Friday, October 28, 2011

Gamer's Carpe Diem

Food for worms!
Seize the day while you're young, see that you make use of your time... Because we're food for worms, lads!
--Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

I had the chance to see The Dead Poets Society again recently; I love that scene before the school trophy case - Robin Williams is like, What's the difference between you and all those faces looking out at you in the trophy case?  They're all dead, pushing up daffodils.  Now get out there and do something extraordinary before you're in the trophy case, too.

I'm one of those English and classics majors that backed into the information technology world from the other way, management first, technology later.  But I have that liberal arts background just under the covers, permeating my brain with two thousand years of thought.  And quotes.  There are many on this theme.  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.  Had we but world enough, and time.  But lest you get deluded into believing the answer is to build something lasting, there are the words on the base of  Shelley's statue in the desert to remind us of the futility:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

If you could only play one more game, what would it be?

My concern with the carpe diem train of thought is drawing the right conclusion.  I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so why am I worried about a mortgage, going to work, credit card payments, or anything that plans for a long term future?  Hmmm.  That doesn't seem very practical.

I don't know that going out there and being a conqueror in your chosen arena is so worthwhile, either; impermanence is the order of the day.  Poor Ozymandias now rules a barren desert.  We are such stuff as dreams are made on, our little life is rounded with a sleep.

But the idea that time is precious - don't waste it because you're not going to live forever;  I can get behind that sentiment.  Sitting down to play your favorite game with your regular group of players, that's something to cherish.  Make the most of it.  There will be a day when not everyone will make it back to the table, right?

Why are you playing a game system you hate, or a boring campaign, or putting up with mediocrity?  Don't wait for the future to try something new.  Maybe the Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder that keeps derailing your ideas and pushing you to change up your campaign is generated out of these subconscious mortal thoughts:  My time is wasting.

My opinion of the Gamer ADD might be changing;  rather than unruly thoughts to be mastered, it could all be intimations of transience.  For myself, I've sold off tons of games the past few years, systems that I'd never run, niches that no longer appealed, or games that just weren't as good as original D&D.  You start to wonder as a DM, just how many more campaigns will I actually run?

This is why I'll never play an MMO, and gave up playing any kind of video game.  If I'm going to play something, it's going to be around a table, surrounded by friends, munching on chips, having a few laughs, a few scares, building a story together, and rolling some dice.  Making memories, transient though they be.

This is a good time for thoughts of the "Memento Mori".  The air is growing chill, the leaves are turning, horror movies are on the TV, and everywhere we see cemeteries, ghosts, ghouls, and the signs of Halloween and preparations for Hallowmas.

Happy Halloween!  Make sure your next game is excellent.


  1. Isn't the reason we write our blogs so that we attain a degree of immortality?

    I know what you mean, though. I keep coming up with ideas for campaigns and the like, but then it hits me that I might never run them, as time is ticking. So instead, I focus on the ones I'm already running or playing in, and rejoice that I am.

  2. If I remember correctly, the Horace poem the line actually comes from is also largely about not trying to know the future. His lover has been using astrology to see what lies ahead, and he tells it's better to deal with it when it comes and enjoy life now.

    A similar sentiment, though more obviously stoic in the philosophical sense.

  3. Yeah, I have a lot of cool game ideas that never hit the table because I know they compete with what I am already doing. "Do you want to do THIS GAME more than THAT GAME? Because the choice is very real, not hypothetical."

    I used to have lots and lots of irons in the fire, with a dizzying whirl between campaigns. I've narrowed that down to three, two of which are open table--so one serious campaign.

    You want to add what variety you can, but not at the expense of going into a game deeply.

  4. Yeah, that's true - you can become selective about your projects, or you can treat everything like the buffet table and not get too committed into one thing.

    @Evan - yeah, the original Horace kind of gets lost in the popular translation, seize the day, which sounds a bit like "soldier, take that hill over yonder."

    "Be in the moment" is nice and has a zen quality, but I take the most meaning assigning "don't waste your time doing something you don't want to be doing" - because you're not getting that moment back.

  5. Great post. I adore pretty much every sentence that has ever flowed from the pen of Jack Vance, but perhaps my favourite comes at the end of Maske: Thaery, and it goes thusly:

    "While we are alive we should sit among colored lights and taste good wines, and discuss our adventures in far places; when we are dead, the opportunity is past."