Passion Play

Julian Murdoch is standing next to the sink, the top of his bald head gleaming angelically from the mid-morning light streaming through the kitchen window. He is leaning over an odd contraption, pushing boiling water into a cup that has somehow — perhaps alchemically — been transmogrified into coffee. He is straining slightly with the effort of forcing the coffee, a study in Brownian motion within its pressure chamber, through the filter and into the cup.

Frankly, it looks like a lot of work. My question to him is simple: Why?

It’s not that I don’t understand that different brewing methods, like different cooking methods, create a different sensual experience. There’s clearly some fundamental difference between throwing a pot of Folgers together in a coffee maker you bought for ten dollars at Target, and doing whatever this air-press thing idoes with coffee beans you bought at a specialty shop and ground yourself. Yet there’s part of me that thinks it’s just a ceremonial experience and ultimately the end results taste basically indistinguishable.

This must be what JRPG players feel like when trying to explain anything to me.

Julian can’t explain to me why its better, but that’s not because he lacks the language capacity to do so. It’s because if he were to try to do so, it would be like trying to explain to a curious-looking dog why Game of Thrones is a better narrative than Two Broke Girls. The problem is the receiver of information lacks a necessary understanding to be able to appreciate the explanation.

As Julian valiantly tries to give the explanation a shot, I tilt my head like Nipper — the dog from the old RCA logo. Julian gives up and just assures me that it’s better.

I’ve now cleared the halfway point on my two-week vacation, and I can see the clubhouse turn approaching fast. For the bulk of the vacation, I and some of my closest friends have shared a house among the pines just outside of Lake Tahoe. We have consumed significant volumes of both fine foods and fine drinks. We have seen some sights, and even gathered around to throw a football at each other for a few hours, only to re-discover the many ways you can hurt another person by throwing something at them.

On the whole, however, we have conducted our vacation as you might expect gamers to do. We have challenged one another in a variety of contests, most of them the kinds of things you do sitting down.

What has been interesting to me, however, is being in a house of highly experienced board gamers of refined tastes, including at least one member of that cabal, Rob Daviau, who makes the things professionally. It’s not that I don’t understand, enjoy or occasionally dive into a meaty board game. It’s that I do so less as a connoisseur and more as a tourist. I show up to a board game of depth and complexity, and as my close friends are unlocking the sophisticated strategic potential, accessing a wealth of knowledge and experience amalgamated from functions of countless games played before, I comment on how much I like the artwork of the board or make crucial decisions about which color I want to play as.

In many cases, I watch from the outside looking in, not only because by doing so it probably results in better games for all, but also because I just like watching people who clearly know what they’re doing, enjoying the thing they do.

I am in a room, even as I write this, with people who will know the joy of a great board game in ways I never will. I look over, and there are four of my friends hunched over one of Rob’s prototypes for his upcoming game, Seafall. It’s an impressive spread across a table, a hexagonal representation of something like the colonization era Atlantic Ocean, and the players are trading, exploring, fighting and manipulating the world to their designs. Like Rob’s earlier game Risk Legacy, there is a constant dynamic of permanent change in the game and the players draw new islands on the board, open new previously locked decks and adjust to rules that change slightly but significantly as the broader game stretching over multiple play sessions advances. They are analyzing, constructing, deconstructing, pushing and pulling against each other and the changing landscape of rules. They are happy.

It’s oddly gratifying to watch people enjoy with great enthusiasm something you either don’t understand or don’t actually enjoy yourself. This is how I feel when I watch people play a video game genre I fundamentally don’t get, like a fighting game or JRPG. I see them manipulating systems that feel impenetrable to me, and getting a kind of pleasure out of that system.

Psychologists have a word called “naches,” which denotes the particular positive emotion felt as a form of pride in the accomplishments of someone you closely associate yourself with — traditionally your child. This isn’t naches. Yes, these are people I care about, but my appreciation comes from their passion and enjoyment, not their triumph.

A lot of conventional wisdom suggests that, were I to spend the time to get to the level of sophistication they are at, I would understand and appreciate as my friends do. This is the same logic my parents used to try to convince me that seafood was delicious. They would simply see my reproachful disappointment in another night of grilled fish as an indication that I just needed to eat a lot more fish in the hopes that I would suddenly flip that trigger that makes me say, “Oh, right. Now I see how delicious this is.”

The end result is that now, as an adult, I just really, really hate seafood.

The idea of playing a fighting game or a JRPG until I finally just “get it” isn’t just impossibly unappealing to me. I also doubt seriously that it would ever reach its intended result. Even if I were to play a fighting game until I got to the point that I thoroughly understood the characters and developed the dexterity to be good, I still suggest that on the whole I would not enjoy the experience of playing. Maybe I would move past active dislike, but there would always be a gap between me and someone who has a true passion for that thing.

Nuance, sophistication and genuine investment come from passion. Julian is spending the time and energy on his frou-frou, hippie coffee because he’s passionate about it. The guys at the table are spending fifteen honest-to-god minutes unpacking the impact of some obscure, as yet irrelevant, rule to their game because they have some passion. Hell, I can put 200 hours into a game like Europa Universalis IV or World of Warcraft because the fundamental mechanics are meaningful to me — underlying mechanics that only someone with a passion for the game would even notice.

There’s a kind of pleasure to be enjoyed in watching someone else engage their passion in something that will never appeal to you in exactly the same way. I kind of love watching people get their kicks out of doing something I just don’t enjoy. Seeing someone enjoy a great cup of coffee, a glorious lobster dinner or even some deep Atlus JRPG, makes me unexpectedly happy.

Just don’t ask me to join in.

Comments

There’s clearly some fundamental difference between throwing a pot of Folgers together in a coffee maker you bought for ten dollars at Target, and doing whatever this air-press thing idoes with coffee beans you bought at a specialty shop and ground yourself. Yet there’s part of me that thinks it’s just a ceremonial experience and ultimately the end results taste basically indistinguishable.

I hear what you're saying. You're saying you're a philistine.

Psychologists have a word called “naches,” which denotes the particular positive emotion felt as a form of pride in the accomplishments of someone you closely associate yourself with — traditionally your child. This isn’t naches. Yes, these are people I care about, but my appreciation comes from their passion and enjoyment, not their triumph.

A good-hearted philistine, though.

This must be what JRPG players feel like when trying to explain anything to me.

I truly laughed out loud at this. Great read, as always, Mr Sands.

I feel you, Sean. I know there are certain genres (in my case, JRPGs, sport games, and MMOs) that, unless they do something particularly novel, will never be interesting to me. And that's ok. I have plenty of other games to play as-is.

Psychologists have a word called “naches,” which denotes the particular positive emotion felt as a form of pride in the accomplishments of someone you closely associate yourself with — traditionally your child.

I was unfamiliar with that term and asked my better half (who has a background in psychology) if she knew it. She did not recognize it by spelling, so I started reading her the definition. About halfway through, she exclaimed, "Oh, that's not from psychology. That's Yiddish!" Google seems to confirm that. The more you know, right?

Bah! How to enjoy the PROPER coffee experience:

step 1 - put cheapest possible instant coffee in mug
step 2 - put random quantity of milk in mug (percentage roll)
step 3 - fill remaining physical space inside mug with boiling water
step 4 - stir
step 5 - drink 2/3 while scalding hot. Burn tongue.
step 6 - Leave mug with remaining 1/3 on desk and forget it's there
step 7 - take 1 (one) sip at least an hour later, grimace
step 8 - throw remainder in sink.
step 9 - half-heartedly rinse mug
step 10 - repeat from step 1

Totally sympatico with you on this.

I'm 39 and just got introduced to board gaming (of the non-Monopoly, Life, Operation types) by lostlobster a few months ago. Since then I've gone to a few board gaming nights and while I enjoy them and have fun, there is a distinct gap of skill between me and the guys who have been playing these games for years. When we play card games I find that I win far, far more frequently.

It doesn't mean I don't enjoy myself, despite my participation meaning no one else will come in last. Rather, as a competitive person and for the sake of my enjoyment I have to put my winning=fun/losing=not fun mentality on the backburner and just enjoy the game for the sake of learning, the experience, and watching the guys who have been doing this for years and years enjoy their passion. I find joy through their excitement and am completely open to it leading to me finding the same enjoyment in it as them. In my opinion, aside from John Wayne Gacy and his ilk, if someone finds immense pleasure in something it warrants further examination on my part.

Also, doesn't Julian know he can get the same quality coffee in a fraction of the time with Keurig K-Cups?

I show up to a board game of depth and complexity, and as my close friends are unlocking the sophisticated strategic potential, accessing a wealth of knowledge and experience amalgamated from functions of countless games played before, I comment on how much I like the artwork of the board or make crucial decisions about which color I want to play as.

*High five*

This is why I spent more time tweeting pictures of people playing games at PenCon than playing them myself.

EDIT: Ok, I quoted that mid-reading, but this whole thing resonates with me regarding complex board games and the people I play them with. I am not on their level. Give me Dixit, or Telestrations Against Humanity, or something I can learn in 10 minutes and enjoy with complete understanding for the next hour. Don't give me something I have to play 10 times before I get the strategic depth clearly enough to play effectively. Unless it's Imperial 2030. That game's the sh*t.

JediK809 wrote:

I feel you, Sean. I know there are certain genres (in my case, JRPGs, sport games, and MMOs) that, unless they do something particularly novel, will never be interesting to me. And that's ok. I have plenty of other games to play as-is.

Psychologists have a word called “naches,” which denotes the particular positive emotion felt as a form of pride in the accomplishments of someone you closely associate yourself with — traditionally your child.

I was unfamiliar with that term and asked my better half (who has a background in psychology) if she knew it. She did not recognize it by spelling, so I started reading her the definition. About halfway through, she exclaimed, "Oh, that's not from psychology. That's Yiddish!" Google seems to confirm that. The more you know, right?

Positive psychology borrowed it from Yiddish. The field also borrowed "fiero" from Italian for the positive feeling of triumph and personal achievement.

wordsmythe wrote:

I hear what you're saying. You're saying you're a philistine.

A good-hearted philistine, though.

This is why I take the time to read the comments.

At first reading this I was reminded of how I enjoy D&D and similar games, but I don't have the deep love and passion for it that my brother does. When he wants me to play in a game, he pushes to the extent that I inevitably lose interest instead.

However, as I kept reading I was instead brought to my history with the sport of football. That history being I never understood it until this year. I always found it slow, boring, and just five seconds of guys running into each other and hey, maybe someone throws a ball that's not really in the shape of a ball! So this year I sat down with my roommate, a friend since high school that has a tendency to bitch about Michael Vick and has been waiting for the inevitable self-inflicted injury that would bench him and put Nick Fowles on the field (he got his wish!). I typically listened, but I never really listened. So I sat down with my 3DS as the season started, keeping him company though not paying attention.

Throughout the game, however, I started asking questions. He started explaining the game, its rules, and the benefits and detriments to certain actions. It was like having a decoder ring, only there wasn't any "Be sure to drink your ovaltine" message (though there were intermittent "Be sure to drive your Toyota" messages scattered throughout). Suddenly those pointless five seconds of guys ramming into each other carried more meaning. I understood what was going on field better. I could see what wasn't there, so to speak. The game suddenly did not feel slow, but instead moved at a good pace.

I was finally entertained by watching football.

So, Mr. Sands, I put the question to you this way. Are you sure these things are impenetrable to you, or are you simply not willing to ask the questions that get you the nifty decoder ring to see what's not on screen/board?

Of course, I don't doubt you, either. I know how baseball works, and I still don't get that game. I'm simply curious if a man that enjoys in-depth PC strategy games that are by no means simple truly cannot wrap his head around JRPG's (and I suppose some of those board games, too, though my favorites tend to be easy to learn and last maybe an hour, max two).

Nicely said Sean! As a ex-pat Brit living in PA, with a hatred for seafood (how many family holidays where you end up throwing up does it take to convince parents that the fruits of Poseidon's realm are not for you), an appreciation but no real enjoyment for board games, and complete lack of enthusiasm any ball games bar field hockey, getting my fun from watching others have fun has become a regular occurrence

ccesarano wrote:

I'm simply curious if a man that enjoys in-depth PC strategy games that are by no means simple truly cannot wrap his head around JRPG's

Speaking as someone who also has no interest in the JRPG genre, I'll just say that I think there is a significant difference between wrapping one's head around something (i.e. understanding its mechanisms) and finding enjoyment and/or entertainment in it.

As the saying goes: "there's no accounting for taste."

Julian is spending the time and energy on his frou-frou, hippie coffee because he’s passionate about it.

Letting the main point breeze over my head, those Aeropresses are a fair bit of work, but if you want equivalently good coffee very easily, use a French press. Much easier than an Aeropress, and no consumables other than the coffee beans. The major difference between a drip coffeemaker and a French press is that you need to rinse it out when you're done, which takes a little longer than tossing grounds+filter.

If you like coffee, decent beans and a French press will give you a fantastic cup, way better than drip coffee, in just an extra minute or two. And you can make as much or as little as you want in one session, from a cup up to a pot.

No special effort, no frou-frou nothing, just great damn coffee.

Malor wrote:

Letting the main point breeze over my head, those Aeropresses are a fair bit of work, but if you want equivalently good coffee very easily, use a French press. Much easier than an Aeropress, and no consumables other than the coffee beans. The major difference between a drip coffeemaker and a French press is that you need to rinse it out when you're done, which takes a little longer than tossing grounds+filter.

Aeropress works the exact same way. No consumables. I've found it to have all the benefits of my french press at home but it's quicker and easier to clean up for a single cup of coffee.

MeatMan wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

I'm simply curious if a man that enjoys in-depth PC strategy games that are by no means simple truly cannot wrap his head around JRPG's

Speaking as someone who also has no interest in the JRPG genre, I'll just say that I think there is a significant difference between wrapping one's head around something (i.e. understanding its mechanisms) and finding enjoyment and/or entertainment in it.

As the saying goes: "there's no accounting for taste."

This certainly is true, though as has been discussed on the forum, the JRPG "genre" is pretty damn huge. I think what happens is that it's typically a matter of presentation or aesthetic. While the various systems in JRPG's are different, they are typically presented in the same, bit by bit over time manner.

I suppose JRPG's are actually less accessible due to how different each game plays. A first-person shooter is a first-person shooter, but when you say JRPG's, well, just looking at my (3)DS library we have Chrono Trigger, Contact, Final Fantasy IV, Knights in the Nightmare, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Pokemon, Tales of the Abyss, and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plue. The only thing tying them together in a single genre is that they are Japanese and happen to have some trope of the genre like hit points or experience.

HOLD ON

A sea trade/acquisition/battle game? Are there strategic naval battles?

I have way more questions. Like way more. Someone who has played this please reach out to me in a pm, I don't want to derail this excellent piece, but must know more.

I like where your head's at here, Sean. I mean, you're still a tasteless, no-good, filthy philistine, of course, but you're a very respectful, tolerant, and open-minded one. That counts for a lot in my book. It's bodes great things for a community when we can take pleasure in the expertise and enjoyment of other people, even when we don't particularly enjoy what they're into.

Hmm. I feel this way about the whole MOBA genre.

HOLD ON

A sea trade/acquisition/battle game? Are there strategic naval battles?

I have way more questions. Like way more. Someone who has played this please reach out to me in a pm, I don't want to derail this excellent piece, but must know more.

It's prominently featured in next Wednesday's Conference Call. A lot of the detail will probably change over time, it's really in an alpha/beta stage at this point.

Heehee! I'll try to be patient.

Certis wrote:
Malor wrote:

Letting the main point breeze over my head, those Aeropresses are a fair bit of work, but if you want equivalently good coffee very easily, use a French press. Much easier than an Aeropress, and no consumables other than the coffee beans. The major difference between a drip coffeemaker and a French press is that you need to rinse it out when you're done, which takes a little longer than tossing grounds+filter.

Aeropress works the exact same way. No consumables. I've found it to have all the benefits of my french press at home but it's quicker and easier to clean up for a single cup of coffee.

Plus, you can't make espresso with a French press.

Out of the box, an aeropress has a consumable element it uses paper filters, but metal ones are easily and cheaply purchased.

Certis wrote:
Malor wrote:

Letting the main point breeze over my head, those Aeropresses are a fair bit of work, but if you want equivalently good coffee very easily, use a French press. Much easier than an Aeropress, and no consumables other than the coffee beans. The major difference between a drip coffeemaker and a French press is that you need to rinse it out when you're done, which takes a little longer than tossing grounds+filter.

Aeropress works the exact same way. No consumables. I've found it to have all the benefits of my french press at home but it's quicker and easier to clean up for a single cup of coffee.

He possibly means the paper filters the aeropress ships with, though any true connoisseur shells out for the metal filter.

EDIT: spider'd!

Did you specifically time this article to coincide with the Penny Arcade coverage of this phenomena?
IMAGE(http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/i-3bPDzgw/0/950x10000/i-3bPDzgw-950x10000.jpg)
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2013/10/11

spider_j wrote:
Certis wrote:
Malor wrote:

Letting the main point breeze over my head, those Aeropresses are a fair bit of work, but if you want equivalently good coffee very easily, use a French press. Much easier than an Aeropress, and no consumables other than the coffee beans. The major difference between a drip coffeemaker and a French press is that you need to rinse it out when you're done, which takes a little longer than tossing grounds+filter.

Aeropress works the exact same way. No consumables. I've found it to have all the benefits of my french press at home but it's quicker and easier to clean up for a single cup of coffee.

Plus, you can't make espresso with a French press.

Out of the box, an aeropress has a consumable element it uses paper filters, but metal ones are easily and cheaply purchased.

You can't make espresso with an aeropress, either. You make espresso with a fantastic grinder and 9 bars of pressure.

I love that half this thread is arguing about hipster coffee.

I'd never used the thing before this week and found it noticeably different than my French press. Cleaner. Fruitier. Somewhere between true espresso and fP.

Won't be giving up my key rig for "coffee now damnit" though.

Nathaniel wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I hear what you're saying. You're saying you're a philistine.

A good-hearted philistine, though.

This is why I take the time to read the comments.

me also

rabbit wrote:

I love that half this thread is arguing about hipster coffee.

I find it amusing how thoroughly we're reinforcing Elysium's main point.

TheWalt wrote:

Did you specifically time this article to coincide with the Penny Arcade coverage of this phenomena?
IMAGE(http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/i-3bPDzgw/0/950x10000/i-3bPDzgw-950x10000.jpg)
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2013/10/11

Penny Arcade notwithstanding, BSG is one of my favorite lengthy board games. But if that's what we're playing, it has to be with the promise that it's the ONLY thing we're playing, because, shorter fun games exist, too.

Malor wrote:
rabbit wrote:

I love that half this thread is arguing about hipster coffee.

I find it amusing how thoroughly we're reinforcing Elysium's main point.

Let me just say: This was a difficult article to edit.

(But then, my kitchen has a couple press pots, a decent grinder, and one of these—the AeroPress is at work.)

I show up to a board game of depth and complexity, and as my close friends are unlocking the sophisticated strategic potential, accessing a wealth of knowledge and experience amalgamated from functions of countless games played before, I comment on how much I like the artwork of the board or make crucial decisions about which color I want to play as.

This totally reminded me of this comic from Three Panel Soul... and gave me a good chuckle... because playing Hero Academy with a few people from here, I kind of feel like they are plotting and strategizing like game-level strategies... while I am just kind of reacting per turn.

Let it be known that a few of the humans who experienced Cory's magical Aeropress coffee thingamabob this week immediately went off to procure one for themselves.

I often operate at a level or three below most of my gaming friends. They either immediately grok the systems, or seem to come to understand the systems exponentially quicker than I do. I tend to operate as an explorer/tourist across my gaming experiences, which is why I prefer those first few experiences of a new game with them, then playing a game they have mastered. However, watching that mastery and discussion unfold when my own win or loss isn't on the line can be a lot of fun.