On Looking to the Past
This has nearly nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with gaming, math, and goofing off. But it’s still work!
The advice given in the booklets for the ultra-realistic space combat game Attack Vector: Tactical and its slightly less realistic but faster cousin Squadron Strike! is to not just read the rules but sit down and play the tutorial. Looking at the rules, the number of steps required, thinking of 3D positioning on the tabletop; those all stop the brain cold when it wants to pew-pew some alien spaceships. But once you sit down with the hexmap provided, the ship box-mini and control page, and the 3 pieces of chocolate (!) you’ll soon be shooting at and devouring, it all makes sense.
It’s good advice. Sit down. Do the work. Then you have a leg to stand on if it all still seems too complicated for a given value of “fun”. It’s not like the author is asking you to play a 52 week campaign of 4 hours per week before you can critique the game, set it aside, or embrace it fully. Unfortunately, that’s an attitude most RPG designers take; it works in the campaign, so play a campaign before you criticize.
So: don’t be an RPG designer.
Applying this to something closer to my writing, I sat down and did the work for some math equations on the ever-popular Atomic Rockets site. I wasn’t seeing the relationship between exhaust velocity, thrust, specific impulse, mass flow – all the parts that make up the ultra cool Engine List. At least, I wasn’t seeing it until I sat down with a scratchpad, ran through the equations and could come up with the same values on the chart. It clicked, then. Just being able to work through the problem, turn the crank, and get a meanful output locked the concepts in my head in a way just reading them never could.
Maybe this only helps people who are hands-on types. I can usually understand a new concept but need to get my hands dirty before I feel comfortable with it. But I think all of us could benefit from taking the time to sit down, get some paper and do the work.