Mnmlst Gmr

Just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I have nothing to say.
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Fleeting vs. Enduring

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
As much as I enjoy what could be termed "deeper" contemplative writers like Thoreau, Emerson, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or even Edward Abbey, I do sometimes get a kick out of reading more "pop psychological" approaches to introspective questions, such as the more approachable, less dense New York Times bestseller style. This can either be in book form or in blog form, and one blog I've started following on Twitter is something called Marc and Angel Hack Life. As best as I can tell, they're a California-based married couple who write about self-worth, happiness, goal achievement, and positivity. The usual post tone and content ranges from "silly and trite" to "worth dwelling on for a bit." I'm fine with that range; it's the internet, and it's free. We're not all Thoreau.

But I can forgive the obviousness of some of their writing (it's not particularly good writing, style-wise, to be honest). However, just because something's obvious doesn't mean we should ignore it, and it doesn't mean we're actually good at managing obvious things. We often do lose sight of obvious things, and so even when coming across something like their frequently-saccharine "7 Unfortunate Habits of Unhappy People," we can still be made uncomfortable by recognizing "Overindulgence of a good thing," or "Setting unrealistic expectations" in ourselves, because sometimes the most upsetting thing is a mirror.

Onward. This morning's post of theirs is called "10 Little Habits that Steal Your Happiness," and I was immediately drawn to one of them:

7. Constantly seeking fleeting contentment.

This aligns almost perfectly with topics I've been thinking about and writing about quite a lot lately.

Now they define "fleeting" as "instants of material comfort," whereas "enduring" is "attained through the growth of your mind." To be fair, they're mostly talking about inner peace, but hobbies are often meant to counterbalance the stresses of work and personal life, so I think some of this is at least worth turning over; we're not drafting a dissertation here.

I tend to view following and buying new games as short-term goal satisfaction, being quite close to fleeting contentment. Mostly because it never reaches what I would call long-term enjoyment. Save for a short burst of enthusiasm right away, most new games ultimately lack longevity, as we tend to bounce to the next thing almost immediately. This can be blamed on ourselves (as we get distracted) or our groups (as even if we remain focused on playing just a few titles, there's no guarantee your friends or game group will feel similarly).

This fits in with a GeekMail conversation I've been having off and on with someone over the last few weeks. One of the topics we touched on was "how do you know when you're done experimenting, and you've found your game home?" The context of this was in how some people really narrow their focus on something and virtually ignore everything else. This is frequently stated as a goal of a lot of people, even Cult-of-the-New folks: "well, I play a lot of games because I want to find what I really like and then concentrate on them." It's not clear how many people actually do find a focus, and instead just continue to try new things, thereby making "trying new things" their default focus. But a lot of times, those people who do find a focus are viewed suspiciously. I definitely have a type, as anyone who views my play log or my collection here will notice immediately. I'd love to call that "enduring." But some people do view it as closed-minded. There's a bragging subtext to telling someone that you've found what you've been looking for.

But this "fleeting" vs. "enduring" isn't quite so straightforward, I don't think. What would one call a larger collection of fleeting experiences, if it lasts long enough? Would "constantly learning new games and playing them a few times, always staying up on the new stuff" count as an enduring goal, or an enduring experience? I certainly don't think of it that way, though some people do, and I'm tempted to over-legitimize my own behavior because of it. Since I'm not quiet about searching for enduring experiences with far fewer games, I like seeing posts like Marc and Angel's, because it validates my decisions. But it's also a little bit of confirmation bias, because I want to assign truth to it that I'm really in no position to assign. I would like it to be true. I'd prefer it if it were true. So, it's true. But just as I have been accused of being closed-minded because I play a narrow range of stuff, I'm quite quick to make "enduring" mean whatever the hell I want it to mean.

I'm still tempted to maintain that short-term, disconnected experiences are, in fact, fleeting, that they don't "add up" so much as they just successively happen. Kierkegaard warned of this in his Diary of a Seducer and in his Rotation Method, where people who seek temporary, sensual (aesthetic, in his case) experience are doomed to try and one-up themselves because their experience is ultimately unfulfilling, however alluring it is. This one-upmanship never ends, because the individual gets accustomed to the experience and needs to seek out slightly more complex or slightly more meaningful versions of it; more chits, more rules, more cards, more special abilities, more mechanisms. Except boardgamers don't keep going forever. They burn out. And I'm tempted to say that a common reason is because loads of them attempt to create enduring experience out of fleeting building materials, a sand castle at low tide. And if that's not enough temptation, I'm also tempted to give a lot of meaning to something that appears to have some endurance to it, to make long-term replay matter more than a few plays of several different things, even if the total is still 20 plays (either 20 plays of one game or 20 plays across 8 games).

As is the case with most things I write here, I don't know what my conclusion is. There doesn't seem to be one. I agree that we should seek "enduring" over "fleeting" if we want to stay balanced and happy with what we're pursuing; constantly bumping into fleeting things feels exciting but can be destabilizing. However, it's damn hard to know when something has moved from "fleeting" to "enduring" in the first place, and it's especially hard if you have no idea where you're trying to end up. I'm not sure "I'd like to move toward having enduring experiences in my hobby" is specific enough to be helpful, because how do you know when you're done?

This is a hard hobby to approach rationally, and it's a hard one to control without getting arbitrary about some of your decision-making in game selection; there's always something else to explore, always one slightly related thing that you can also try. I feel like my arbitrariness has helped create a more enduring hobby, but I don't know that. Sometime in the future I'll know if I've chosen wisely, because I'll see that, yes, there really has been some endurance to what I've been doing all this time, because, well, I'm still doing it. But that feels unsatisfying, like it outsources judgment and thinking to some far-off date where, presumably, I'll know better. In the meantime, I'm left with the same instability as everyone else, wondering what the hell I'm doing.
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