Grumpy about Grumpy

There is a heck of a lot of 'great' in the world of boardgames now. Infact, I might say 'outstanding.' From the intricate, sophisticated latest generation of game creations, to the overall high production values associated with games, to the rich content available online to the everything-at-your-fingertips-and-a-culture-to-boot of BGG. Our expectations are incredibly high these days, feeding on our insatiable need for 'better'.

Darned if there isn't a lot of grumpiness around, tho’. Much has been said of this for some time now – the sourpusses of ’ol rec.games of yesteryear (which this relative newbie has only heard of), the negativity building in the forums of the last few years, the drive to blogs to escape the ‘noise.’ As a graphic designer, critiques are a vital part of my job. I can say from great experience that dishing out critisism is much easier than actually creating something good.

Fleshing out something from nothing, whether it be a poem, a painting or a game and making it good is often a long, hard process. Occasionally, it can come with ease, but those are golden moments of inspiration. The act of creation, whether it be carving together a game through the delicate balance of mechanics and rulesets to the covering of a blank canvas, is nothing to be taken lightly. There are the nagging insecurities that initially tug at the artist when tackling a whole new direction, the struggle for balance, harmony, contrast, counterpoint and all that makes the creation sweet, the difficulty of plotting a course that is fresh and new and, after the artist has encountered the exhilerating rush of having given birth to their creation which seems so good, there is that little voice that says... “Hmmm. I donno. Is it good enough? Am I just a ‘hack’ for reusing some established conventions? Or is this particular blend of conventions – mechanics, colors, paint style, etc – enough to seem fresh, new and magical?” I’ll say here that on some level everybody is creative and takes part in creative efforts, whether one is programming or trying to talk down an irate customer. So none of this is a foreign concept to grasp. This extent to which a profession demands pure creativity or the creative process is what I refer to here though.

Now, the tough thing for an artist of any kind (including game developers) is that the aggregate of their work is all out there in the open. It’s a very humbling thing to have one’s passion and good part of self identity exposed like that for all to see and pass judgement on. Contrast this to most human endeavours (and this is not in any way to put them down or pass judgement) where facts, figures, research, development, testing, etc, etc is part of a larger group effort where mistakes, inaccuracies and imperfections can be fairly hidden from general view or may not be attributable to any one person. One can say that this exposed experience is the downside to the upside of praise and adoration that can come from being in the spotlight. Nonetheless, it can be disheartening to see some individuals works needlessly cut down as they can be.

There’s an aweful lot of grumpiness, and I must say that I’ve probably contributed to that from time to time. It’s not a good thing. It would seem that it is certainly mighty easy to pick away at the ‘imperfections.’ That said, the criticism that I appreciate hearing and hope I will use if criticism is even appropriate is tempered in proper context. For example, ‘a small niggling detail that doesn’t much matter..., or the game’s not too fun for me, but may be for you if you like... ’

Fortunately, there is a lot of good in this industry. The designers of these games are truly artists who reach down in themselves through the creative process to carefully craft and mould products that tickle our brains in just the right way. These products, while not always perfect and are open to criticism are, by in large very, very good and are – I believe – getting better. Another part of the goodness are the many, many personalities who bring a lightheartedness and fair consideration to the experience. Tom Vasel and his Optimist series of interviews, for example, celebrate individuals in the industry to bring us a wonderful positive force and reminder of goodness. Aldie pours away at perfecting what, to my mind, has been for some time a truly unbelievable site by any measure. Lots of people have of lots to say on the details of the site, but in context, such fussy matters shouldn’t detract from the standard of excellence that is exhibited here. So much more that I can’t all list here. Certainly, there’s not much one can do to change the tide of ‘attitude’ that can seem to swell up save personal responsibility and consideration for those who put themselves out there. But, for me, I certainly can do well to taper my criticism or provide a more gentler approach from time to time.

...And now and again, I allow myself the right to get grumpy about grumpy.

– mike