Something new happened to me over the holidays. I got my first hate mail about New Bedford.
Sure, there had been plenty of discussion of the game and criticism of the choice in theme, but until now it had all been directed at the game. This was a direct message to me, telling me to be ashamed for my creation. I knew I needed to write about why this person was completely wrong. But this post isn’t about someone else, it’s about me and my relationship with boardgames.
When I got the message, all I could really do was smile. Friends told me that’s how I know I’ve made it. I guess you aren’t anybody until you piss someone off. I didn’t write any direct response, so I can move on and use it more productively.
I could have written an angry response to feel better, but I was already in a good mood, and I don’t need to make someone who is already angry feel worse. I could have spent time trying to change one person’s mind, but I don’t think we are likely to come to any sort of an agreement. I could have simply said “Thanks, Merry Christmas!” which conveys my level of concern, but can also come off as smug and antagonistic.
What I really wanted to tell this person was “It’s a game,” but I realized that probably wouldn’t be interpreted the way I mean it. It’s a game, but it’s not just a game. There’s an implication in the statement “it’s just a game” that games are kids stuff, not worthy of paying much attention to. I think anyone motivated to send a message to a designer doesn’t view games this way, and I certainly don’t.
Games are a form of art, like literature or great cinema, and a medium for sharing meaning. As a relatively young medium, games have not really started to explore the depth they’re capable of. And of course, it’s also important that games are also fun. Not every game needs to try to be deep, just like not every book or movie needs to be a great work of literature or stirring epic. But some can take the opportunity to help us learn understand and appreciate the world. By raising the level of our games, games can elevate us, too.
This is what I mean when I say that it’s “just a game”. Not because games should be given less consideration, but that they should be given more. Calling something a game does not give it a “get out of jail free” card on subject matter. In fact, it gives it a deeper responsibility to live up to its potential.
Now, one of the reasons I felt compelled to write about this subject is that many (if not all) designers will likely encounter a similar situation at some point in their design careers. Perhaps not the wider opposition to the theme, but having to deal with someone who strongly dislikes what you’ve done. You can get angry, you can get sad, but my recommendation is to get over it. You’re not responsible for how somebody else feels. The most important thing to remember is that it’s just a game.