For me, gaming is not necessarily a distraction from life’s “important stuff”. Jonathan Jones, the Guardian’s art critic, once wrote an infamous (and lazy) hit piece on the Discworld novels not long after Terry Pratchett’s death. To be fair to Jones, he later held it up as his “most shameful moment as a critic”. Nevertheless, he clearly draws a distinction between “entertainment” and “art”, and believes life is “too short to waste” on ordinary entertainment (particularly the “graveyard for the English language” that is the fantasy genre).
Mssr. Jones thinks we should be spending our precious time reading “art”, by which he means novels of the sort Philip Roth wrote. Michael Moorcock once said of novels of the sort Philip Roth wrote that they are “usually blokes writing about being a bloke, and quite frankly I can’t think of anything more boring… It’s the modern novel’s final fling, the ‘bloke novel’… All the various versions of the right of passage.”
Philip Roth was no doubt a marvellously talented author (I particularly enjoyed The Plot Against America, though I have some sympathy with the view that reading his work can be akin to having him sit on your face until you can’t breathe), but his novels are not necessarily telling me anything about the human condition. They’re often telling me about the condition of being Philip Roth. My right of passage was my own childhood, and my own childhood included British Old-School gaming (and, yes, Terry Pratchett). My own memories of 1990s Bristol, and how they feed into my gaming, tell me much more about the experience of childhood than an American novelist writing about growing up in 1940s Newark.
Not that I consider the British Old-School to be a self-obsessed exercise in nostalgia. Simon Pegg (co-creator of Spaced), got himself into a bit of bother a few years back when he suggested that “nerd culture” was infantilising us and distracting us from more serious matters:
“We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc.”
He may have a point. But, I would argue, games of the British Old-School are often obsessed with themes of inequality, corruption, and economic injustice. They are games of working class heroes, exploring fantasy societies from the lowest rungs. British Old-School games can engage players with all sorts of big topics (albeit usually in a Pratchettesque fashion), from death and religion, to disability, race, and gender. Rather than being a distraction, I think the British Old-School is a wonderful way for a group of friends to play with some of life’s important stuff.