Tuesday, November 20, 2018

We Are More than A Blurb

Humans love blurbs, especially in this age dominated by electronic devices constantly vying for our attention. To me a “blurb” can be any short bit that offers a brief summary of something: a news story, a company overview, a teaser for a book, a game description. It offers enough information to garner our interest and invites us to learn more...but usually we make a mental note of the blurb and move on to more pressing matters in lives with too much to do and not enough time. Often we overlook something quite worthwhile. In many cases – especially regarding other people – we should take the time to stop, look, and learn beyond the blurb.

Gamers need blurbs, too. Tell me about your character: “He’s a dwarven troll-slayer with a battle axe and crossbow,” “She’s an Old Senatorial from Wroona who’s a little awkward with all this Rebellion stuff, but can still summon her courage in a pinch,” “Woof.” Tell me about that game you just bought: “It’s a solitaire worker-placement game with cool dice and a space exploration theme,” “Victorian miniatures skirmish game,” “Roleplaying in a darkly humorous dystopian future run by Your Friend the Computer.” What games are you running at the upcoming convention...just look in the online Preliminary Events Listing (PEL), it’s full of blurbs describing games.

Unfortunately this “blurb mentality” also helps us describe other real-life humans. Like stereotypes, this provides an easy means of summarizing the known aspects of a single, complex person from the perspective of someone who just sees a few of those at any given time. Sometimes these blurbs key into what people to do for a living, with the appropriate connotations: “He works for Goldman Sachs,” “She’s a third-grade teacher,” “Pete’s just a Stay at Home Dad.” Sometimes they identify the person as belonging to a particular “tribe,” a sad yet constant side effect of our society that still, despite all its civilized trappings, depends on tribalism to define its elements: “He belongs to the Church of All Worlds,” “She’s a Democrat,” “He’s opposed to removing that statue of General Robert E. Lee.” It’s nicer when people note non-professional, non-tribal affiliations: “We take yoga classes together,” “He runs games at the library,” “He was at that live music event at the winery.” Usually we hear a combination of these types of blurbs...and they never quite fully appreciate all the complex aspects of a person. They function as descriptors, inviting us to catalog them in our mental roster of people we know (and things we know about them) in case we have occasion or motivation to get to know them better. Much like the blurb on a book jacket, it offers a cursory glimpse of what’s inside and an invitation to explore if we’re interested; but we can never know unless we actually accept that invitation and read the book.

For my first job – fresh out of a liberal arts college with a creative writing degree – I worked for the local, weekly newspaper in my hometown. Among my many duties was handling obituaries, slightly more comprehensive blurbs that commemorate one’s passing from existence. Most of the information came on forms faxed from the local funeral home, though sometimes relatives submitted more information or we called next of kin for additional details. They followed a particular format I found quite remarkable when I look at obituaries from other newspapers, perpetually short on space (or bandwidth and server memory these days). They started with the standard notes (birth, death, parents, residence) and ended with the usual list of survivors and funeral arrangements. But in between those formalities our weekly paper tried to offer a brief picture of what these people had done with their lives: where they worked, which organizations they belonged to, when they served in the military, what their signature achievements were. These served – and continue to serve, as I read even today – as brief windows into a people’s lives. They cannot provide as complete a picture as having been involved in their lives, but they’re more complete than a simple label, a blurb, what we’d see in the headline, something like “John Smith, 54, IBM Executive,” or “Jane Jones, 87, Teacher.” Too often I read – and continue reading – about people I knew and some I didn’t whom I would have liked to have known better.

I sometimes wonder how folks will remember me when the atoms in my body cease to form the “Schweig” configuration (if they bother to remember my fleeting presence and mediocre, ephemeral accomplishments at all). “Yeah, he wrote some Star Wars game stuff for West End.” “That was the guy who rejected my article.” “Remember that scenario he ran where my character...?” I’m a bit more than all that...everyone is. Some folks know I’m a husband and father, a cat person, a game designer, a history aficionado, someone who likes to celebrate his German-American heritage. I think about my paltry game-creation achievements, my friends and family, and hopefully the joy I’ve brought to others by introducing them to and playing adventure games. I take heart that I’ve been involved in some richly fulfilling aspects of people’s lives to some small degree.

I don’t run games at conventions too often these days, my duties as a father pressing me into my “player” roll. But when I did, I often wondered about the people gathered around the gaming table. Who are they beyond the gamer identity they bring to the convention? What does the guy who always tries to ruin the scenario do for a living? Does the person who leads the group have kids? What about her life makes this woman play surly Wookiees so well? Why do they come here to play the games they play? Each person is a whole and complex multi-layered individual, far more than I’ll ever experience at the gaming table. Now and then I’ve gotten to know gamers a little better. Sometimes it’s just remembering a name and a face (I’m terrible at that to begin with), where they’re from, and which of my pre-generated convention scenario characters they like playing most (it’s often the dog from Heroes of Rura-Tonga...). Other times it’s hearing about what they do for a living – a lamentable fact of society in America, immediately judging each other by what we do to earn money – or worse yet, that they’ve lost a job or had other difficulties in their lives. Other times it’s celebrating upon hearing that they’ve overcome challenges: finding a new job, getting married, having children, overcoming disability and illness, finding contentment with life. The best are when we can simply relax over drinks or a meal and get to know each other in greater depth.

As we descend into the abject chaos of the holiday season, take the time to get to know someone beyond the “blurb” of who you think they are. Take the time to appreciate the people whose work you admire, encourage those whose work shows promise, take the time to say thanks. Our atoms remain bound in this configuration for only so long. We don’t know how long, so make the most of our time. Be excellent to each other. Play. Rejoice. Game on.

A Litany of Thanks

I would be remiss in failing to offer thanks for the many blessings I enjoy in life. So here’s a host of things for which I’m thankful:

* A wife who loves, supports, and indulges me...and built me a space bar in the basement next to the wargaming table....

* An intelligent son who enjoys my games and geeky pursuits and is just developing a shared interest in history.

* A stable home, the means to live and find fulfillment in life, the necessities (and a few luxuries) to navigate life.

* Many friends, acquaintances, and fans who have supported and encouraged my game work.

* Many creators who have – through their work and/or friendship – inspired, entertained, and uplifted me. They are too many to mention here, but Frequent Readers have seen their names noted in past Hobby Games Recce pieces.

* The mindfulness to stop, reflect, and acknowledge those aspects of my life in the past, present, and future worthy of gratitude, lest I take them for granted. And the awareness that I must work to help others less fortunate who seek a safe, peaceful, and meaningful existence in this world.

Those looking for my past, more traditional missives on Thanksgiving can check these out:

* “Living Thanks