Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Irrepressible Conflict

I took a break from the Appendix N series this week to do a review of one of my favorite games:

REVIEW: Space Empires 4X

I was intending to just sort of throw something together– several of the past few posts I’ve done at Castalia, I start off thinking, “okay… this is the one where’ll I’ll let myself hit the topic with a thousand words and then just quit.” But I don’t quit. Not yet, anyway. To say everything that I think ought to be said if I’m going to bother to bring something up in a weekly post, it sure does look like I don’t have much chance of getting out of it with less than two thousand words anymore…. Dunno why that is. Maybe the buffer size in my brain has shifted up a notch. Maybe if you’re writing for a slightly more diverse audience than just hard core gamers you end up having to explain yourself a bit more. But there it is.

But just because I take a break from Appendix N, it doesn’t mean I get a break from it. We now have a minor flame war spinoff:

From the RPGPundit: Screw “Appendix N”!

From Save Versus All Wands: Screw “Appendix C”!

My take on this kerfuffle is that it is no different than, say, Mrs. Grundy hearing someone pontificating about the history of fantasy and science fiction… and she has not read any of those sorts of books…  she doesn’t know anything about them… but she’s hearing what sounds to her like someone that’s gotten too big for their britches… and she has to come over and take this guy down a peg because there’s just  no way. These are the actions of a prude, a killjoy, and an ignoramus. This is someone that doesn’t have the capacity to listen. This is someone that has no clue how learning or the human mind actually operates in practice.

Because if you pick up, say, The Lord of the Rings and all you see is magic, monsters, and adventure… then you are either very, very young or else you are a profoundly incurious person. It wasn’t a consortium of English teachers that declared Tolkien to be the Author of the Century. How do you explain his enduring appeal? What happened to his more “intellectual” critics? What was up with his lifelong battle with the Oxford English Dictionary? How can that even be a thing?! Doesn’t everyone come away from the work with questions like this?

This is sort of like the question of whether or not you can learn history from war games. Now… Lewis Pulsipher has a doctorate. I forget all the time because he lets everyone call him “Lew.” But he  actually knows a little bit about history and will just scoff at the idea. But I can tell you that after playing his game Britannia, my ears suddenly perk up at the mention of anything related to British history. Hadrian’s wall was just some old monument before… but now when I see an article about it, it means something to me that it didn’t before. Reality is more interesting than it was before. Facts are more savory. I know there’s something really awesome here that I don’t know anything about. And I want to change that. No, this isn’t a history education. But by golly, it’s a darn good start to one. The subject is no longer an abstract chore, but an actual appetite.

I’ll tell you one thing, though. Mrs. Grundy is more than just a run-of-the-mill bitch. Whatever education should be, whatever it used to be, whatever it ought to be… it sure went to hell on her watch. The basic profile of her actions and behaviors seems to indicate that she is at war with anyone that deigns to try rebuild. So what if an intellectual journey begins with games or fiction or even comic books?! She wants to cut people like me off at the knees. When she taught public school, she could have used examples from baseball and basketball in order to keep little Johnny interested in math. It’s like it would be demeaning to her to ever take into account what actually motivates a little kid. Well good job there, Mrs. Grundy. You made yourself feel real smart while you arbitrarily humiliated a kid you were responsible for.

Sure, reading Appendix N doesn’t do anything for me if I want to be perceived as “cool” at one of Mrs. Grundy’s cocktail parties. Well look… not only was I not invited, but I don’t want to go in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, Mrs. Grundy can stuff it.


11 responses to “The Irrepressible Conflict

  1. dgarsys November 4, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Ya can quote me if you like.

    Sometime in the early zeroes, I was reading a series of essays on Tolkein and the Lord of the Rings, and what struck me was how profoundly the literati of his own time hated his work. They simply couldn’t take it for what it was rather than as a commentary on our world, a puzzle to be figured out.

    You look at stuff like Tolkein, or Larry Correia’s stuff (esp. his Grimnoir books) and they have a LOT of truth about humanity, and depth – but outside of the occasional easter egg, they’re not puzzles to map to our modern day world, or to show off how clever we are.

    For that matter, Nolan’s movies, esp. his Batman ones, may incorporate a lot of metaphor about people in general, but they too operate inside their own world.

    So how did _I_ end up reading some of the stuff in appendix C? What gave me a lifelong love (and several bookshelves of) greek and ancient history?

    Reading science fiction. I figured out one day that one of Pournelle’s mercenary stories (and a few David Drake “Slammers” stories) were basically retellings of the Nika revolt. And then I discovered that other stories by various authors were basically inspired by Xenophons march (at this time I can think of TWO series by Ringo off the top of my head, and at least one by Drake). And one was basically “The Odyssey” (Drake loves to borrow from Greek myth).

    So I went and read the Iliad, and the Anabasis, and dug into the Peloponnesian war, and the golden age of Greece, and Thermopylae, and… and so forth.

    Jerry Pournelle and David Drake managed to take something I learned but was disinterested in (though I had already loved the WWII era, and anything related to flight, the Navy, etc…), and make me dig far, far deeper into a broad range of historic periods. They made me learn context, backdrop, and the cycles of history. You look at the Anabasis, and outside of some AK47’s, you can still see the Afghanistan of today.

    This is far more than my teachers, or the cocktail crowd, ever did for me.

    • dgarsys November 4, 2014 at 9:11 am

      And Webers Harrington novels lead to Hornblower, lead to O’Brien and Aubrey-Maturin. Though I already had a soft spot for the war of 1812 after stumbling into President T Roosevelt’s book on the Naval battles – I did say I liked ships, right?

      BTW – there’s an awesome book on the war of 1812 I recently listened to on Audible…

    • jeffro November 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

      You make the point far better than I do. Thanks for commenting!

      • dgarsys November 4, 2014 at 10:26 am

        Nahhh.. .I made a different, but related point. I didn’t even touch on the “Ms Grundy” aspect.

        I like stories that are complete and unto themselves, even if they have something to say about us. That scene from Ferris Bueller (“And what do the bars of the prison cell symbolize…” – ironic given how schools are built like prisons, with people trapped inside unless excused, and visitors checked in…) is priceless, and a perfect example of what I loathe of the literary crowd.

        It just occurred to me, I think that breakpoint – stories are complete unto themselves or inextricably entwined into our lives as metaphor – is a crucial factor in the recent kerfuffles re: games, and who is on which side. If the latter, then games must be cleansed of impure ideas for they’ll pollute our thoughts….

        I know there’s some truth that the ideas that inspire us and latch into our brains help shape who we are…. there is no perfect barrier between “story world” and “real world” – but that doesn’t mean everything has to be about one bleeding into the other, or that they have to be intertwined, or dark, to be “deep”. Nihilism in the end is no more sophisticated or complicated that one-note dudley-do-right heroism. And far more toxic.

  2. Cirsova November 5, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I kind of think that Pundit is missing the point on Appendix N; in my mind, it’s kind of like trying to understand the Greek conceptualization of Heracles by only examining “classic” period interpretation of him as a bumbling lecherous drunk; your understanding of the character will be inherently flawed AND you will not be able to appreciate and contextualize what the later depictions are doing with the theme and character. Are the stories of Heracles as a bumbling drunk enjoyable? Sure, but having a foundation for what the later stories are trying to do and the ideas they are contrasting with is critical for a fuller understanding. I also hate that whole ‘you should be reading real books instead’ argument. Because judgmental assholes always get to be the arbiters of whether or not text on pages between some kind of binding constitutes a real book or not.

    • jeffro November 5, 2014 at 10:14 am

      I just don’t see how it’s threatening that people might want to revitalize their adventure designs by reviewing some foundational fantasy and science fiction.

      • Cirsova November 5, 2014 at 10:19 am

        I think it has more to do with the fact that Pundit is a blowhard who thrives on conflict.

        I don’t really understand the criticism against “looking for the UR-D&D” in Appendix-N. It’s not about being a hardcore OSR hipster who only wants to play the purest version of gary’s game; it’s an exercise literary forensic anthropology of exploring the various ‘whys’ of the shape of the game.

        [Jeffro: Zing!]

  3. JSpace November 5, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I do like the Space Empires. It is so choice. Where else can you defend Arcturus from Bezerkers, kick that pesky Federation… um, green player off of Bajor and Chulak, find a warp point to Gath and enjoy the sights of Omicron while I’m tearing your fleet to shreds! “Use your cloaking device. Ha ha. I didn’t think so.”

  4. TWS December 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Bonus Heinlein points for Mrs Grundy reference.

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