Coming Up For Air

gasping for air

I saw the signs for a while before I did anything about them. Playing games out of duty, not just to review them, just to keep up with a steady stream of releases. Releasing that I hadn’t played my favorite games for a couple of years. Trying to get up excitement for game night only to find that it was wearing thin. Looking through a list of releases and feeling only a gaping sense of exhaustion. I was beginning to run out of goodwill for one of my favorite things. I needed to come up for air.

It’s not like I’ve been board gaming for that long. I’m going on about seven years in the hobby. But more and more the basic actions of what I thought I was doing for fun were beginning to take their toll. I don’t have a lot of other hobbies to occupy my time, but it felt like this one was beginning to feel a lot like work. Part of that is something that all board gamers experience. I’ve written before about the “chasing the dragon” feeling that can exhaust anyone. Everyone needs to figure out how they can transition from discovering board gaming to living with it. More than that, it’s just a product of writing about board games. The nature of how I experienced the hobby was becoming endless hassle, a tangle of review copies, articles, and bone-tired responses to commenters.

So I took a break.

Not a very long one, of course. I stopped writing about board games for just a few weeks, to give myself a little time to muster excitement for gaming once again. At some point early on, I realized that it wasn’t really a break from board gaming that I needed. It was a break from talking about board games. Most board gamers live their hobbies online, whether on Board Game Geek, Fortress: Ameritrash, or /r/boardgames. Since I wasn’t writing articles, I found myself with a lot less to say about topics. So I essentially banned myself from every community where I take part.

At first the silence was deafening. I had never realized how much of my engagement with board gaming was wrapped up in online chatter. It was like all of my time had been spent figuring out how to respond to those chowderheads on /r/boardgames who insist that Talisman is a terrible game. Choking back the perfectly crafted responses felt like a betrayal, as if Lady Talisman will be dishonored if I don’t rush to her aid. It went against every fiber of my being to remain silent on debates.

In hindsight it wasn’t a great move to stay silent if I wasn’t also going to stop lurking and reading stuff. But slowly and surely, I found myself doing less of that too. That wasn’t necessarily because I was trying to stay above the rabble and their feeble online discourse, but more because it coincided with something a dry spell in my gaming. Between busy friends and other obligations, I barely had the time to add anything to any conversation. When I managed to get some table-time, I tried my best to make it count. The highlight was surely a seven-player game of Duel of Ages II, though that session where we finally beat the second scenario of Robinson Crusoe was fun too.

Let’s be clear, there is nothing remarkable about unplugging for a few weeks and just enjoying the hobby. It is a singularly unimpressive thing to do. But it surprised me how deep I had gone, how much I let myself be defined by my online presence. If I’m not writing articles every week, if I’m not participating in forum discussions and tracking with future releases, then what am I doing in this hobby? It turns out I just played a few games, and that was about it, which to me felt like a paleolithic way to enjoy gaming. But then it started to feel pretty good.

In just a few weeks I learned a little about myself as a gamer. I learned that I sometimes play games out of obligation. This is especially true of games with lots of regular releases, like living card games and the ilk. If I’m buying something to keep up with a game every other month or so, I feel like I need to play it as often as possible, even if my interest is waning. I discovered that I will almost always play with big groups over small ones. And I learned that when I took a moment to not pay attention to online chatter, my game collection suddenly felt very full, even a little overstuffed.

I’m not totally sure where that leaves me as I come back. It’s not like I learned any kind of earth-shattering revelations during my brief silence. There will of course be more new games to write about, more old ones to revisit, and more discussions in which to participate. But maybe now I’ll remember that all of the keystrokes I’ve banged out over the years, the articles, the posts, the occasional argument, aren’t the essential part of the hobby. It is very obvious on this side of it, but I’m ashamed at how not-obvious it looked to be before. Sometime such perspective doesn’t really do much. It’s just a new filter for how I approach my hobby, and maybe it’ll serve as a small reminder the next time I begin to feel like I’m drowning in discourse.

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