It’s Just a Game

I hate those words. It’s just a game. It’s just a…whatever. The words are spoken by ignorant people imposing their opinion and belittling someone already bothered by something important to them. It cheapens desire, diminishes commitment, and undervalues passion. It’s ignorant because the speaker has no comprehension of the emotional liability of the person being talked down to. It’s a declaration that one’s possessiveness is not only misdirected, but ethically meaningless. It’s just a game, like it’s just a book or just a car. Some people simply can’t understand the attachment we place on the apparently insignificant elements of our lives. No one would ever say, “It’s just a child.” Of course not, but I’ve heard people say, “It’s just a animal”. That would seem heartless to animal lovers, but these words have been spoken, regardless if the statement came after an unfortunate high speed vehicle crossing or not. The problem lies with the selfish nature of some people, in not possessing the empathy to understand the loves we have, which can often reach beyond organic bonds.

It’s just a car. For some people, they love their car. It’s an expression of their passion. It could be a life-long hobby. I had a friend once grind all the paint off the bottom of my car door when he closed it over a curb. He didn’t care, and our friendship was over soon after. It’s just a book. There’s nothing wrong with being attached to fictional characters and a setting. Sure, there’s a line when someone begins to exclude their own life for the fantasy, but there’s still nothing wrong with taking a character’s death personal. It’s just a couch. Maybe they love that couch. Maybe it had emotional meaning. Even if it didn’t, it still doesn’t excuse someone in callously spilling wine on it.

It’s just a game.

Tell that to the football players breaking their ribs to score a touchdown. Tell that to the race drivers that tour the world for ten months of the year, eating, breathing, and sleeping motorsports. Tell that the mathematicians that dedicate their lives in the study of competition. To some people, it is just a game, but it doesn’t devalue those that think of it as more. And yes, that applies role playing games as well. It’s just a movie. Would you ever say that to the writer or director? Would you say it to the producer that put his own money forward to make it? No? Then why say it to the players that make the characters or the GM that constructs the campaign. On the latter, how many GM’s have heard that statement from their players. It’s only a game. Maybe they don’t understand how much work you put into it. I’ve been designing homebrew games for twenty-two years. I know each one implicitly, populated with peoples, cities, and ambitions. There are names and personalities. Some GMs spend months developing a game, only to see it sullied by players with no appreciation for the effort invested. It’s not just a game to us. GMs can spend more time designing a game than players do playing it. For those weekly Sunday-night 4-hour dungeon crawls, the GM not only has to read the module but also understand which monsters are appearing and how to play them. And as for those creating entire worlds whole-cloth, weeks of preparation may be required, describing the intricate details of every city, its ruling family, and how they relate to bordering nations. A passing NPC ignored might have had significant back-story. It would be understandable for a creator or even a fan to levy that much emotional investment in a story or game. It is permissible to have affection for non-living entities, even if it’s a book, a car, or a game. When George RR Martin wrote Storm of Swords, he wrote the famous “red wedding” scene last, as he knew it would gut him emotionally in the process. When commenting on certain events in his Appleseed manga, writer Masamune Shirow expressed worry that it would upset his characters too much.

I’m not offering absolution to those wanting to go all “Misery” on a famous author, breaking the legs of a figure skater, or setting fire to a video game company because they farted on a precious franchise. Fanaticism in every form is potentially dangerous and I avoid the wording to describe anything I’ve been a fan of in my life. Yes, I dressed up as Boba Fett, but only on Halloween (well, there was that one time at Episode I’s premiere). I constructed scale models of the Enterprise, but never had plastic surgery on my ears to make myself look like a Vulcan. I’m only saying that it’s permissible to take something inconsequential to someone else personally. You don’t need to justify it. You don’t even need to state precedence. You gauge your own level of commitment, and if it doesn’t negatively affect your quality of life, then it’s OK to get upset when something happens.

Except when Twilight is concerned…because obsessing over that crap is just wacky.

UPDATE (05/22/12)
There has been considerable attention to this article given a recent cross-post on Reddit. I wanted to clarify a few points…or rather one, and it’s more of an emphasis. Fanaticism is a flaw of the human condition which bothers me in every way in which it articulates itself. Fanaticism, as I have employed it here, refers to the obsession of something at the expense of one’s living quality and their attention to social responsibilities. I do not condone it.

I do consider a difference between fanaticism, obsession, and enthusiasm. A little healthy obsession now and then occurs to everyone at least once. Taking something personal, getting angry at something someone else find trivial, is the heart of the article. I mention it specifically to defend GMs/DMs that get upset when players dismiss the effort said GM/DM makes as well as to players that get upset when a game they purchase and/or play disappoints them. I broaden the term to defend those that rely on someone’s triviality as a life goal, be it car racing or a movie.

Critics will condemn those angry because a video game they purchased ended up buggy or anti-climatic, disregarding not only the money invested in the purchase but the emotional attachment to the characters or the franchise. But money is not the only valid reason for discontent. Time and emotional investment are also valid reasons to take something personally. This is why I lament for GMs, as so many of them create their homebrew worlds because of difficulties in turning it into a best-selling novel or million-dollar screenplay. For many, this is their avenue of expression, so it’s bothersome when outsiders belittle it.

Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.