The Saturation Point

The Saturation Point is defined by Dictionary.com as the point in which a final capacity is reached. When no more of a substance can be added or held. When it comes to getting caught out in the rain, this is the point in which your clothing is so thoroughly soaked that you simply cannot hold any more water.

It is rare that we hit our saturation point, as despite complaining about getting caught out in the rain, with our modern conveniences it is rare to be thoroughly waterlogged. Shelter and towels are usually close at hand and for those that are impatient with the rate of evaporation, hair dryers and clothes dryers provide speedy alternatives.

Vehicles make transportation luxurious as we no longer must we trudge through the elements to travel…

…unless we want to!

In May of 2015, I elected to trudge.

While running Kickstarter campaign, a man told me that self-promotion is a full-contact sport. The message resonated with me, particularly as I was pulling 15-18 hour days at conventions demonstrating my game in an effort to raise funds for the campaign. The whole process was alleviated by the fact that I genuinely enjoy talking to people, but still; 18 hours of talking non-stop is still 18 hours.

After speaking to people for so long, I felt the impulse to take a few hours to myself. During a convention called Keycon, I planned to repeat my annual walk home at 2:00 A.M to be my downtime, a period of 2.5 hours to reflect on the convention and catch up on the latest episode of my favorite podcast: Hardcore History.

The previous year the walk home had been easy, as summer nights in Winnipeg are typically calm and serene with gentle breezes that take the edge of the hot and humid days.

May 16, 2015 was not one of these serene night.

After a hot and muggy week, I watched through the windows of the convention’s game room as dark clouds accumulated throughout the evening. At around 1:00 A.M it began to drizzle and by 2:00, it had progressed into a mid-summer shower.

Being stubborn about sticking to plans, I decided that shower or not, I was going on my contemplative walk. I began by stuffing all my belongings into a water-proof bag and zipped up my water-resistant jacket (not to be confused with water-proof).

I said goodbye to the stragglers in the gaming room, namely two men engaged in a three day game of Star Wars miniatures with enough figurines to re-mortgage a house. After learning of what I was about to attempt, they informed me in no uncertain terms that I was clearly insane and begged me to reconsider my travel plan.

I brushed it off with the inane response only a particular sub-section of geek subculture that the three of us inhabited could understand, namely that that “I loved Bladerunner”. [This is not hyperbole, it is Why I Write]

I then walked into the rain-slick cityscape, confident in having established myself as a bona fide insane game designer.

When I began to walk, the rain remained mild; neither a drizzle nor a downpour. Accompanying me was the voice of Dan Carlin in his most recent episode of Hardcore History, which covered the trials and tribulations of World War I.

At about the fifteen minute mark and just as I was in the middle of an open bridge with no shelter, Poseidon suddenly began to play hard-ball and the rain and wind rose in synch, creating a torrential downpour.

For my part, I took solace in the thought that in these conditions, I was probably safer from muggings or harassment during this late night stroll then at any other point in my life.

Not knowing what else to do, I also turned up the volume of my podcast.

This was a mistake.

In the two hour trudge through waterlogged streets and alleyways, I struggled to distract myself with the podcast. The trouble was that this particular episode had decided to spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject of trench warfare and the horrific conditions soldiers endured perpetually wet in the muddy trenches. At one point, Dan Carlin commented that people today don’t know what it is like to experience being so wet, so thoroughly saturated.

This did not take my mind off the rain.

After an hour and a half, I had reached the saturation point in more ways than one. Physically, I was entirely soaked. Water dripped from every piece of clothing and every exposed extremity. My shoes made a disconcerting squashing sound as it slowly transformed into an aquarium for my foot.

Mentally, I was also at my capacity to hear about the extremes of WWI trench warfare. “Screw you, Dan Carlin” I said aloud. “I have pretty good idea of what it is to be wet.

Removing my rain-slicked ear buds, I decided to simply take in the environment around me. I marveled at the iconic downtown skyscrapers that illuminated the sky like torches and became enamored with how the city’s lights danced on the rain puddles. Neon signs glowed with product placement and reflected off store windows and passing cars like the futuristic films and books I enjoy so much.

For another hour, I simply pushed forward. Buses had stopped running before I started my journey and there was only one option left. Walk forward and admire the present.

Though I have never found guided meditation to be very effective, this small odyssey through the cityscape of Winnipeg gave me time to reflect on life, my journey so far and on the world I live in.

I returned home carrying my own body weight in wet clothing but surprisingly at ease mentally. I lived in a city that upon close inspection, resembled much of the science fiction worlds I read and dreamed about growing up. In my free time, I was promoting a game to the public, a task that has since culminated in the funding and present manufacturing of my very own game, marking the achievement of a life goal I have held for many years

In short, life on the whole was pretty darn good. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of discomfort to see it.

Followers

A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

The Role of the Critic

I still remember the exact moment I realized was not going to be an English Major. Upon entering University, I had aspirations of becoming a game critic, a dream later squashed through a stint reviewing free-to-play online role-playing games (MMO’s) back when only the bottom of the barrel games were free-to-play. At the time though, my mission was to review games and an English Major seemed the logical pathway, seeing as it was a major all about writing and critiquing.

I even had the pleasure of being invited to an English Honours meeting, where students are courted by faculty and extolled the pleasures and virtues of pursuing an Honours Degree in English. Upon entering the small and rather appropriately named Reading Room, I was offered a snack of coffee and donuts, the quintessential staples of the undergraduate diet. I collected my GPA booster on a plate and sat down in a small circle with a few other students and faculty.

I don’t recall exactly how the conversation started, but after introductions the topic quickly shifted onto a recent Shakespeare play Keanu Reeves performed in. While I am the first to admit that I am a massive Keanu Reeves fan, both in terms of his public persona and the films that he stars in, I have exactly zero knowledge of his role in Shakespeare plays.

I was the outlier however, as everyone else at the meeting had seen the play and had something negative to say about Mr. Reeves. Each member took a turn providing a scathing criticism of my idol until my turn finally arrived. All eyes fell on me as the department head calmly asked “what’s your opinion Trevor?”

I bought time by quickly taking a massive bite out of my donut, giving me a solid ten seconds of awkward silence as I chewed followed by another eight seconds as I washed down the mass of carbohydrates with coffee.

Following the extended silence and with no clever response coming to mind, I finally replied “Well, I don’t know about Shakespeare, but I liked him in the Matrix”.

The room returned to silence.

Clearly the other members of the meeting were struggling as much as I had to come up with a response, save that their focus was to formulate a reply that did not highlight the conversational detour I had taken.

The department head broke the silence with “well, in your English degree, you will certainly have a chance to read a great deal about Shakespeare!”

I showed myself out shortly afterwards, accepting that the English Degree was not the path for me.

My switch from English to History was not entirely based on this meeting; it also happened to include the lectures as well. While I enjoyed the passion professors brought to their subject as well as their ability to deconstruct and expand upon literature, the critic in me always wondered where the final score was. In video game reviews, scores are critical to the review process, helping to inform and shape the purchasing habits of consumers. Only more recently have video game begun to explore the role of the critic as a way to enhance the experience of the medium.

At the time I was impatient and wondered why scores and final summaries were absent from to the books we read, pushing me further away from an English degree. That and I still did not like Shakespeare, no matter how much of the bard’s literature I read.

In the subsequent years, my view on the critic’s role has changed. I take issue with how the scores of game critics have suffered from inflation (look for a game with a Metacritic score below 50 out of 100 for a clear example) as well as a limited system of grading that serves as a simple reference tool for consumers determining purchases.

By contrast, my appreciation has grown for the ability of critics to expand upon and explain materials. I recently attended a comic book store and found myself in an hour-long conversation (it was a slow day) with a store clerk named Todd over the deconstruction of the hero and the origins of the anti-hero.

Todd’s enthusiasm was infectious and he asked me questions throughout our conversation about my interests in comics (graphic novels if you want to sound pretentious). After a lengthy discussion, he carefully coinsured immense rows of comics arranged in the same manner albums in vinyl record stores are presented, adeptly navigating content dividers between the books emblazoned with archaic symbols that indicated changes in genre and time.

“Aha”, Todd suddenly announced after a bout of intense searching! “You will enjoy this”.

He held out a copy of James O’Barr’s The Crow. “This books marks a landmark point in the development of the anti-hero”, exclaimed Todd. “It’s also half off” he added, pointing to a red sale sticker.

This man new how to appeal to the bargain-hunting Winnipeger inside of me.

I subsequently bought The Crow not out of an initial interest in the book, but from the interest in the story Todd had created in me. Devouring the book in a night, I reflected the next morning that by itself, I would not have enjoyed the story. The story is intensely dark and focuses on an exploration of guilt and the emotions elicited by revenge, themes that at a cursory glance make for a depressing and rather unfulfilling story. Thanks to the social context and literary themes discussed by Todd however, my enjoyment of The Crow multiplied many times over and I flipped eagerly through the haunting images and disturbing character transformation.

The whole experience made me realize we can all be critics in the best sense of the word. Not as belittlers of others work, but passionate advocates of the hobbies and pastimes we cherish. I am a firm believer that you can get people interested in just about anything if you are excited enough about it. Heck, if I can make insects around a grocery store engaging, anything can be entertaining. So how about you; what gets you excited enough to get others excited? What are you passionate enough about that you want to kindle that passion in others?