Thuloid Speaks: Non-Gaming – A Primer for the Disinterested, Lethargic and Inert

Greetings, O House. You may gather from the title that I have not been gaming overmuch in recent days. The bundle of responsibilities, obligations, demands, neuroses and (repressed) desires that constitutes the existence of a Thuloid has not been altogether friendly to hobbying. Surely work is part of that, if you call what a Thuloid does “work,” rather than, say, a special kind of misanthropic performance art. Also to blame is the rapid inflation of Mrs. Thuloid’s midsection and the concurrent acquisition of vast piles of mysterious brightly-colored objects in the living room. (Seriously, what is all this shit? Will I learn, or is parenthood simply descent into an undifferentiated maelstrom of incomprehension?) This evening involved something called a “birthing class,” though I am now no closer to successfully birthing anything than I was before.

This might help, if only I played magic.

Today’s post, then, will examine an experience intimately tied to our gaming yet rarely recognized as belonging to it: non-gaming. I take non-gaming to mean the process of not gaming at all, when considered in relation to gaming.

This is a little bit complicated, so I’ll try to say it a different way. Imagine you were no kind of gamer (a horrible thought, I know, but bear with me). You would go about your day, doing all the things your kind does, presumably without playing games at all. This is not non-gaming. Now consider that you, the gamer, do all of those things as well–but when you do them, you might do them in the palpable absence of gaming, as a felt lack of game. They might be the things you do to avoid a game, or the things you would like to avoid in order to game, but cannot. Thinking about the game but not playing, considering how you will paint figures without painting them, moving miscellaneous gaming materials about without doing anything productively gamesome with them–these belong to non-gaming. Non-gaming only exists for the gamer, and is the necessary flipside of the gaming life.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (I said he’d be back) once remarked that he considered including in the preface to his famed Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus a statement to the effect of, “This work consists in two parts: everything that is said here, and everything that isn’t.” Take the relation between gaming and non-gaming as a rough analogy to that. Capisce? Good. Or rather, I hope not, else you’re as crazy as I am.

Several piles just like this one. More than two months to go yet. Sanity dwindling.

So the problem is this: we mean to game, but we don’t. Or we think we mean to game, but we don’t–it’s quite possible that we don’t game precisely because we don’t want to game. The human will is a funny thing, inasmuch as we are doomed to do exactly as we please.

In my case, I think about painting some small plastic men. And then, while thinking, I boot up Diablo III. In no case do I actually venture into the terrifying wasteland that is my study/ hobby area. If I did that, I’d have to move things, adjust the lighting, probably clean up a bit. I’d have to consider moving some books off the floor, which means thinking about moving them into my office, which means thinking about when my office is getting painted, and whether we’re going to sell that old building, and how long I’ll still have that job after the sale goes through.

This is where the magic doesn’t happen.

The trouble, of course, is that I would like to game to relax. But when the game leads my mind back to work, I avoid the game. Instead, I don’t game while trying to motivate myself to game. Diablo III (or, as this morning, Medieval 2: TW) is less a game for me than a nervous tic. It is the introvert becoming maximally introverted, so much so that the virtual world of the screen is easier to handle than the unyielding physical reality of miniature and paint. Some hobbyists may paint easily–for me, it takes a strange amount of courage, as I live in the anticipation that each stroke of the brush could be a horrible mistake.

The same goes for actually playing games with other people. I talk and think about games rather readily. Yesterday afternoon I had a marvelous conversation with a friend back in Minnesota regarding the scarcity of pitched battles and the frequency of sieges and skirmishes in most historical warfare. I play the games slightly less readily. The interpersonal side of that is enjoyable, but takes a certain emotional effort–as does just gathering all the materials together and getting them to the proper location.

In all of the above cases, structure is my friend. When the study is clean and organized, the hard work is already done, and I can relax a bit (only a bit–relaxation and Thuloid have a genuinely strained relationship) while painting. Similarly, I need regular, scheduled “gaming nights”, when I know I will have an opponent and must have miniatures and list in tow. This leads to a new understanding of what gets in the way of my gaming. It isn’t, usually, that I literally have no time–but that my carefully constructed gaming habits have been disrupted, and I haven’t yet mustered the emotional energy to rebuild them.

For no reason at all, except that I own this game, and now must take more steps to play it. Is a review in the works?

Disruption can actually become its own pattern, and make getting back into the game harder than seems reasonable. For the first time in months I was able to show at X-Wing night (now on Wednesdays, theoretically better for me) this past week–and was called away by work within ten minutes of arrival. I’m glad it had only been a few months. At this point I’m hesitant to show at the local Warhammer club on Thursday nights because it’s probably been six months or more since I’ve been. I feel slightly embarrassed when I think about going. The fact that I haven’t been gaming has become, oddly, an obstacle to gaming–not unlike the hesitance to call up an old friend when you feel you’ve been inattentive to the relationship.

Non-gaming, then, is the shadow side of gaming. It is the entropy that threatens to swallow all gaming endeavors. A game is organized play, and that organization is of one piece with the structure that allows me to play and not simply dream of playing. Cleaning and organizing my study isn’t just the price I must pay to play games–it’s an unrecognized part of the game. This should be obvious to those of us who play games for which we manufacture our own game pieces–if painting miniatures is part of our game, then so is putting them back in the box when we’re done playing. Will that observation help any of us to get off our asses and game? I hope so.

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