Daring to Look Elsewhere for Inspiration
When the warlocks hold the keys to the gates of new unexplored worlds, it’s up to you to find a way to unlock these hidden treasures and the knowledge that you know is at arms’ reach, if only the harpies and trolls were not such a constant distraction.
While this introduction could aptly summarize a fantasy tabletop game situation, it is also a pertinent observation on how modern technology has a tendency to serve us only the content that it assumes we want or need. The good news is that, just like adventurers in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, you can easily walk off the beaten path and explore new lands. It will not only provide you with valuable experience points but it will broaden your horizon and indeed, reward you with unfathomable treasures!
Dealing with restrictions
In these days of social distancing and confinement, it’s essential to keep in touch with the outside world, our friends and other acquaintances. Since we cannot meet in person - if at all - as easily as before, we turn to technology to interact with our colleagues, friends and family.
One would find it difficult to imagine what the current situation would have been like had it taken place just twenty or thirty years ago. The ability to stay connected via email, social media, video conferencing and other digital tools has kept a good part of the world running, enabling a lot of people to remain employed or active in some way or another. Some have been less fortunate and many non-essential businesses have seen a sharp drop in customers or have had to close their doors, with the hopes of reopening soon.
Like many industries, the tabletop gaming hobby has seen a shift. Game stores do their best to adapt to these testing times and any support is greatly appreciated. Now more than ever, local businesses need their respective communities! As for the people who play games, social distancing has changed matters as well. Casual players have rediscovered old games and tried new ones. Seasoned hobbyists turned to various tools such as Roll 20, Zoom or Discord to prevent their adventuring party from spending an undetermined time at the Inn of Eternal Rest. Video gamers have not noticed a change whatsoever and are happily indulging in their favourite pastime, maybe even more so than before.
Unable to scratch the itch
So what do you do when you’ve spent too much time playing a certain game, when you feel like taking a break from your tabletop adventures, or when it seems as though there is nothing out there to tickle an itch that you can’t seem to identify. It’s an all too familiar feeling, akin to sitting in front of your TV and tablet, when browsing through countless shows and movies on Netflix, Prime or Hulu just leads nowhere. You search the web, peruse Youtube or look through the catalogue of your favourite online media store and nothing inspires you anymore. Because your principal connection to the world is through technology, everything looks and feels the same.
This isn’t because of technology itself, of course. You have complete free will and nothing stops you from looking elsewhere; but by default, everything on the web wants your attention and wants to sell you something. Because of algorithms, social media platforms, streaming services and large web stores only show you the items you respond to. They only want to show you more of what you already have so that you can consume even more of it. How many of us have spent the good part of an hour trying to find a movie to watch online by simply browsing? How many times have you seen multiple adverts for an item just mere minutes after having looked for it on a variety of web stores?
I do not mean to decry business practices nor do I indulge in conspiracy theories. My point is that while you try to reach out to the world by using online technologies, the companies desperate for your attention constantly narrow your field of vision so that you only see that one thing they think you want to invest your time or money in.
Broaden your horizons
We all have passions and interests. We all prefer a certain type of literature over another. The same goes for movies, games or other forms of storytelling. Yet, if you really look closely there is no such thing as “I only care for fantasy novels” or “All I enjoy is space opera movies”. What ultimately makes for an immersive film or a gripping book is the story at its heart. Star Wars could tell the exact same story regardless of its setting. I am not implying that genre is only cosmetics, far from it. As a storytelling artist, I most certainly give prime importance to visual language but at the centre of any story you will find many underlying themes that play as crucial a role.
Many of you know I love lightsabers, mystical creatures and the good hearted nature of Hobbits. But above all, I enjoy a great tale, be it told on paper, silver screen or with pixels. A classic hero’s journey is gripping but a biography can be just as interesting and real life dramas can teach us many things. Meaningful stories aren’t always about transformation, achieving potential or becoming better through tests and trials. It doesn’t have to be the same story in a different jacket over and again either. Sometimes I wonder what has made my tastes in music, film and entertainment as eclectic as they are. Some of it has to do with my upbringing for which I am extremely thankful.
A diversity of genres
As a kid, my parents often dragged me to see movies or performances that I had no prior interest in. Somehow, theatre was the one thing I alway looked forward to with trepidation regardless of the play being performed. I’ve never had any acting aspirations, but that’s the beautiful aspect of stage plays: everyone present feels part of the experience. Like many family’s, we all enjoy cinema and movies for different reasons. We all experience them differently to various levels of enjoyment. Being exposed to a wide range of films from a young age, made me understand the medium better and appreciate its potential and the wide array of emotions they can convey. As strange as it can seem, I equally enjoy classics like Star Wars, When Harry met Sally, Christine, Blade Runner, Fargo, Amadeus and Babette’s Feast or more recent movies such as The King’s Speech, The Lighthouse, Avengers Endgame, Arrival, Logan Lucky, The last Jedi or Kubo and the Two Strings. In my childhood, Places in the Heart was as much a revelation to me as E.T or Lethal Weapon. All these movies and many, many more, offer incredible stories that transcend their genre. I don’t believe the Game of Thrones TV series became as popular as it did because it had a high fantasy flavour with knights and dragons. It was a hit because it simply is a political intrigue soap opera, and that makes for very compelling television. I am a huge Tolkien fan and I love great high fantasy adaptations, yet Games of Thrones did nothing for me. Its story and the way it was told did not tap into my storytelling sensibilities. In very much the same way, The Godfather Trilogy left me completely cold, regardless of the age I attempted to watch the films. You can only find out which movies speak to you by watching them.
On the subject of books and games, it’s a little harder to get into the mind set of trying something different. Reading requires a bigger time investment than watching a movie. And, in my opinion, watching a movie adaptation will not give you a sense of whether or not you might enjoy the book. Film and literature are two completely different storytelling mediums and art forms. There is no need for endless discussions about the book being better than the movie or vice versa. A film does not tell a story in the same way a book does. The underlying thread can be used as a starting point, but ultimately a movie adaptation has to exist on its own merits, rather than try to transcribe written word. A book’s author is inviting you to listen to their tale while a movie director is offering you an audiovisual experience. Yet, they do both need you to listen to and see their story. All you have to do is interpret it in your own way, but it remains their storytelling effort, not yours. It is meant to enrich your life, provide you with entertainment or room for reflection on the subject matter. Often, the works you truly enjoy and that have an impact on you will inspire you.
The same goes for tabletop games and the shared fun you experience playing them. Like books, they require a time and financial investment so poking around to find out what you could potentially enjoy is worthwhile. Talking to others is a good way to start as are online reviews. For boardgames, you should definitely check out The Dice Tower, as well as Game Cows. For tabletop role-playing games, I will happily point you in the direction of the unparalleled Unpossible Journeys website. To get an idea of what other gamers think of specific games, browsing user reviews on online stores like Amazon is also informative. If you do look there, make sure to sift through the comments of customers who solely base their judgement on the merits of a product on the shipping and delivery.
Plain bad, or just not for you?
Not enjoying a specific film, game or book doesn’t have to mean that you need to speak ill of it or that it is ‘bad’. Sure, there’s plenty of poorly executed items out there but it could also mean that it simply wasn’t made for you. Additionally, having a preference for a genre should not prevent you from enjoying other types of offerings. One of the best horror thrillers I have seen in recent years is a Canadian indie movie titled Pontypool while one of the best TV series I have enjoyed in the last ten years, besides Stranger Things, The Witcher and Tales from the Loop, is Downton Abbey. These shows tell powerful stories with intent and without making sacrifices or concessions.
All I am trying to say is not to let a classification or a genre always determine what you watch, read or play. Talk to your friends, online or in real life, ask them what they indulge in and what they liked about these experiences. Read reviews, and find out what makes that thing good and if it tickles your fancy. Of course, there are many hard core science-fiction creations that will only appeal to sci-fi fans or many rom-coms that test the limits of many moviegoers’ logic. But in the very large playing field of mainstream entertainment, the genre is often just an excuse to categorize movies, books and games so they fit in a nice, pre-packaged box. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, just remember that when the beaten path seems to be making you walk in circles, it’s quite okay to wander off and try something different for a change!
And in the event that you are looking to play more games now that summer is here, be sure to read other articles I wrote on the subject:- Do you board game?
- Gallantly ruthless battles - the world of turn based strategy games
- Stranger times, new worlds
- Rolling a 20 with a joypad
Stay healthy, stay safe and take care!