check out the table of contents
here. Two of the games related pieces are even available for free online and you can check out the first page of every article.

My favorite article was Destory all Monsters by Paul La Farge. It's about D&D. The first section is a great summary of the game with a ton of fun and interesting footnotes. The second section relates the author's "mission" to interview Gary Gygax and play D&D with him. But throughout the article there's really a third story about the author's own past with D&D and his coming to terms with it. And it's that story which is the most compelling.

Here's a quote:

"It turned out that my agent's office was a block from the Compleat Strategist, the hobby shop where I used to buy my role-playing games. I wasn't eager to revisit that part of my life, which I thought of as a dangerous mire from which I had miraculously escaped, but I slunk into the store. Nothing had changed: nothing. The same pads of hex paper stood in the same racks by the door, their covers bleached by twenty years of sunlight. It was as if the place had been preserved as a museum to the heyday of tabletop role-playing games; it was if someone had set out to demonstrate that you could go home again. Maybe I wanted to come home; maybe I had never really left that mire; maybe I needed to own up to an old love-an old habit-in order to make my life whole."

Another from the game with Gygax as DM:

"And something strange is happening; Wayne and I are starting to play well. We climb a cliff by means of a magic carpet; we bargain with invisible creatures in an invisible lake. We steal eggs from the hippogriff's nest; we chase away giant crabs by threatening them with illusion of a giant, angry lobster."

All in all, it's a great piece.

I thought the worst article was Interactive Propaganda. I've read so many press pieces and pontifications about Kuma\War (50 out of 100 on Metacritic), but I've yet to talk to anyone who has actually played it. I just don't see the model becoming as much of a trend as people think.

The Oulipo article is fascinating, even if the connection to gaming is unclear. I'd never even heard the word Oulipo before reading it, but I did read A Void by Georges Perec when I was younger. A Void is a novel which does not contain the letter "e." At all. It really fascinated me at the time but I don't know if I'd feel the same way reading it now. Apparently it was part of Oulipo, a "movement" in which writers employ various constraints in their writing. The article, itself, features some of these constraints.

I suppose it's included because this type of writing is a game of sorts. But it also got me thinking - writers have Oulipo and filmmakers have Dogme 95. Will game designers ever join together and form a movement with constraints like: no bloom lighting, no health power-ups, no crates or barrels? It could be interesting. Sometimes working with constraints can actually unleash your creativity.

All in all, I enjoyed the issue and I really hope they do another one.

As a side note, I've installed EoF and hope to get some quality time with it next week. I'll report back.


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