The High Fashion PhenomenonAnd yet BGG is only a small part of tabletop gaming. It may seem that the tabletop community is pretty monolithic given how much a one-stop site BGG is, but, outside of the net, tabletop gaming is surprisingly scattered. I’m reminded of this every week as I attend meetings of a local board game Meetup group. The regular attendees come from all walks of life. Among others, there’s techie people (which could just be because we’re in Seattle, though there is an interesting intermingling between tech and board games), a lawyer, and a bunch of service industry folks. Very few are academics, and most of them don’t really know BGG exists.
|Toshiyuki Hashitani’s wooden board by Wolfgangs SpeileParadies for Settlers of Catan|
A Disconnect?Most of these players also don’t know about the recent rise of games journalism, criticism, and activism (love Ligman's TWIVGB). For all the work we’ve seen in the last couple of years pushing for inclusivity in gaming and examining games deeply, none of it is hitting on-the-ground gamers… Wait. Is that true? Admittedly, most of the work being done is on the digital gaming front, so looking at local tabletop meetup groups and saying something about the work with digital games’ reach is probably not fair. Okay, so I’ll just say this: Tabletop criticism and journalism is massively threadbare, and I hope places like Shut Up & Sit Down herald a new trend in rectifying this. Hopefully, more academic research will also look to tabletop gaming.
Serious Leisure and DIY Gamers
|Jared’s Magic Realm build using carthaginian’s redesign|
Carthaginian and other BGG users who engage in this DIY practice represent an interesting intersection between tabletop gaming and crafting/making. They share tips and tricks and how-to guides, much like what you’d find on Instructables. There’s also a number of BGG users who are amateur designers, releasing their own “print and play” games through BGG as PDFs.
Use Tabletop Game Design to Understand Games BetterThis, then, represents a different way games scholars and critics can get into making games. Tabletop design can be a more approachable pathway for non-techie people. It’s easy to grab a deck of cards and think through new game mechanics or to grab a used game from a thrift store and mod the rules or write new rules using the same components. It becomes more important to think about the manual for a designed game (something which is often absent for digital games), and this forces a different kind of dialog between the designer and players. I believe this difference pushes the designer to think about the boundaries of the game and cohesiveness of theme to rules in a different way than what’s afforded by digital game design.
So, yeah, (if you’ll allow me to switch to 2nd person…) make your own games! Make both digital and tabletop games! And, yes, the first game will likely suck. Learning is most effective through failure. This is as true in designing games as in playing games.
[This article originally appeared on Critical Gaming Project’s new blog series, Better Game Culture]
Mark Chen is an independent researcher of gaming culture and spare-time game designer. He also holds appointments at Pepperdine, UW Bothell, and UOIT, teaching a variety of online and offline courses on game studies and games for learning. He recently wrote a book, Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Currently, Mark is making games to promote critical thinking and cooperation and researching the communication practices of BoardGameGeek.com users.