Voice in the Crowd

Some of you may be familiar with Rab Florence, who writes a column called Cardboard Children over at Rock Paper Shotgun. Rab is a gifted writer who used to produce a delightful bunch of video reviews in a series called Downtime Town. Anyway, yesterday he posted an article called Change or Die, in which he covered a lot of ground, but mainly wondered about how we promote games to other people, and if we’re really very good at explaining why games are worth caring about in the first place. One section in particular stuck out to me:

When I started writing and making videos about board games, there wasn’t a lot of people doing it. But now everyone is doing it. And we’re all doing it in exactly the same way, and playing to the exact same audiences. We’re all trampling over each other, stepping on each other’s toes, tugging each other’s beards. It’s not healthy, I don’t think.

For whatever reason this particular thought stuck with me. I sometimes fear that people will get tired of reading whatever it is that I am saying about boardgames, particularly if they aren’t gamers. Believe it or not, I write all of this stuff because games are just that important to me. I think  about them a lot and I am actively trying to raise the level of discourse when it comes to this hobby. I’m moderately successful too, at least successful enough to get some attention from publishers, who generously provide review copies, and from F:AT, my tribe so to speak. I have a lot to be thankful for.

But whenever I start to feel like I am some kind of big-shot within the world of game criticism, I remind myself of what Rab wrote above. Everyone has a blog in this hobby. Everyone has an opinion. A curious aspect of boardgaming is that active participation is actively encouraged. I don’t just mean participation in that you should play games, but that everyone seems to feel that their opinions and game ideas are interesting enough to be given a platform. The biggest site about board games exists entirely on user-generated content, and while there’s plenty of good stuff out there, it’s often drowned in a sea of garbage from people writing to simply hear their own voice.

I’ll confide something to you. If I thought I could make a go of writing about board games for a living, I would do that in a heartbeat. I would love to attempt to bring that sense of joy and discovery to everyone I know, to a legion of readers who care as much about this stuff as I do and who want to discuss what it that love says about us. I would dearly love to be the Roger Ebert of board games, in other words. But the truth is that I’m not nearly as special as I think. Even if I were that good (and I’m not), who on earth would want to pay me for that? There are so many people who have something they want to say that to try to stand out might be a fool’s errand.

So why is it even worth my time to do this? I have asked myself this question many times. The best I will probably ever be is a minor success in a backwater hobby. But I keep coming back to this: I really do love boardgames. I love to talk about them in a way that helps us to form better human connections. I love to utilize my writing to elevate that conversation, even if it’s just with the folks at F:AT and the people who read my blog. That’s a pretty good reach in the end. I almost certainly won’t get rich doing this, but at least I’m getting good at it, right?

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3 thoughts on “Voice in the Crowd

  1. I read the same article the other day and thought of you and thought about sending it your way. I enjoy that column because it’s not directed at a board game audience directly, more at gamers new to the idea.

    I for one enjoy your writing and hope you continue to share your thoughts! I feel your voice is unique and worth sharing. so in other words “RIGHT!”

  2. Do what you love, and love what you do, my friend. That’s what matters.

  3. I also saw Florence’s post and am glad to see you commenting in the same vein. I agree that there is a surfeit of boardgaming writing for boardgamers, and that a new class of writer that covers the hobby in a way that draws the merely curious into the pastime would be welcome. I even pitched my local independent weekly on the concept of such a thing. They took a pass on my doing a regular blog, but liked it for a feature.

    As far as your place in the firmament goes, trust that you occupy a small group of able writers who bring a unique circumspection and eloquence to the field. If there’s one thing that can justify writing about boardgames, it’s to gain the craft of examining your gut feelings and forcing yourself to articulate them on the page. It’s not always easy, but for those of us who appreciate the hobby and good writing, no word is wasted. Rock on.

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