HOBBIES (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

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Before we stumbled into the world of board games, I did a lot of different creative things. Partially this was because I was (and still am) interested in a wide variety of things, but partially it was a matter of trying a lot of things and seeing what would stick. The answer turned out to be board games, and wargames specifically, and I've never really looked back or wondered what might-have-been.

But every once in a while, I do feel the siren call of other disciplines. I get the itch to write fiction, and so for two or three weeks, I spend a fair amount of my free time, such as it is, writing fiction. After playing some JRPGs on our Playstation machine and my smart phone, I got intensely interested in making video games again, and over the course of six weeks (an evening here, an hour there) I put together the beginnings of a game using the RPG Maker software. Recently, I found an old script for a comic book that I wrote two or three years back, and decided, what the heck, I'll try to draw it - despite the fact that my artistic skills leave a lot to be desired.

None of these things are things that matter. None of these things are things that will ever make us any money or launch me into some kind of secondary career as a novelist, a video game director, or a comic book guy. And because all of those forms are, to some degree, very narrative forms, while board games are perhaps inherently not, they're unlikely to help me discover (or rediscover) anything that could be applied directly to my métier. Writing a good line of dialogue or drawing a passable robot isn't going to help me come up with a new game mechanism or determine which combat factors to assign to which units.

So why spend my time with them at all? This question nags at me sometimes, particularly because these dalliances with other forms happen in concentrated, intense bursts. Wouldn't that energy or time be better suited to my games? Well, yes, and that's usually where my energy and time are spent. The thing about each game, however, is that I not only need to spend time on it - actively writing rules, prototyping, testing, and researching - but I also need to spend some time away from it, time in which the ideas are allowed to form and evolve. I often set aside one project for a few weeks or months, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes and a healthy distance. Usually during that time I'm picking up and working on another game.

And sometimes I'm amusing myself with my hobby pursuits, because not only do I need some time apart from each individual game, but I also need time apart from games, period. By flexing those other creative muscles, my game design batteries have time to recharge themselves. In another sense, it allows me to recharge - keeps my brain nimble and energized, keeps me interested in all sorts of different things, gives me something to do that isn't work, work, and more work. (I feel a little silly calling it "work" because my work primarily consists of pushing counters around a map and making "kerplow" noises when appropriate.)

These hobbies perhaps aren't the best use of my time as a professional game designer, but in some ways they feel essential to me as a whole and healthy human being, and those two roles are of course closely interrelated. Not just in the sense that an energetic and happy human being makes for an energetic and happy game designer, but also in the sense that good game design (particularly of simulation games) really depends on having a wide variety of interests and influences. Again, the specific things I explore and the specific problems I solve within my various hobby pursuits are unlikely to show up in my game design, but the acts of exploring and problem-solving, and the ambition of taking on things that you're not quite sure you can pull off - well, that transfers to games. That, in a nutshell, is the whole job.

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