Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Dice Tower #77: Interview with WHO?!

It's a little weird to find an episode of the popular gaming podcast The Dice Tower subtitled "Interview With Mark Jackson." Even weirder is to realize that Tom & Sam waited until the very end of the podcast to feature my interview... either they were saving the best for last (yeah, right) or they were trying to put it in the last 10 minutes slot (where every bad SNL sketch gets buried).

So, with either hubris or humility, I want to add these notes to the things I said. (Hey, you'll probably want to listen to the podcast before you read the rest of this... check it out at The Dice Tower. Or don't.)

On the whole question of "how do people respond to me being a pastor AND a gamer?":

  • props to Jon Pessano, the guy who uttered the immortal line, "And you call yourself a pastor!" after being hosed over in Rette sich wer kann
  • my congregation doesn't seem to be bothered a bit about my gaming... in fact, we had about 20 folks for a Family Game Night a few weeks ago
  • over time, the most vehement questions I've had about my gaming have been in regards to fantasy-based themes, rather than games themselves

And then, Tom brought up the Christian board game question

  • I sat here for a few minutes, thinking about printing a retraction - or at least a softening - of my comment that the Christian subculture has a tendency to create junk... but given a few minutes to think & pray about my response, I think it's spot on. For every work of brilliance (the art of Thomas Blackshear or the music of Derek Webb & Andrew Peterson) there's a truckload of insipid, uninspired crapola that is unloaded on people because they think these trinkets will work as "witnessing tools." (More on that in a minute.)
  • That goes double for my comment that "every subculture creates merchandise that cater to the subculture" - and I then proceeded to call Trekkies "Trek fans", which means that I am now banned from ever making the Vulcan sign & saying "Live long & prosper" again.
  • Some other subcultures - Whedon-ites, comic book fanboys, American Idol watchers, atheists, Catholics, lovers of hemp & the byproduct thereof, etc... look, there's no limit. Find a group of people with shared beliefs & practices... and you'll find someone trying to make a profit of them by exploiting their beliefs.
  • I checked out a couple of our local Christian bookstores on Black Friday - and browsed their game sections. With the exception of some re-themed party games (Outburst, Apples to Apples, etc.) and Carcassonne: Ark of the Covenant, it's pretty much schlock-y Bible trivia games. Sigh.
  • I wandered off on one of my favorite podcast tangents: it's OK for companies to make money re-theming games. The audience for NASCAR Monopoly is not the same market as the folks who'll snap up copies of Caylus or Age of Steam.
  • I also touched on the inherent problem of reconciling Christian character & mores (compassion, kindness, gentleness, unity) with the typical structure of games. I didn't do a very good job of explaining that problem in regards to race games - esp. since many of the schlock-y games you see in Christian bookstores are race games. So, let me give it another shot: there is a difference between designing a standard roll'n'move race game (roll the dice, spin the spinner, answer a question to get a bonus) and creating an innovative race game with true interaction between players. That kind of interaction almost always involves some kind of direct negative play against another player - which doesn't "feel" Christian.

In a related question, Tom asked me if a game's theme can go "too far" and therefore shouldn't be played. I'm afraid that I may have sounded more spindoctor-ish than I intended here... so, let me try again.

  • Everybody has a belief system of some sort, which includes ethical & moral considerations.
  • If a game (or a movie or a book or whatever) violates those beliefs, you should not - if you want to stay true to your belief system - partake of it.
  • Just because something does not fit your ethical or moral schema does not mean it should be outlawed for everyone else.
  • Therefore, people are going to play games I think are morally reprehensible... I am under no obligation to play them nor are they under any obligation to avoid them because of my beliefs.

I also mentioned that I don't believe that Christianity is NECESSARILY a pacifistic religion... and then I referenced the idea of a "just war." I won't go any deeper into the theological side of that, but I think it's worth reading deeply on before you dismiss the idea.

The next topic was starting a game group in your church:

  • Here I waxed "pastoral" for a minute and asked people to check in with the leadership of their church. (Can you sense some frustration over my 20+ years of ministry with "surprise" events & programs?)
  • I also talked about how knowing your purpose (who are you trying to reach, insiders or outsiders?) helps define where you will meet, how you will be structured & what games you might play.
  • Finally, I gave my standard "don't abuse your freedom" blurb regarding board games - just because I have the freedom in Christ to play Fury of Dracula doesn't mean that the graphics & theme wouldn't really bother some of the folks in my church. So, I choose not to flaunt those kinds of games at church events... but I don't hide them in a closet, either.

I got asked about the Apples Project... and pretty much everything I said there is on the Apples Project blog, which you should be reading anyway.

But Tom took us an interesting direction when he noticed that not only do the winners not match his votes most of the time (he he he) but they don't match the CW (conventional wisdom), either. I remarked on some reasons I thought that was true:

  • For those of us who are long-time players (I started playing AH wargames nearly 30 years ago & bought my first "Euro" nearly 20 years ago), the newest games don't seem quite as shiny as the old games did when we first discovered them.
  • As well, with a lot of long-time gamers on the Apple Pickers list, it's more likely that OOP (out of print) games will show up that aren't well known to the general public.
  • At this point, I tried to be culturally relevant by mentioning late 80's U2 ("Van Diemen's Land", anyone?) and Nirvana... I understood my point, but I'm not sure anyone else did.
  • And, yes, there probably is a bit of "choose odd things just to confound the masses" - but that's more likely to go on in the nomination process rather than the voting.

The interview concluded with Tom asking me to choose between Lost Cities & Balloon Cup...

  • No, Sam, Tom did not prompt me or cut out any of the interview... I'd listened to The Dice Tower's previous episode.
  • They are both great games, btw... some of the best 2 player/30 minute games on the market.
  • I mentioned The One Hundred blog... go check it out. Stephen Glenn (the designer of Balloon Cup) polled a group of serious gamers on their 15 favorite games - and what came out was a top 100 list that was a lot of fun.
  • OK, Sam, you were right. I listened to the show again and you called it a "glorified Racko", not simply Racko. Either way, you're wrong. See, it's NOT Racko... and if it's "glorified", the best definition of the word is "canonized". He he he...

BTW, Tom originally interviewed me via e-mail last year - you can read the whole thing right here.


Sam Healey said...

Alright, Mark...I can see your point of view, and if you'd like we can continue shouting "You're wrong!" at each other until we're both blue in the face. However, since I feel that that isn't going to be the case, I will simply agree that we diagree. I mean, you have every right to believe the way you do concerning the LC vs. BC debate...and as such, you also have the right to be wrong...:)

Until next time...Sam.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Ah, but baiting you is so much fun, Sam. :-)

Anyways, I figure we'll be on opposite sides of the Heroscape v. Warhammer 40K debate as well.

Thanks for the podcast you guys do... and thanks for letting me be on it.