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.

19 comments:

b.smoove said...

PB and J with milk -it's much better than a sharp stick in the eye.

From time to time, the wife has been kind enough to bake us a batch or two of cookies while we play. They're not biscuits, but I think the connection sits much closer to your idea than a few ales.

Entertaining post.

Dave said...

At the moment it's a Becks and KitKat game for me because that's what sits behind Maelstrom's Bar. ;)

Porky said...

@ b.smoove - All sounds good to me, very good in fact. I was and still am expecting a little negative feedback, but I'm taking 'entertaining' at face value!

@ Dave - If Becks is beer (!) I could be off in my numbers - beer drinkers are 50% of respondents! Two comments is too small a sample I suppose (fingers crossed). The Maelstrom sounds like a hospitable venue - a gaming club meeting place with food and drink actually on the premises!

The Angry Lurker said...

Coke and pringles with a spam and pickle sandwich chaser at our games.Good post.

Porky said...

That doesn't sound half bad either. The game could easily get forgotten!

Lord Gwydion said...

I suppose Korean gamers would have 'soju and kimbap games' (soju being a Korean alcohol similar to a half-strength vodka, kimbap being sushi rolls).

Personally, I enjoy a beer or two while gaming, but usually snack on potato chips (crisps to the U.K. folks) rather than pretzels.

Papa JJ said...

I won't stand for these warrantless attacks against the pretzel! Enough with your incessant pretzel-bashing... but otherwise this was a very enjoyable article, Porky! I actually can't remember ever eating pretzels while gaming, perhaps I should give it a try to see what all the fuss is about. ; ) Thank you for brining your 'tea and biscuits' gaming to the internet, it's great getting your perspective on things.

kelvingreen said...

Tea. Gallons of it. And possibly a slice of cake.

Porky said...

@ Lord Gwydion - Then those Korean gamers have a good riposte to my downplaying of beer - starting at 20%!

@ Papa JJ - I can't remember if I ever have either - maybe no one eat pretzels when gaming? Could the whole 'beer and pretzels' thing just be the work of a creative snack food manufacturer?

@ kelvingreen - Or three. Now you're really talking.

b.smoove said...

By all means, I enjoyed the post tremendously. Apologies for the ambiguity.

Porky said...

@ b.smoove - No need to apologise! I was taking a pre-emptive swipe at myself for writing what I thought would be a controversial post. I just wasn't especially clear about it. In fact, I apologise for my ambiguity!

Von said...

I'm sure this is an inactive entry now, but I wanted to make a semi-facetious remark about wanting to refer to diceless roleplaying games as Jaffa Cake games from this point onwards - there is certainly an Association there for me, which I gather to be the point of selecting an alternative foodstuff?

Porky said...

No worries. No entry ever really goes inactive, especially now with the most recent comments showing up at top right. I'm actually surprised by how much activity there is deeper inside the blog and I'm always happy to come back to a topic. This one more than most - reading it again now makes me feel like a snack! Food is a good topic.

As for the suggestion and question, unless there's a joke here I can't spot, you're spot on. The point is to show how other gamers enjoy the hobby, and give a sense of the diversity, maybe even a deeper understanding of what it's all about.

You've reminded me this is supposed to be part of an ongoing series. About time I got on with it.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I guess for us it began as Pop and Pizza at younger ages and has become Beer and Subs later in life. Sometimes chips accompany a game, but grease = bad, so it's usually beer all day while gaming and an early afternoon break for subs. We just play casually so we don't worry about the negative side effects. (We don't get wasted though, just happy :)

Jedediah said...

My first Vampire group was a cherry juice with vanilla ice and a dash of whiskey-game. In the summer, we added watermelons (um, not to the drink). It's a bit weird when you're playing vampires and everybody is sitting around making those sucking noises you can't avoid when eating a watermelon. I was always reminded of Terry Pratchett's Vampire Watermelons. They suck back.

My current Cthulhu group is very much a cola and M&Ms groups. But not Coca Cola, Fritz Kola which has way more caffeine than Cola or Pepsi. Talk about hyperactivity. If I'm in the mood, I bake Cthulhu muffins (green dough, lemon taste) or cookies (I have an octopus cookie cutter for that very purpose).

Porky said...

I've just eaten, but I'm feeling hungry again.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - Yep, grease is a real no-no. I'll admit to loving food breaks, and that kind is a good kind. Re the beer, it's hard to argue with happy!

@ Jebediah - That's a funny idea - roleplaying vampires with real sucking, and red liquid and flesh..! I haven't got to the vampire watermelons yet, and almost want to string the reading out for as long as I can. Tailoring food to game is a cool idea and bears more thinking about; plenty of potential there. Wow. Art, books, roleplaying and you bake. Cthulhu muffins and tentacled cookies even...

Jedediah said...

One day, I'm going to make Igor Bars and watch everyone in the group go into a diabetic coma.

I dread the day when there will be no more Pratchett novels. But I really hope that no-one else ever will continue the series, like it happened to the Hitchhiker's Guide. To be fair, I haven't read the new Hitchhiker, so I can't say if it's any good, but I just don't like the idea very much.

Von said...

The new HitchHiker... it's like rather bland fanfiction, in which an author tries too hard to imitate the style of the source material, in which no character does anything that they haven't done before, and which is by and large a tissue of back-references held together with stock plots. I'm not keen.


There's no joking about the Jaffa Cakes. Jaffa Cakes are serious business. The more I think about it, too, the more I realise that Mage, Von-style, is most definitely a rose-wine-and-stir-fry game; as much a metaphysical argument and dining experience as it is any sort of roleplaying, particularly with the substantial abolition of dice. I'm not suggesting every Mage should run like that, but I've quite enjoyed it. Also, how have I not yet noticed that Mage is an anagram of Game? Hmm. There has to be something I can make out of that...

Jedediah said...

Mage will always be connected to peanut butter in my mind. When our gamemaster asked us to come up with a motto for our chapter, someone jokingly suggested "Everything tastes better with peanut butter" and we started singing that to the melody of What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor. It was not the most productive moment of the session, but the motto became an instant inside joke.

You're the third person I've heard/read comparing Hitchhiker 6 to fan fiction in the bad sense of the word. "I'm not keen" pretty much sums it up for me.