The Gentle Lightness of Games

It’s time I took a bit of a breather and some personal stock.

The air outside is clear. Not too toxic today. The thirty-lane toll station is moving briskly.

If I look back five years, or even three years, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d possibly be here now. Indeed, looking back over my life, there was never a single time that I correctly imagined where I’d end up. Every worry and dream has proved illusory.

The things that went wrong were different from the ones I expected, the things that went right were, again, different.

A major change that I can pinpoint was three years ago when I decided to focus on means rather than goals—I embarked on a five-year project of practice to improve my skill at drawing. I later applied this same thing to writing, design, communication, and marketing. Continuous, reflective practice.

The direct outcomes were Olly Media and WizardThiefFighter Studio and the Ultraviolet Grasslands (UVG).

The UVG Kickstarter Header.
This is the picture that launched the Kickstarter.

From February to April of this year my life was consumed by a kickstarter for my roleplaying game, the UVG. The kickstarter outperformed my wildest dreams and thousands of people signed up. Since then I’ve been consumed in the layout mines, adjusting, editing, revising, cleaning up, and assembling the UVG. It’s fun, hard, and rewarding, all muddled together.

It’s also now a full-time job, which is intensely wild.

We ended up doing pretty well.

I can’t emphasize enough how embarrassed I was of even enjoying games when I was in high school and later. I felt like it was frivolous and a waste of time. Particularly the roleplaying games I introduced to my home town, with their wizards and elves and (rarely) dragons and (often) rats, were something I never could proudly enjoy. I felt strongly that they were not manly like “proper” games. Proper men played proper games, like tarock and poker and drinking and darts and backgammon and hunting and fishing and shooting and football and basketball and track and field. Women, in that society, well–it didn’t feel like they played games at all. Women worked in the house and outside it, cooking, cleaning, mending, darning, teaching, shopping. If they played games, it was with children to help children learn. If women had anything approaching games it was meeting for coffee, to read women’s magazines, smoke coffee, and maybe do some jogging to stay fit.

Now, here’s the funny thing about those dominant Slovenian games of Tolmin in the late 1990s: none of them had (known) authors or designers. They and their rules all existed in a timeless limbo of tradition.

Growing up Slovenian I knew of nobody who made games. Even the console and PC games of that period were made by exotic remote creatures in the cities of Japan and the United States.

I could say more broadly: as far as I was concerned, nobody made games. Games were things that existed outside of human design—at least of the kind of humans I knew.

To now be a professional full-time game designer? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

It feels like I can come out of the gamer closet.

Heow?

Which also brings me to a practical consideration. With the success of UVG and WizardThiefFighter Studio, I’m slightly rearranging my two websites (wizardthieffighter.com and this one). Here, under my own name, I’m going to be writing more about games in general, art, culture, mechanics, creators, and ideas that I like. There, on WTF Studio, I’m going to be writing very much more explicitly about the games I like.

It’s going to be much harder to hive off my gaming into a ghetto corner of my life.

At last.

Because, you see, games are good. Just like art and literature and sports, they are fundamentally good and human.

Tabletop games in particular are also pretty damned environmentally and socially friendly.

When we engage in games, making and playing games, we are providing meaning and community to one another. Through games, we can become friends. We can light our imaginations. We can allay our anxieties or alleviate the boredom of a ninety-minute commute. We can even, gasp, just have fun.

It’s a pretty damned good feeling to make a living by making products that don’t help destroy the Earth or other people and even, sometimes, bring some fun to some humans.

It’s good.

Thank you again to everyone who has made this possible and keeps making it possible.

Stratometaship welcome poster.
Welcome, One and Cat.

Which also leads me to mention directly and again: if you want to participate as I write and draw and design tabletop games, the place to join is my patreon, the WizardThiefFighter Stratometaship. Yes, I’ll even draw the Stratometaship some day!

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