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Breathing Death- An Initiate's Journey Through Ghost Stories and the Tao Te Ching

Not knowing what will transpire, each post will chronicle my attempts to use a first time reading of the Tao Te Ching to inform my decisions during solo plays of Antoine Bauza's Ghost Stories. I shall read a little of the book each week and juxtapose its passages with a sort of session report. I will not read or heed any other advice on how to play the game well. I shall attempt to play on Thursday nights and post the following Friday.

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Among Real People- An Intermission

Wanda Davies
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Olympia
Washington (WA)
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One of the reasons I got into this hobby is that the greater world of humans is often difficult for me to stomach. I bury my head in cardboard, wood, and plastic because listening to the news or going out among others is to become part of a large body over which I have no control- or it feels that way.
Leaving the house is to be barraged by things I don't agree with- the decisions other people make whether they know they're making them or not. I am not better than other people. I make decisions that I don't believe to be the moral choice. Certain choices I make, I make because they seem easier. If I feel bad about that, I can read a rule book.
To leave the house is to be in a state of wariness and perpetual self defense. There is beauty in the world, and I must leave to see these things. There is also signage and other means which other people use to try to effect my mind. People want me to think a certain way. People want me to do what they want me to do. They may do this because they may profit. They may do this because they must convince others of their world-view to vindicate it. I think this is happening to everybody, whether they notice it or not. I think people either fight or accept it, resist stubbornly or grow tired and get swept away.
Or they hide. Or...
There are more options. There must be more options, some of which I can think about but do not want to list and some which I likely do not know. Does the Tao Te Ching teach me not to see these things? Or does it teach the way to see and pass through the salesmanship like a ghost?

There is always some escape in gaming. If there weren't a need for escape, people would play their life and find joy or contentment there. To game is to be somewhere else. To game is to succeed without risk. To game is to have control. But games are in the world and, thus, are part of the world. There is no escape from the world in the world.
The culture of contained gaming is smaller than the cultures that contain it. It is a culture in which one can communicate with the producers of the product one is consuming. It is a culture in which thought is rewarded and intelligence is valued. It is a culture that draws individuals who are not satisfied with more accessible activities. People game for a reason. It is not something one falls into like the world of television.
That is how I want to see games. That is how I see contained gamingdom at its best. I wonder if I'm squinting. I wonder if I'm seeing the reflection of light from the past and my mind hasn't caught up to what is here now and what is yet to come. I watch video reviews that glorify qualities that seem to belong to the larger culture- flash, buttoned-up professionalism (which seems like a denial of the self for the purpose of benefiting the self- to be professional is to remove oneself and place it in some temple of the unhuman, on a pedestal designed to hold the bust they'll make of your head after you die) material over idea; the holding of some tangible mockery of a dream versus the opportunity to touch the elusive feeling I am looking for- a wholeness of dimension, the fullness that is felt when the experience feels like it is a part of life rather than an image on a screen of four dudes taking turns rolling the dice. I hear designers talk about designing based on the next-big-thing in the industry and I wonder what will become of the hobby.
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Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:49 pm
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8 - On the prevalence of ghosts

Wanda Davies
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Olympia
Washington (WA)
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Ghost Stories

Groceries are a ghost. The lawn is a ghost. The dying refrigerator is a ghost and so is each individual member of my family. My cat is a ghost who I ignore until he has turned somehow from a loved one into an annoyance. My son is a ghost who I cannot ignore. If he haunts the board, I've lost.

I want to have a turn without drawing. I want to have a turn where my piece languishes on whatever tile it happens to be on and does nothing. I do not want to exorcise. I do not want to entreat the villagers. But I see the ghosts and they, all of them, look like haunters.
It is my turn and I have to draw a card.

How can the Tao help me turn the ghosts away? The Tao is unconcerned with what I want. My want makes more ghosts. And I don't want more ghosts.

I want there not to be more ghosts so....
There are more ghosts.

The ghosts keep coming and that may be the way. If the refrigerator breaks, then the food will spoil. I will get more food or I will not.
The lawn will grow while I am at the store and the neighbors will either approve or they will not. The lawn will grow either way.
My son wants milk.

My cat will cry at my door at night as I try to appease the ghost of my body. It is tired. It is breaking.
My son wants milk. The grass grows.

There will always be ghosts until I call them goblins. Or something else, maybe. The milk's all gone. The ivy takes over. The game's not lost. It is all the way.
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Thu Jul 7, 2011 9:25 pm
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7- Sports

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories- Normal

Before I begin play, flip to a page:
Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.

I was thinking of a new strategy I'd try. I'm not thinking of that now. Time to play.

The game ended early- a little over half way through the deck. It was the first time I actually literally conceded prior to legal defeat (I have decided I was defeated in the past prior to the actuality.) I looked at the board and I saw too many mistakes- too many sacrifices that hadn't stemmed the tide of death enough to be worth it. There was also loud, annoying music playing and I wanted it to stop. I wanted a change of activity. And so, I lost.

I wonder what that new strategy was I was going to try. I don't remember anymore. Are board games of the Tao? Is there an instinctive way to play them? Something told me not to know, and so I don't. But I wonder, what is the Tao in terms of these games? Is it a mode of pure strategic thought unburdened by anything else? I'm tempted to think that I've been there, but then, I've been there and also lost. I don't think that I've been there, at least not for a whole game. But there have been times when playing solitaire that I have been playing and the time has passed. Tonight was not a night like that. Maybe I went against the way by denying whatever strategy I had in mind. Perhaps my misunderstanding- my attempt to know- pushed me off the track.

I played Ghost Stories with others two weeks ago. I brought out the Tao Te Ching as it is boxed with my game but didn't consult it as I was engaged with teaching others the game so I didn't type about the experience, then. There is a black sheep in our group. A man for whom social interaction is not easy. He is not reviled, but tolerated, perhaps because, since he holds that role so easily, no one else must bear it. He played selfishly and seemingly caused our downfall (we may've lost anyway, just not as quickly.) There was anger at him from others, tempered by their expectations (he's generally not a team player.) Would I had read the Tao aloud at that point, what would the effect have been? Do words work with these concepts? Is the fact that our communication is so seemingly specific a hindrance to communicating certain things? Is there a science of the Tao?

Green is dead. Red and blue stand back to back in the center square, penniless. Yellow seems helpless before the weight of the crisis. The board is still set up. The machine is ready to complete its program. I think I'll go finish.
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Fri Jun 24, 2011 4:02 am
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6- A baby's grip

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories- Normal
Because I'm spending my evenings playing Return of the Heroes in preparation for my fourth video review and because I am the sole provider of care tonight for my son and step-son and because I am naughty and do not always heed the advice of this book that has earned my respect despite my limited exposure (I only read while playing Ghost Stories), I brought the game to work today.

It is not of the Tao, I don't think to do one thing while doing another thing. It is of the Tao to allow those you are governing their freedom. Which of the above two sentences is a cop-out?

I found it all too easy to get lost in the game, as is my ritual, but the abandon was intermittent. The work load was light today, and my partner, who does a majority of the teaching, did not need me. I prepared food quickly. I cleaned quickly. I battled ghosts.

It was a quiet morning. The majority of ghosts were red. I kept them in check and built my resources. I kept the Buddha statues flowing. I washed hands and I washed tables. I sang songs and came up with a simple way to remember which monk's turn it was. My son cried because he wanted milk. More children were at the door.

Too many trips to the tea shop. The ghosts were catching up to me. I used most of my yin-yang tokens to activate the herbalist and was able to exorcise them back. We had a fire drill. The children did not want to return to the house until the pretend fire was put out.

I'm struggling to remember what I made for snack. It was yogurt and bananas, a popular item. Wu Feng came as the Army of Death (again) as it was time to assist the kids in getting their schminischmats on to go outside. I remember thinking, while tieing shoes, that I had a good chance.

It did not take long, after lunch was made and ready, for the game to end in a haunting defeat, just in time to put it away before it was time to wash hands once more.

The Tao Te Ching says that babies are flexible and so are masters. They are soft and can bend in impossible ways. My son will hold onto whatever is in front of him, he will zero in on the object of his desire, and try to walk through me if I get in his way. If I pick him up, however, and put him in front of something else, he likes that too.
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Thu Jun 9, 2011 9:59 pm
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5- Governance

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories- Normal
I've been winning Ghost Stories lately. Winning on days when I felt bad and did not want to play. Lately I've been feeling good. I've been trying to relax. Today, I did not win. I do not mind this, but I wonder if it is an issue of balance.
I am weary of feeling good. The Tao Te Ching says that if there is good then there is also bad. If things are, then they are. I try to let things be as they are, but I have strong desires nonetheless. It is a process.
One thing I have trouble with is, if I let things be as they are, what would I do but react? Or actwith? I want to make things. I want to be in dialogue with the world- not to be told what to do. There is something I am not understanding. I am part of the world so if it tells me what to do, then I am telling myself what to do.
I should not be so bossy.
This last sentiment a challenge for me. I keep reading passages on governance. It makes me think of the children I care for and how I relate to them. In context of the game, I am also thinking of the multi-colored monks, but it is harder to see how the passages relate to my governance of them.
The Tao Te Ching tells me that a leader should not, in a sense, be known. I need to be quieter. When I think too much about moving the monks, they die.
The Tao Te Ching says that I must trust the distrustful. This conflicts with my sense of justice, or else it conflicts with my sense of vengence. I do know that distrust is tiring. I shall try to only concern myself with what I can see. Life is too short to be fighting shadow wars. This should also be useful in mitigating analysis paralysis.
A good man is a bad man's leader and a bad man is a good man's project. Something like that. How is this to be understood if good and bad men are just men?
I sometimes wish I could reference the Tao Te Ching, but the game is put away.
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Wed Jun 1, 2011 5:07 am
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4- Stop thinking, and end your problems.

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories- Normal
When I play Ghost Stories, I shuffle and set up the player boards first so that there is an empty space in the middle. This is the ghost of where the village will soon be.

I shuffle the village tiles and place them one at a time. The pattern in which I place them changes, but, when I am not thinking about placing tiles, I place them from left to right, top to bottom. For the third week in a row, the Buddhist Temple has ended up in the center.

I was tired today. I was grouchy today and now I'm playing Ghost Stories. I wanted to drink instead.

I always enjoy the moment between the board is fully set up and I draw the first ghost. The monks, all standing back to back in the center of the board, seem so confident.

From the Tao Te Ching:
Express yourself completely, then keep quiet.

I suppose it's time to play.
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Fri May 20, 2011 5:14 am
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3- In Fear of Normalcy, Hold On To The Center

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories - Normal Level
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

The Soul Eater was the first ghost to arrive and so we began the game with nothing.

I've been yearning to read the Tao Te Ching and play Ghost Stories all week. I do not want to have to wait until Thursday.

Tonight was the first time I played Ghost Stories on the normal level of difficulty. I made it half way through the deck before I had three haunted village tiles and the game was lost.

I couldn't wait until my step-son was in bed tonight. He has a hard time focusing and getting himself ready for bed. I would not be able to play Ghost Stories and not have it effect his progress. The first time I won Ghost Stories was the first time he played. I did not want to wait for him to go to bed, but I did. It was hard to wait to play Ghost Stories.

I didn't read the Tao Te Ching very much during the game. I did not feel the stress I usually do while playing. I did not notice the indecisive points that prompt me to pull out the book. So I have the Tao Te Ching beside me now. I turn to a page- number 27. It says:
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.

For a week I wanted to play Ghost Stories. Tonight was not my shortest game, but I quickly lost. I should not want to play Ghost Stories. But if I do not want to play Ghost Stories, how will I play Ghost Stories? In work, the Tao Te Ching says I am to enjoy what I do. I enjoy Ghost Stories. I enjoyed it tonight. But the Tao Te Ching also says that if there is joy there also must be sorrow. I should hold to the center. But then, how will I write this blog? And if I stop writing this blog, I will not read the Tao Te Ching and play Ghost Stories. If I no longer do that, why should I hold to the center?

I am not ready to stop yet. I am a child who does not want to go to bed, so I will dawdle and play games when my inner parent isn't looking.
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Fri May 13, 2011 4:38 am
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2- Hold Onto The Center

Wanda Davies
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Olympia
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Ghost Stories, Initiate
Prior to playing last night, I had typed in a somewhat random section of the Tao Te Ching about good and evil and The Tao. The section went on to talk about bellows and infinity and ended with something similar to the title of this post. My memory is not good and I wanted to capture a bit of the Tao Te Ching's impact on the game without playing with a computer beside me.

Last night, Board Game Geek went down for maintenance. My wife suggested I type up my blog anyway and then copy and paste it this morning. I refused. I am not an abstract board gamer. I like to play on a colorful field. I want to type directly into the site. The quote is gone, after an inexplicable computer shut-down and the Tao Te Ching is lost to me until next week.

I found myself craving its passages during the last week, but I know that if I read it in the usual way, I will forget. I know that if I read it in the usual way, I will lose something and this blog will become even more meaningless.

Last night, my wife had a meeting. I had trouble helping my son sleep. He's used to her being the one who cares for him at night. I am the one who plays with him before bed. He fell asleep, but knew I was there, so he awoke giggling.

When my wife got home, I was playing Ghost Stories. I had come to a point which the people refer to as Analysis Paralysis. Stuck between two options, I had turned to the Tao Te Ching. This is my routine. This is the way I play Ghost Stories. The passage talked about water. It talked about how water goes to the lowest point. It talked about the appreciation of family.

I hadn't seen my wife all day, but I was lost in quiet. I smiled at her to let her know that I appreciated her. She let it be known that she understood that I was playing Ghost Stories. I returned to the game and the move to make was clear.

Last night, I played Ghost Stories. It was a quiet communication with the game- moving the Taoists, entreating the villagers, banishing ghosts. It was not a harrowing affair and, for me, that is a first. There were moments of fear. These were brief. I was never in danger. My Qi stayed at two or above and the haunters were managed. There were moments of indecision. These were brief as I turned to the Tao Te Ching. The break in game and the application of wisdom, whether real or imagined, made the return an action.

When Wu Feng came, he was the Army of Death or Darkness or whatever is the black, tormenting army ghost who I faced last Saturday, it was a moment of brief distress. It was the only time I said, "shoot." My plan to be rid of a haunter had been derailed by a blocking of yellow's power (I needed yellow to be able to receive a green token). Then, it was water. Gravity took the taoists to their lowest point and, with four black tokens and a roll of the dice, Wu Feng was washed away.

Next week, I will play at the normal level. I look forward to failure.
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Fri May 6, 2011 4:15 pm
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From Darkness Within Darkness

Wanda Davies
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Ghost Stories - Initiate Level
This was supposed to be Thursday, but Thursday there was a social engagement. I was supposed to wait. Tonight I was to play Android alone. My wife wanted me in the room with her and Android doesn't fit on the table in that room. Ghost Stories fits on the table in the room with my wife. So tonight I played Ghost Stories.

She promised me she wouldn't talk to me. She said she just wanted me in the room. When I do something, I like to focus on it. I don't like to talk about other things when I'm doing one thing unless the thing I'm doing doesn't interest me. My wife is a kind woman. She likes to talk all the time but is respectful of our differences. She has read the Tao Te Ching.

I keep my copy in the box along with a picture of my son and a CD of music that is the right level of obtrusiveness. It is music that is silent sometimes and that is part of the music. It is also dissonant sometimes and that is part of the music. I mention that because it is not like the music I hear when I am not playing Ghost Stories.

The music playing, I read the first passage of the Tao Te Ching. It is packed away now in my box of Ghost Stories so I cannot directly quote it, but it began with something that I interpreted to be about the ineffectiveness of words. The directions included with my copy of Ghost Stories are in several languages. They are terrible.

I continued to consult the Tao Te Ching at moments of indecision. The clear stanzas became moments of silence in the analysis noise of the game. In the room where I type, I have to blink my eyes frequently because the lamp beside me is too bright. If I type for too long, I must close my eyes.

The first half of the game went absurdly well. The dice continually came up white and the ghosts were not scary. The Tormentor di did nothing. I began to believe that the way was really something. But then, from what I had been reading, it seems like the game should not concern the Tao. Things got much worse.

I depended on the Green Taoist's extra di to come up with a color I was missing. I did not get the color. I had built up plans based on luck or what I thought was a probable probability and I had no contingency plan. My Taoists were in the wrong place. My chips were in the hands of two of them, but their feet were tangled and those who were in the right place had nothing.

I became afraid.

Things were falling apart and the Tao Te Ching said that if I did nothing things would fall into place. I began to love the Temple of the Wind.

When Wu Feng came the monks were hurting. They'd been losing a game of juggling haunters- trying to keep the tiles aright and all the Yin/Yang tokens were gone. I'd plenty of black tokens, but the Army of Death needed five. I gathered my monks. Threw them all at Wu Feng and Red died as a result. Red had one of the black tokens.

I wanted Green to go and punch the Army of Death. I wanted Yellow to be there with the black tokens he'd amassed and I wanted Green to go and punch that whole army. But Red was dead and Blue was dying and I didn't know what to do.

When Wu Feng fell I was pleased. I tried not to be too pleased. I did not announce to my wife that I won. If good things happen, bad things can too. If things happen, then things happen.

I wonder if Taoists monks would really stand up to Wu Feng. I wonder if, when I finish the Tao Te Ching, I'll still be playing games. I wonder if I'll be able to answer that question on a Thursday or if the game will happen because it does.
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Sun May 1, 2011 6:21 am
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