Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Discussing terms (1) - Beer and pretzels
Since I started keeping up with the hobby online, I've come across plenty of terms and trends in language use I'd never seen before. Many of the regional differences and the markers of a different approach are a source of interest and pleasure. Unfortunately not all of them. The language of violence sometimes gets a bit out of hand for example.
I'm not especially thin-skinned or prudish, but I do think that we underestimate the power of words. I'll mention George Orwell here yet again, for his Newspeak. If you haven't already thought about it, I'd say take a good look and consider how the concept applies to us. For argument's sake, I'm going to play devil's advocate occasionally and be a pedant about hobbyspeak. Those who know Porky know this side of him well.
For now I want to tackle something small, to give a taste of what language can do. The subject then is inspired by the podcast mentioned in a recent post, which reminded me of the term. It's 'beer and pretzels', as in 'beer and pretzels game', applied to many of the simpler games we might enjoy. The issue is this, that while I'm sure there are some players who drink beer and eat pretzels while playing, I don't, and I'll bet a lot of you don't either. When it comes to the beer, many younger readers probably shouldn't. The term clearly excludes them, even if in practice it only makes them want in all the more. In that beer and pretzels are not part of everyone's approach to the hobby, the term may create a division, into a perceived beer-drinking, pretzel-munching them and a differently-consuming us. (Bear with me here - this post may at times seem a very silly ride.)
Just as an aside, I'm not against beer. Not by a long chalk. However, some people are - and rightly so - or have just had less than pleasant experiences with it. I accept that beer “provokes the desire” as Macbeth has it (in a scene also rather out of place), and I'd even rebut the qualification “it takes away the performance” - the mechanics of some games might be helped by a little less sobriety. I'd be glad to try a game like this. But I personally do prefer as full an appreciation of the mechanics and course of a game as possible: the 'beer' in 'beer and pretzels' is simply not a part of my experience.
I'm also not against pretzels in any way shape or form, though they can be a little dry.
The idea of beer and pretzels, for those of us who don't partake, may also interfere with other associations with games loved or remembered fondly. I'm thinking here especially of the early days of Games Workshop and the mental atmosphere the studio then radiated, summed up for me by ongoing references to tea and especially biscuits in the pages of the White Dwarf of the time. (The most recent reference I've spotted came up in the Dark Eldar designers' videos, specifically at the end of the fifth; how I feel about the Dark Eldar is a subject for another day, but that brief mention saw the positive feeling at its peak.) For me then, to call any GW game a beer and pretzels game – though not necessarily wrong as a classification – is to contradict its origins.
By extension, there is a wider point. Games originating in different circumstances and played at different stages of life by different groups are also potentially affected by the term. It may be that a part of your identity rests on eating certain foods or drinking certain liquids while you play. Takeaway pizza and cola for example. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with milk. Playing a long-enjoyed game may keep you in touch with a more innocent version of yourself and allow you to express that innocence in a way that you cannot in other areas of life. 'Beer and pretzels' may well be drowning this out.
We do need a term, if only because the mental category now exists. But to use a standard is restrictive. It has the potential to colour perceptions, interfere with memories and limit expression. The internet has enormous potential to standardise the way we speak, and so arguably how we think, but only if we are passive users. If we are, the community will eventually shrink to a single major focus, a single direction, and that can't be good for us as individuals or members of a local group. But the opposite is clearly also true. We can use the internet to express individual and local identity and enrich each other's worldview, make the hobby more diverse and vibrant than it already is.
So lets brighten the place up a bit. I'll start using 'tea and biscuit game' and I advise you to choose your own expression. Perhaps you'll go with 'takeaway pizza and cola game', or maybe something I and others would never expect. Anyone who does enjoy beer and pretzels with a game should go right on using their term as if nothing has changed - as if you need anyone to tell you. It's obviously not the beer and pretzel lovers that are the problem, but the community as a whole, all of us who accept a standard without thought for the effect on ourselves and others. Equally, the idea is not to create any new standard – that's clearly not going to happen and shouldn't – but to offer a free choice.
Anyone else noticed food becoming a theme here?
If you're suddenly hungry, Cook and Enjoy.