Friday, August 7, 2009

A Mind is Like a Parachute

“A mind is like a parachute. If it doesn't open, you're fucked!” -- Don Williams, Jr

Occasionally I get an email or comment from someone telling me that I take wargaming way too seriously. It’s just a hobby after all. Maybe they’re right. Nevertheless, as one of those people who is easily bored, I find that what isn’t taken seriously is frequently rather dull.

Take Facebook for example. I’ve got about 50 friends there, and I check in most days to see what folks are up to. It seems a good way to stay in touch with people I’d otherwise never speak with. In fact, thanks to Facebook, I’m once again in contact with my sister, whom I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years prior. But still, browsing the conversations my mind often casts itself to the scene in Impromptu where Franz Liszt is on stage mocking his patrons, complaining that their “conversation is not witty.” Why does anyone think I care if they have a hangnail, or if they’re about to go home from work?

The novelty of the thing wears off quickly; rapidly settling into the mundane as the deeply ingrained narcissistic tendencies we all share rear their head for all to see and approve with a friendly thumb’s up. Not that I’m any better; take this blog for instance. The irony doesn’t escape me. But most of the time I exert a fair amount of effort suppressing my Asperger’s like tendency to lack empathy for people’s obsession with the least interesting things in their life.

Yeah, that’s an analogy. Wargaming is exactly the same. The novelty wore off a long time ago, now we’ve settled down to the mundane as those narcissists I mentioned above, eager to put the “designer” tag next to their name on BGG, lift systems from their favorite game designs and cobble together new titles to the acclaim of those who don't really know any better anyway.

So yeah… I take wargames seriously.

We often think of someone who is not receptive to new ideas as having a closed mind. I’m not certain we have a word or phrase for a mind that’s not open to ideas at all, but we should invent one. I spend a fair amount of my time casting about for new ideas and new ways of conceptualizing things. It’s why I’m often found reading books on physics, or French post modernism, or just lying on my back on the floor staring at the ceiling.

Like most people, I have a job. Like a somewhat lesser number of them, I like my job. Like even fewer, I consider it a profession. Saying that it’s also a practice and intellectual pursuit reduces the number still further. Almost everything I do in life I do to enhance my performance at the work that I do. I suspect now, most folks would start considering that abnormal. But I would guess that there are several others here who will read this blog entry and know exactly what I’m talking about. We’re obsessed. Our wives, if we’re lucky enough to have one, know it, and some of them even tolerate it. We are defined by what we do, and without it, we are nothing.

Wargaming (professionally) is part of what I do, and yes, I take it very seriously. As a result, I’m very critical of the commercial end of it (see my latest installment of Groping for the New Paradigm in the latest ATO). I fully admit that my own early contributions do not live up to my own standards. Yet, they were part of the process of finding those standards. Such is life.

So when someone tells me to lighten up and not to take wargames so seriously, I may smile and nod, but inside I’m conceiving of a mind without a parachute. Sure, it’s a hobby. Sure, there’s no harm in some good clean fun. The point of this pile of words is simply to say that if you think I take it too seriously, I’m not really talking to you. Enjoy yourself.

Oh, and if someone finds what I’m saying incites anger or fury, then we’ll need to figure out that word or phrase I mentioned earlier. It’s also fairly likely that having that parachute would be of little help. After all, one still needs to know how to open it.