Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Why Gamers Get Games “On the Table”

Lewis Pulsipher has recently asked why gamers talk about how they’re going to “get the game to the table.” Can’t people just say that they played it? Why is that so hard…?

Look, we always speak euphemistically about things that are distasteful. People don’t die, they just… pass away. I love that phrase– it’s just so delicate… so devoid of pain or suffering. It’s wispy almost. Another one is when you ask people if they’re seeing somebody. This sort of thing reminds me of the southern women I knew as a child that would never curse. They had gobs of substitutes and alternatives. Thanks to Jerry Lee Lewis, everyone probably knows “goodness gracious.” Entire comedy sketches have been done on “bless your heart,” of course. The strangest one I can remember is one I’ve never heard anywhere else: “I swannie!” It’s like a mutilated version of “I swear.” Am I the only one that’s heard that one? (I seriously doubt that it has anything to do with the Suwannee River.)

My theory is… that the kind of people that have the most influence on the way we talk about games are vaguely uncomfortable with this playing thing. Maybe “play” is kind of a kid’s thing to these people. Maybe they want to pretend that what they’re doing is qualitatively different somehow– that’s why they go in for all these totemic wooden bits and game boxes with scowling Europeans on them. Or maybe… they are really keen on collecting games and treating them like some sort of junk bond or something. Or maybe they are so obsessed with getting the game packed away correctly– everything in its place, Pandemic cubes in petri dishes, Ogre garage proportioned correctly to accommodate all present and future expansions– that playing the thing is really just an afterthought.

Or maybe it’s that the playing a game well is just so dang much work. Comprehending the rules is almost impossible before the first play. You’re liable to be botching something crucial even after five plays. Organizing sessions is too often a major headache. And how many people can walk away from the cares of the world long enough to actually give a game their full attention? I can’t remember a session outside of the convention scene that didn’t have at least one person picking up their cell phone mid-game and pleading with a spouse for more time– usually just about the time that things were starting to get good!

You put it all together and it is vaguely distasteful. By the time you learn the game, get it punched out and properly sleeved, find some people to play it with, deal with people people’s impossibly conflicting schedules, and then finally get it out and running only to have someone brazenly announce that they’re not going to play it again because a significantly better game for that particular niche has just come out… well at that point you’re going to need some euphemistic phrases if you’re going to talk about this in mixed company. Especially when someone flaunts your “no open containers rule” and spills a Coke all over your classic board game. Oh my goodness… oh my goodness!

Besides… “on the table” is just such a nice low bar. It’s completely nonthreatening. There’s nothing in it about actually having fun. There’s nothing in it about playing well or mastering the game. There’s nothing in it about even actually getting it played all the way to the end. You just… need… to… get it on the table. That’s it. You’re not even on the hook for playing by the rules. You can handle that, can’t you? Sure you can…. You can almost feel the stress dissipating as we carefully talk around that uncouth word.

So remember: the table’s the thing.

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2 responses to “Why Gamers Get Games “On the Table”

  1. Lewis Pulsipher July 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Well, fascinating speculations. I think for some people it’s a (bad) habit they picked up from others. I also suspect it’s a phrase only used by BGG types. I’ve certainly never heard it locally. Perhaps it’s another bit of jargon, a different way of speaking meant to identify yourself as part of a particular group.

    • jeffro July 25, 2013 at 8:46 am

      At least gamers don’t correct people I can’t stand it that “cavers” come down on people that use the word spelunker… and now, hipsters refuse to use the media-generated term “break-dancing” in favor of a half dozen regional names. Ah well… if you need me, I’ll be listening to my Herbie Hancock records….

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