Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Making New Discoveries

 “The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”


I sometimes joke about my “gaming radar” when I discover new products that engage my interest in some aspect of the greater adventure gaming hobby. We each have different strategies for staying on top of gaming news, discovering new releases, evaluating possible purchases, and generally finding new inspirations that fuel our engagement with the hobby (including books and music in particular). Like reconnaissance technologies over the years our means of finding gaming news has changed, become seemingly more efficient, and flooded us with more information to analyze and distill into some effective form. Intelligence-gathering technology evolved from rudimentary radar and sonar to such marvels as satellites, GPS tracking, and lidar. Gamers once relied on magazines and limited personal contacts to gain new information about developments in the hobby; today the internet exposes us to an oft-overwhelming torrent of sources about countless developments in gaming.

When I first immersed myself in the adventure gaming hobby – back in my “Golden Age of Roleplaying” in the early 1980s – our means of obtaining news about new products was limited in a society that still relied heavily on print and broadcast media. With rolepaying games and wargames not yet enjoying the popular interest they enjoy today, coverage in radio and television remained minor; perhaps the best-known exposure being the Dungeons & Dragons animated television series and the infamous 60 Minutes investigation of D&D during the height of the “Satanic Panic.” Like the rest of society that relied on newspapers and periodicals for information, gamers looked to magazines to hear of the latest hobby developments. Dragon Magazine stands out as one of the central news sources for the most popular roleplaying game at the time (and some other games as well). It certainly guided my own exploration of the hobby. In its pages I discovered advertisements for upcoming products, reviews of existing games, and convention listings among the new game resources reviewed, revised, and approved by TSR’s editors. Later I subscribed to the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society and its successor, Challenge Magazine, to broaden my horizons. Gamers also relied on much more personal interactions. I heard of Dragon Magazine from several sources: advertisements in the Basic and Expert D&D boxed sets that started my gaming journey; displays at the local hobby shop; and gaming friends talking about articles in it that inspired them. A trip to the hobby shop always exposed us to something new on the shelves, whether the latest releases or older games that hadn’t yet sold. Here’s where I discovered Avalon Hill wargames, metal miniatures and paints, and non-TSR roleplaying games like Traveller. Occasionally friends talked about new games that interested them, showing off their acquisitions and convincing fellow players to try new things. Conventions proved rare but exciting opportunities to interact with others, experience new games, and purchase resources beyond what the hobby shop offered. Attending PointCon twice at West Point exposed me to wargaming concepts, gave me a chance to talk with game designer guests, and gave me the chance to buy games I’d only read about in Dragon Magazine.

These means of gathering gaming intelligence seem limited in light of today’s technological advancements; but at the time we relied on them to inform and enhance our involvement in gaming. Certainly we still rely on personal interactions – our gaming groups (online or in person), the Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), and conventions – but perhaps the most effective information source, print magazines, have become extinct in the face of the unfathomably vast and immediate internet. (I’ve lamented the passing of gaming magazines before.) I used to subscribe to and receive comp copies of a number of print magazines beyond Dragon: Shadis, Pyramid, and Challenge, come to mind, plus a host of periodicals covering the collectible card game field, and others that came and went so quickly I no longer recall their names. The internet has effectively replaced all their functions: advertising platform, price guide, forum for discussion and debate, and a source of news, reviews, and content.

The vast variety of media available on the internet has supplanted magazines and dominated our game hobby information flow. My mind reels at the number of celebrity “influencers” who’ve risen to prominence primarily through online videos but also through an assertive presence in other areas, from social media platforms to discussion forums, blogs and podcasts. Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon merge promotion, creation, and sales with an interactive experience that engages customers in a novel relationship with designers. We need this vast scope of “gaming radar” because there’s such an exponential increase in material to discover; the internet offers hobby and independent creators a much easier, more accessible platform to publish and distribute their works. All this in addition to the online presence of traditional publishers and new hobby vectors that have emerged, such as the Euro-boardgame market that exploded at the turn of the century. With no central resources like gaming magazines to sift relevant content it sometimes feels like the internet bombards us with information...including news of upcoming games, the “new hotness” trends, and other resources (how-to-play videos, reviews, and other tools to judge if we might enjoy particular game products).

I don’t mean to sound contemptuous of the internet’s dominance of our awareness of hobby developments. I realize I’m somewhat biased against all this deluge of new-fangled internet information, especially given my fondness for the lost art of magazine publishing; in the past I’ve compared the edited content of extinct gaming magazines with the uncurated nature of internet resources. Yet I also understand that, like magazines, I’m an artifact of my time, and I must (begrudgingly) adapt to internet resources for better or worse (and those seem to come in equal doses). Goodness knows I’ve benefited from the increased range of my “gaming radar” it’s provided; it has certainly increased my hobby involvement during the past few years especially with the cautious isolation some of us have endured (some introverts might even daresay enjoyed) during the covid-19 pandemic.

What are some of my own relatively recent discoveries through my modern “gaming radar” that have broadened my horizons? Word of new books about gaming and history – heard from websites, social media chatter, and even searches on Amazon – have helped satisfy my voracious reading appetite, such fare as Roger Moorehouse’s First to Fight: The Polish War 1939, Jon Peterson’s Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, Russell Phillips’ A Strange Campaign: The Battle for Madagascar, the History of Wargames Project’s Paddy Griffith’s Operation Sealion, the reissue of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel novel, Flamesong, and a host of new and classic Osprey military history books (all of which still represents an admittedly small sample). Those same sources as well as Kickstarter and some favorite blogs expanded my wargaming activities with Peter Dennis’ paper soldiers, new games from Worthington Publishing, Neil Thomas’ One-Hour Wargames, period books by Daniel Mersey, new minis from Thoroughbred Figures, Langton Miniatures, and The Viking Forge, and Bob Cordery’s series of Portable Wargame rules. Word of online sales helped me enjoy great deals on gaming materials from GHQ, Battlefront, Osprey Publishing, and Armies in Plastic. Kickstarters and blogs exposed me to new ideas in roleplaying games, from Monte Cooke’s Numenera and Free League’s Tales from the Loop to James Maliszewski’s Thousand Suns, new Tékumel material from him and Dyson Logos, and solo games like Ironsworn and its science fiction successor, Ironforged. I frequently turned to BoardGameGeek to research possible game purchases and watch videos both reviewing games and outlining how to play them. Most of these represent areas I’ve not explored before, or aspects of gaming I enjoy but want to expand.

These stand as only a few examples of how internet gaming intelligence has helped me discover new material to enhance my hobby experience on all fronts. I might not use it to its fullest capacity – I still have little ability or patience to comprehend the procedures required to play online games – but this old dinosaur still has the willingness to try something new in small doses.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Marcus Aurelius

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