You’ve all heard of my non-gamer sister, the one who was so taken aback that so many of the supernerds at Table Top Day were married. (Though I must note she had no malice when she said this. She thinks it’s wonderful.) Even though she doesn’t understand, she tries to take an interest, so she asked me what I played last Games Night. I told her I’d played Agricola. Now, we’re not at all Catholic, but she went to Catholic schools, so she has a fair bit of Latin, and knows what agricola means. She asked, somewhat cautiously, so as not to offend, “Is that really a game about…farming??”
It’s a fair question. How is it that a subculture most known for elves, dwarves, castles, and knights in shining armor reveres a game wherein people jostle for the right to be the first to plow a field? How is it that Agricola is only the grandfather of a whole slew of such games? We also prize a series of games, my favorites, in fact, that involve laying down tiles in the southeast of France to build cities, fields, and roads by marking them with little wooden people until they’re done. (Carcassonne) There’s a wildly popular game out about fighting fires. (Flash Point: Fire Rescue) There are games about shipping goods and buying power plants and all sorts of everyday things, historical, modern, futuristic, and fantastic. But they’re not sexy. There’s no magic. There aren’t elves or dragons or Elder Gods (though obviously, we prove we love that stuff just as much). So why do we put on those overalls and go out to upgrade those dwellings to clay?
I’ve been thinking about this question for a couple of days, and I think I may have some ideas. If we look the question dead-on, we might just have to shrug. As gruesome as I found it to move all those bags of dirt around for my sister’s garden last week after her surgery, it doesn’t seem like I would want desperately to sow carrots at the gaming table. But maybe if I look at it with my peripheral vision, I see something else. Maybe out of the corner of my eye, me in a peasant dress in the field, sowing carrots is just as fantastic, just as far from reality as the elves of Belfort might be, and maybe, when I’m looking down and realizing I have to pull over to get gas (I hate pumping gas), that’s somehow appealing. So that’s part one of my theory: Being a farmer is just as much fantasy for most modern Westerners as being a dwarven miner.
I don’t think that’s all of it, though. I think there’s another part. I think the other part is that people who game haven’t lost the key component that makes a child play at being an astronaut. That is to say, for any given child, there is a very small likelihood that he/she will become an astronaut. Some of them know that, but none of them cares. When they’re kids, they can play at being anything, because anything is possible. So here’s part two: Maybe since we are living in a world of games, for some part of us, anything is still possible, and one of the things that seems astronaut-like for us is the idea of being a peasant farmer.
Then of course, there’s the final part. Maybe we all just want to live and work on an Anarcho-syndicalist commune.