Video games "aren't enriching" - my response

by Friday, October 21, 2016
A friend in the dance community posted a request for feedback on a particular video game franchise, rightfully concerned about her daughter's exposure to various themes of violence prevalent in games today and asking what we thought. Among the commentary was the following:

"I can 't see where this or any other game is a necessity for the development of anyone's child.
I'm so grateful that my days after school were spent playing football, basketball and baseball and drawing and painting in my spare time.
Life is about creating memories. I can hardly see where playing video games creates memories."


To which I had a ready reply:

Not all things we engage in need to be for our development. Some things are just fun for fun's sake!

That said, some of my FAVORITE memories as a kid--in the 80's no less!-- was sitting with my brother and playing Zelda. One of us would be the navigator with the map and the other would run the game, then we would swap. We would have friends over and play together as well.
I also was in theater, choir, took dance and gymnastics, and played on basketball and volleyball teams, went camping in the summers, and loved to ride my bike. Later in college, my console system was one of the only ones in the dorm. I would invite people over to play, would leave my door open and people would gather to watch and play together. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends with that shared interest. Today I have an awesome husband who also loves to game, and we do it together--both board and video games. We sometimes play online with friends who live in other states! Very enriching for me my whole life, with meaningful relationships and happy memories to spare.

I go to multiple conventions every year where I meet hundreds, nay thousands, of people who share my interests. Some of us spend months crafting elaborate costumes to dress up as our favorite characters, some of us develop games for a living now and get paid to do something we love and brings other people joy, some of us create art around various game franchises, themes, and characters; some of us use the vehicle of gaming to tell meaningful stories or messages ("That Dragon, Cancer" and "We Are Chicago" being two games with moving messages, just off the top of my head)--there are so many creative and interesting outlets which grow from gamers' experiences.

It's okay if this isn't your idea of fun, or if you wouldn't find it enriching or connecting. For me it definitely has been. I am also a dancer, an artist, a seamstress, an amateur chef, a community-builder, a dog foster momma, a gardener, and many other things.
I still love to ride my bike! Video games can be as much a way to connect with stories, people, and creativity as any other activity, and the implication that it will somehow supplant or prevent other endeavors "in the real world" is the kind of hyperbole I usually see reserved to old church ladies clucking about "kids these days". I hope you will open your mind to the idea that gaming can have value and enrichment just like any other hobby out there today.

Shametember 2016 - Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu Review

by Sunday, October 02, 2016
Finally got this to the table on the very last day of #Shametember as a double-feature with Isle of Skye. Just enough like Pandemic to be familiar, and just enough theme and new mechanics to give it its own flair. Theme did NOT feel tacked on, as we feared.

The board and components are beautiful--colorful without detracting from the dark atmosphere. The board is a bit *too* dark, and fonts difficult to read, but the locations and card placement markers are minimal enough that one will soon learn where everything is and won't have to read as much to navigate after a few plays. The artwork on the cards are evocative, and the Clue cards couldn't be any easier to read if you tried. In fact, compared to the art and design on the other cards, they seem downright plain, sporting a simple woodcut style image in white on a solid color background; but I offer that as an observation, not a complaint.

The addition of Awakening Rituals (the cousin of Infection Rate) bringing out random Ancient Ones and various one-time or permanent effects definitely makes it feel more consequential to raise the rate, even in the early game. Shoggoths appearing and moving toward gates as a further risk to life and limb was also a nice touch. I was disappointed to find there was not a mechanic analogous to Eradicating Disease from the original Pandemic, save for a single "Elder Sign" Relic you may or may not draw which allows one gate to be sealed, preventing Summoning in that town for the remainder of the game (barring extenuating circumstances). However, in retrospect, with travel largely simplified, and a smaller map of locations to deal with overall, if one could seal each gate with an Elder Sign, the run to the end of the game to close the final gate might be quite flaccid.

One part I felt was weak was sanity. The random die roll feels out of place in a Pandemic game, taking you out of the action/roleplay more than I thought it would. The inability to regain any sanity except by being the one person to close a gate, or a draw random Relic, is frustrating, and not in a "gee whiz that's a bummer" but a "dammit, why can't I just go to a sanatorium and heal up with action points or something?!" Maybe a house rule is in order should this continue to chafe.

My only other complaint is the miniatures. On the one hand, as lovers of miniatures, we're happy to have them and it enhances the thematic immersion of playing different roles. However, the necessity of keeping the cultists small enough to spread 26 of them all over the board means they look like tiny little blue Jawas next to the Investigators, and the awesomely-sculpted Shoggoths lose their imposing power when we still stand a half-head taller than them side-by-side. I almost would have preferred a more abstract threat in lieu of the cultists (growing dread?) represented by tokens or cubes than teensy-tiny robed baby-people.

As with original Pandemic and its offshoots, the less players, the easier it is. With two players, we closed all the gates, and that was with overlooked rules that worked against us: we forgot to a) draw a Relic card each time we did and b) remove one cultist from each location in a town. We are also fully aware of the luck-of-the-draw involved, as with any Pandemic game. A few well-placed Summoning of Shoggoths on or nearer to gates and our Ancient Ones would have been awakening in no time.

Definitely an excellent addition to our complete Pandemic Collection. Looking forward to many more games!



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