Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Gdub, the beeb and us

You've quite likely now heard about, read or watched the recent BBC report on 40K.

We've had comparisons to the Greek article and plenty from a gamer's point of view, but with a former national newspaper editor arrested in the UK yesterday and the Leveson Inquiry on, that seems too shallow. At BoLS eeore said of the BBC look: "It is a hatchet job, it's just more subtle"; I disagree, but I'd say that level of thinking is far more useful.

There's a lot to ponder, but I'll keep it simple. The first thing that stands out for me is the interviewee's claim that: "people fall back into [40K] as as an adult when they realise 'I don't care any more'." But that isn't a reason for return as much as an openness about having done so. So what could those reasons be then? In a recent commment I wrote:

Remember, 40K could now be so deeply a part of the way each of us experiences the world, and the emotional bond so strong after years of reading, modelling, painting and gaming with friends, that few of us can make a clean break.

Hold that thought. The next most outstanding element for me is the response from GW CEO Mark Wells to the claim of price exploitation: "It's just not in our nature," he says.

This from the CEO of a public limited company whose executives, so the journalist tells us, "say they don't do media interviewees". Why not? The two statements feel more like the jumping off point for some fuller investigative journalism than the closure of a thing.

What's the connection? Watching the lawyers at the Leveson Inquiry do what I'd call a rather poor job of questioning Paul Dacre, another UK newspaper editor, I couldn't help but wonder: how do we scrutinise a media that shapes language and mental landscape if we have to use that language itself, appealing to an audience shaped the same way?

How do we keep powerful institutions in check when they form the media which informs us, when we work within them nine to five and spend our free time with their products?

How far can we freely grow into new spaces if pruned any given way at an early age?

Are we trapped today in an imaginative and perceptual loop? Are we doomed to return to the old because we can't make a new, and because we can't articulate why we might?


Minitrol said...

"This from the CEO of a public limited company whose executives, so the journalist tells us, "say they don't do media interviewees". Why not? The two statements feel more like the jumping off point for some fuller investigative journalism than the closure of a thing."

Yes this was interesting and a missed opportunity.

As I said to some other friends bsolutly no reason they couldn't have done an interview or even a press release all large corporates by their nature should have a media spokes person.

Unlike many of the commentators it does not bother me if they increase prices year on year or anything else they do - I am old enough to do what I want - hell even when I started we used to play using forests made of onions (yes... really I should make a blog post on this...)

I think it is a little unfair to say the profit they make is unjustified it is a luxury product after all.

I agree a clean break is very, very tricky. I play 40K once...a year maybe and yet I am still plugging away with my Eldar and building up my skills to tackle a Titan.

One of the commentators stated that it all ties in to the same touch/feel sense that people have had for any craft going back to our fathers building trains - that ability to lose your self in some thing, to bodge, and to happily build a wigwam for a goose's bridle.

Many thanks.

Sidney Roundwood said...

Porky, thanks for the post. I found it very interesting. My very personal view is that I don't take accept that institutions necessarily set the agenda for discussion, or for the development of our hobby. They do have a very significant influence. They prune their products, they inform us of how their games develop, they present their own vision of a universe which compliments those (pruned) products. Sometimes such an influence can be detrimental, or limiting - one possible example being the Sisters of Battle mini-codex in White Dwarf, which was at best a missed opportunity.

More often, however, I think that the influence of institutions opens up new opportunities for our hobby, and for us as gamers. You can look at those opportunities narrowly - such as a new range of figures, a new codex, or the next "bright-shiny", and so on. Or you can look at those opportunities in a far broader context, such as the growth of on-line forums, blogs, novels and other media interpretations of the institution's own captive-universe. These offer the chance of using that captive-universe ourselves, without being continually being shaped by it.

Take Mordheim for example. It's a fine game, with good rules. It was "pruned" a long while back when it was discontinued. But the gaming catalyst, the idea of small gangs roaming a dramatic gaming setting in a campaign system which was perfectly suited to a club or a group of friends, has consistently inspired so much more. I've used the Mordheim rules far more in other periods than I ever have in the City of Mordheim. Each time I've tried to be faithful to the original designer's concept and dark imagery - irrespective of the historical period we've taken the rules to. We've taken landscape of the rules as created, but our enjoyment of those rules has not been shaped by the termination of the product line.

So to answer your questions, I don't think we need to keep powerful (gaming) institutions in check. There's a strong congruence between what such institutions want to do (develop their product through the hobby) and what we, as individual gamers, can benefit from. We can grow freely into new spaces regardless of how the original product is "pruned" - although we should accept (and revel in that fact) that the final product may be consistent only in spirit and inspiration with the original. And we are not trapped in an imaginative and perceptual loop, not least because our hobby is a social one and new opportunities and horizons open constantly as we game with our friends.

Well, that's my view anyway! Thanks again for another great, thoughtful post.

Porky said...

@ Minitrol - Someone at BoLS I think it was suggested they may not give interviews because they may not like the questions, or have answers. Any niche hobby is likely to be hard to explain, and doing so over and over isn't appealing. That said, the questions are big ones, and maybe the biggest have yet to be phrased, and hiding away - if that's what it is - can't easily be seen as a sustainable solution.

The onion idea is a pretty good one, obvious with hindsight, and plenty of other fruit and vegetables could also look quite alien at 28mm. I don't remember ever playing a proper game at ground level in a garden, but that's something that could work, with all the minor elements, details and textures that might usually go unnoticed. At any rate it makes clear that the possibilities beyond official game boards and terrain are possible, and maybe preferable for being more potentially varied.

The products being luxury products is an argument I've heard a fair bit lately. I do worry GW are taking a big risk by moving up the income scale the way they are, in that this does suggest a narrowing of the customer base over time and vulnerability to increasingly small changes. Those who drop off the bottom and move into other ways of playing, other games or other hobbies may come back again in the future, but then GW runs the risk of not being the firm holding the IP when they do, especially if a shrinking customer base means closing stores or dropping the retail network completely, and a spiral downwards. Could also be that the retail network insulates the company to a large extent, and helps keep them below the radar of media companies.

Porky said...

@ Sidney Roundwood - I think we're talking at cross purposes a little. The post itself is less about GW, or gaming, or any single company than the larger issue of whether we - and especially the younger gamers among us - have the tools needed to keep things at least ticking over, to maintain or improve the civilisational features we've managed to achieve, and maybe find us true new. Strength in breadth of knowledge for example, and critical thinking.

The 'pruning' is used not for the products, but for us, to suggest the way those early influences - in this case wargaming or a major wargaming universe, or the tabloid newspaper on the coffee table - could guide us in our early thinking. That's not a suggestion the material is unwholesome - although it may be seen as such of course, depending on the criteria applied by a given indvidual, group or society - simply an acknowledgement that it may need to be complemented more than it is, perhaps in a way that's increasingly impractical with longer working hours, multiplying wants, growing complexity and interconnection, changing standards and perhaps rigour, the unravelling of the postwar compact, the degradation of public goods etc.

To respond to the general point you're making, and using the same example, I would say that Mordheim is a fine game, and worth the revisiting, and clearly a creative gateway. But it is still only one game, one vision, one distillation of the experiences of a relatively small group of people, enjoyed by a larger but still relatively small group. This is true even for behemoths like 40K. As it is for any one universe, any one product, any one firm, any one media outlet at any given time. In that sense the scope for development it offers may have a natural limit, even one reached fairly quickly.

We can give the game to a young adult believing it will keep them off the streets - assuming that's a good thing: streets are after all challenging places and places of challenge - and believing it's more appropriate than another hobby or kind of gaming, and will presumably help develop particular skills. But if the Empire is the primary or sole prism through which a gamer growing up with Warhammer comprehends the history of central Europe, or a 40K player comes to see space marines as heroic in the popular sense of the word, and the entertainment value of fantasy settings in general blots out the desire to understand the real-world influences, and historical processes, we may have cause to worry.

The post is getting at this, but maybe I haven't expressed it too well. There's the rub. Can we express it? Maybe. Can we see the worry of others expressed through the ever-thickening web of intricacy and pressures? Maybe. Can we then find the means and the time to understand, to reach out? Well, maybe, but it's getting trickier. Can we then agree what fine adjustments might be needed, in a public space that seems ever more aggressively divided? Can we make them?

Dave G said...

When I read that article, it made me wonder when they were going to do a follow up about all the adults who waste their time donning sports jerseys and playing fantasy teams.

Porky said...

And why not. There's so much that needs only a step back or a slightly different perspective to look absurd. Habit can set things solid.