This article originally appeared in Pyramid #7
SECOND SIGHT: comments from the editorpastime n. A way of spending time pleasantly; anything done for recreation or diversion, as a hobby.
hobby n. Something that one likes to do or study in one's spare time; favorite pastime or avocation.
obsession n. A persistent idea, desire, emotion, etc., especially one that cannot be gotten rid of by reasoning.
-- Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition
I've been thinking a lot about these three words lately, and how they describe different levels of commitment to gaming. And if adventure gaming can be said to be misunderstood by the general public (and I believe it can), that misunderstanding has its roots in the differences between these three words.
"Pastime" is the word that most people think of when they think of gaming. Something to pass the time. "Oh, Aunt Martha's here. Let's pull out the Trivial Pursuit." Or the Pictionary. Or the Monopoly. A game that no one has to learn, either because it's incredibly simple or it's been around so long that everybody already knows it. A game that won't take too long to play, and won't make anybody think too hard. A pastime.
For most people, that's all any game is. If the rules are complicated, if it's hard to learn, if it takes hours to play, it can't be a game. Games are supposed to be fun; that sounds more like work. But you and I know it's not work (at least not in the negative sense); effort is required, but it's effort entered into voluntarily, with a definite benefit at the end.
I've had some luck explaining adventure gaming to non-gamers this way. Yes, we play games, I tell them, but we treat it like a hobby (there's that second word). We devote time and energy to our games the same way a bird-watcher devotes time and energy to what he does, or a hunter, or a painter, or a coin collector. Most people understand the hobby analogy (or at least, they nod politely when I lay it on them), and it might work for you.
Of course, to people back at the pastime level, who can't think of something like games as anything but an agreeable time-waster, a pleasant diversion, there is scant difference between hobby and obsession. But we know the difference, don't we?
Well, maybe some of us do. When I look around at game conventions, I'm not so sure about some of the rest of you. But that's the arrogance of experience talking; I've had my share of gaming obsessions, and I sometimes miss them. I miss the passion; I miss the devotion; I miss the camaraderie of like-minded obsessives. Of course I don't miss oversleeping and missing all my classes because I stayed up until dawn playing D&D, but that's just because I've gotten old and square and, if not exactly responsible, more responsible than I used to be.
So, to sum up: Pastime -- OK, if that's all you want to settle for; Hobby -- Good; Obsession -- Not quite bad, but definitely dangerous. Choose your companion with care.
New FeaturesA couple of new titles appear in our "Regular Features" list on page 3 (and no, I'm not talking about Treasure Maps or X-Ray Specs). "Warehouse 23" is a place where weird items can be found, some magical, some technological, some historical. And "Terra Incognita" is a feature describing locations, as big as a city or as small as a closet.
The idea is to do for various other categories what "Creatures of the Night" has done for monsters. We want to provide an adventure hook -- whether it's a monster, an NPC, a place, an inanimate object or something else entirely. Something that a referee can build a roleplaying scenario around, or at least add to an existing campaign to spice things up.
People often ask us how they can break into game writing, and these regular features are a great place to start. Keep your submissions short but imaginative. Don't forget stats for GURPS (and other RPGs, if you like), but the stats can't be what makes the subject interesting. A magic sword isn't great because of the spells it can cast or how many combat bonuses it confers -- it's great because it was used by King Whozit to defeat the horrid Whatchamacallit single-handedly in the Battle of Wherever, and now carries a horrible curse that forces its wielder to pay a terrible price for its power . . .
You get the idea. Go to it.
-- Scott Haring
Article publication date: June 1, 1994
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