What Being a Gamer Means to Me

The word “gamer” often inspires a lot of discussion among video game aficionados. Sometimes the word is preceded by qualifiers, like “casual,” “hardcore,” or “serious.” Sometimes gamers are divided by their platform of choice: “PC gamers,” “console gamers,” or “mobile gamers.”

But what does this term “gamer” even mean?

Many have tried to answer this question in some form or another. Maybe it’s pointless to search for an all-encompassing definition. The takeaway from many of these discussions is often: game playing is too diverse to come up with a definition that fits everybody. And that’s true.

And yet, as unprofitable as labels often become, in my mind, I still categorize people I meet as gamers and non-gamers. Self-avowed gamers seem to be able to discriminate between gamers and people who simply play games. And while athletes like baseball players, football players, basketball players, and volleyball players certainly spend a lot of time practicing, preparing, and performing, most gamers, from whom I’ve interacted with, usually don’t consider athletes “gamers.”

So rather than trying to find one definition that suits everybody, I’ll elucidate my qualifications for labeling somebody a gamer. I offer this only as a way of sparking discussion; while I certainly enjoy playing games with non-gamers, and want as many people as possible to experience the joys of gaming, connecting with gamers provides me a kind of joy that can’t be experienced directly with people who play games.

1. Gamers derive a significant amount of satisfaction from gaming

People usually play games because they are fun. Games are primarily a form of entertainment: that much is obvious. People who pursue games solely for fun often substitute gameplay for different fun activities: other media consumption, exercise, travel, dining, or any number of other hobbies. Gaming is fun, but the gamer doesn’t pursue games solely for fun.

What I have experienced through games is a much deeper satisfaction. Oftentimes gaming is frustrating. Playing a game for an hour without saving, and accidentally turning off the game and losing all of one’s progress, is not fun. Not understanding the controls of a complex game is not fun. Grinding in an RPG for hours on end to get to the next level, or take on the super-powerful secret boss, is not fun. Gaming is often work, but when completed, that work brings a┬álasting satisfaction.

Gamers play games not just because they want to have fun, but because they have a need, a deep-rooted desire to experience something great. Games fill a slot in a gamer’s heart intended for something other than fun.

2. Gamers invest time and resources in gaming

A gamer spends a lot of time playing games and a lot of money buying games, right? Somebody who has disposable resources. But being a gamer isn’t strictly determined by an amount of time or money that is spent on games. Rather, gamers invest resources in gaming.

What’s the difference between spending resources and investing resources? For me, investment is about thinking of the long-term health of one’s gaming. Sometimes that means buying a game now, because it is cheap or hard-to-find, and playing it later. Sometimes it means playing older games in a franchise so that one can understand the current games. Sometimes that means purposing playing games outside of one’s comfort zone just to see what all the hype is about. And sometimes it means following all of the developments in the industry to understand the trajectory of the avocation.

A gamer, though, does not often “waste” time gaming. If the gaming is a waste–maybe the game itself is broken or unenjoyable to play, or maybe too much effect is require to obtain a substandard game–then the gamer has no time for it. Not all games are created equal–gamers understand this–so resources need to be invested, not wasted.

3. Gamers game confidently

At first I was going to suggest that gamers are good at games. A gamer is somebody who understands the rules, understands the point of the game, and does their best to play at an acceptable level. After all, would you really call somebody an athlete if they can’t run more than a quarter of a mile or catch a ball? While competence usually follows from serious gaming, many gamers struggle when they first pick up a new game, especially in a genre they have little experience with. When playing a new game, many gamers will struggle, but they get better.

What marks a gamer from a non-gamer, though, has more to do with confidence. A gamer doesn’t get easily frustrated just because she can’t figure out the controls within the first five minutes. A gamer doesn’t give up just because he doesn’t understand the “meta” of Magic: The Gathering. Gamers are confident that, in time, they will learn the rules, they will learn the controls, they will understand the meta, and they will get better.

Gamers are not people who give up easily.

4. Gamers exploit the mechanics of games

This point follows from the first. The mechanics of a game are simply the rules by which that game operates. The mechanics dictate what actions can be performed in the game and which cannot. They dictate how the game is played, under which situations, in which environment. They can be obvious rules such as the “win condition” for a game, or they can be subtle, such as knowing how many frames of animation it takes for Chun-Li to execute her attacks.

Gamers have a way of seeing past the surface presentation of the game to understand the underlying structure. They can see that the original Legend of Zelda is in many ways the same game as Metroid Prime, even though the games are visually extremely different and control in different ways. And once gamers understand the mechanics of the game, they work to exploit them.

Now by exploit, I don’t necessarily mean cheating (e.g., when playing a tabletop game, a gamer won’t lean back in her chair to peek at the cards in an opponent’s hand). Games feature a variety of rules and actions the player can perform, and no two executions of a game are likely to be the same. Great games present players with many choices for what to do at any given time: the gamer can assess the situation and figure out what move is optimal to perform at a given time. Gamers find the most efficient ways of harvesting resources or dispatching of enemies. They are not directionless; they play with a purpose.

Gamers don’t just get to the end of the game and call it good. Every gamer finds different ways to be satisfied by a game: playing it as fast as possible, playing it on hard mode, or trying to find 100% of the secrets. Whatever their given play style, a gamer exploits a game’s mechanics to his advantage and satisfaction.

5. Gamers can appreciate games they don’t enjoy playing

Simply put: there are too many games out there. I contend that if humans never invented another game–from video games to card games to board games to sports–we could all find more than enough games to keep us satisfied for the rest of our earthly lives. Gamers begrudgingly accept that they can’t play all the great games out there, so they tend to stick with a few genres that make them most happy. I tend to play Nintendo games (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.), JRPGs, German-style board games, and the occasional building/sim game, racing game, and fighting game.

Gamers can appreciate, though, games of other genres, even if they don’t spend a lot of time playing those games or even like them that much. I’ve never been much for collectable card games, but I find all of the play mechanics behind Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, and all the others extremely interesting. I’ve never wanted to invest the time and money into learning these games, but I can understand the appeal of them.

Gamers aren’t elitist, in my mind. People who proclaim that one platform is superior to another (PS4 vs. Wii-U vs. PC) or people who write off entire franchises because of some quality they dislike (such as those who hate Call of Duty for releasing a new game every year) are only borderline gamers, in my opinion.

Now, this doesn’t mean that gamers can’t have strong opinions about games: there are certainly many individual games I dislike and I have reasons for those dislikes. At the same time, though, I can appreciate the game for what it is: something that brings other people satisfaction. Rather than choosing arrogance and choosing to disengage with other gamers, I find it more profitable to understand why people like that game.

6. Gamers understand the language of gaming

As with all pursuits and industries, gaming carries a large amount of jargon and slang. When my brother and I talk gaming, for instance, we might as well be speaking another language because our parents don’t understand what we are talking about. In gaming, there are jargon for genres, play mechanics, character-types, attack styles, energy systems, treasure collecting, and on and on and on.

Once I tried to teach a friend how to play a simplified version of Dungeons & Dragons that I was working on. I was trying to boil the game down to it’s essence. But my description of the rules broke down when I was trying to explain the concept of “hit points.” She didn’t understand. It took several minutes to explain what “hit points” are.

Knowing the slang terms, though, is not enough for the gamer. Many of the same systems and mechanics find their way into numerous games, sometimes games that are quite different from one another. And other times, developers will change the name of a system or mechanic to give their game a different auditory feel. But gamers see through these gimmicks. They know that whether we’re talking about hit points, health, life, energy, units, or hearts, it all amounts to the same thing: a measure of the amount of damage a person can take before dying.

7. Gamers spread their love of gaming

Sadly, many self-avowed gamers fail in this final criterion. I knew many people in college who spent days and nights playing their favorite games, whether Halo 2 or EVE Online. Many would’ve considered themselves gamers, and probably would’ve fulfilled most of the criteria in this post.

However, these individuals were isolated. They played by themselves (or with friends online), but they were so enthralled by their favorite games, and played at such a high level, that it was impossible for them to play games with non-gamers. Gamers who isolate and surround themselves with other hardcore gamers do not contribute to the long-term viability of gaming. In some cases, they turn people away from gaming, perpetuating stereotypes that gamers are otakus playing alone in the dark.

A gamer with a heart for expanding the industry find ways of gaming with non-gamers. Sometimes that means playing games that really aren’t that good, like Monopoly. Other times, because of the gamer’s more extensive knowledge of different types of games, that means knowing which game to recommend to which friend.

Gaming can be a pretty lonely pursuit if a gamer doesn’t have anybody to game with. Gamers, then, often look for ways of introducing people to new types of games, and in turn, being receptive to new games from others.

* * *

This is what being a gamer means to me. After 1800 words, I’m not sure how close I am to fully defining the term, but this is a start. I’m curious, Reader, do you consider yourself a gamer, and if so, what does the label mean to you?

Game on,
~Dennis

The Minecraft Travelogue: Land Ho: Days 92-94

Seven witches are destroying this world by raising an army of undead warriors. My job is to hunt and kill them. Perhaps killing these witches will restore balance to the world.

Five witches have been slayed: two more remain.

This is my journey. My only goal is to tell a good story.

Day 92

My packs fully stocked with chords of wood, I continued building the land bridge west.

Minecraft Travelogue

To my great surprise, land was only 200 meters away! I had spent over a week preparing for this next leg of the journey, and a new continent was there all along.

Minecraft Travelogue

Upon reaching the shores, I realized this was no barren tropical island trapped in the middle of the Orange Ocean. This was indeed a significant land mass. I’ve never seen land like this before. The oranges and yellows and browns were a welcome change of scenery. I couldn’t wait to leave this ocean behind.

Minecraft Travelogue

What do they call this land? Does anybody even live here? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out! I forgot all about my horse and my bridge and wandered aimlessly throughout the afternoon.

Minecraft Travelogue

Sand was everywhere, and the buttes were made of hardened, sun-baked clay. Not much appeared to grow here. Was this a bad place? Perhaps they call it the Bad Lands.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

There was a quiet beauty, though, to all this stillness. I could get used to this place.

Minecraft Travelogue

Night was falling fast, and I needed to get back to Lightning. I turned around and went east again, toward my land bridge, when suddenly, monsters appeared!

Minecraft Travelogue

So witches were here, causing trouble! I had to dispose of this evil as soon as I could.

I ran. I didn’t want to engage with any mobs tonight.

Minecraft Travelogue

On my way back to the bridge, I found more floating rocks, the biggest ones I’ve seen yet on my journey. What was happening to this world?

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 93

The next day, I brought Lightning to the Bad Lands, along with all my gear. I built a little pen for her. She seemed content with this place, though the sand made her steps uneasy.

Minecraft Travelogue

I built myself a house with an overhang to protect from the sun. I had all of this extra material I’d harvested. Tiny Island was created specifically for the production of wood. What was I going to do with all of this wood now? I needed to find some project, so I planned to stay on the shore for some time until I exhausted my material.

Minecraft Travelogue

And then it came to me: a triumph gate! I would build a massive gate to greet anybody who happened to find their way onto my land bridge. People could seek protection inside the gate. And the gate would be so tall that people could see it from miles away!

That’s my project.

I laid a foundation and began building skyward.

Minecraft Travelogue

A skeleton hid below, but I was too high for him to attack. I paid him no mind. I worked long into the night, completely absorbed by my new task.

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 94

As the sun rose, I exited the first tower only to find a creeper staring me in the face. He’d sneaked up in the night and exploded before I could react, right on top of my chest of wood. I may have lost some material in the process; I don’t know. Hopefully I have enough wood to finish this project. Otherwise, this will be a monument to hubris, not perseverance. How foolish was I to start building something so massive while assuming I’d be able to complete it! And that this land was safe!

Minecraft Travelogue

It certainly is not.

You know what they say about the man who builds upon the sand.

How to Add a Pop-O-Matic Dice Roller to Settlers of Catan

The Settlers of Catan is easily my favorite board game ever. I’ve probably played the game with 50-60 different people over the years; I just introduced the game to six more people in the past month! But what would make the game ever better? Perhaps the Pop-O-Matic from Trouble!

If you don’t remember Trouble, think back to when you were 5 or 6 years old. Trouble is basically the same game as Sorry. The biggest difference? The Pop-O-Matic bubble! Hasbro is so proud of the Pop-O-Matic that they reference it 15 times on the box alone!

The Pop-O-Matic has such a great tactile feel to it: bu-BOOP! What a great way to roll dice. My task: remove the Pop-O-Matic from a Trouble game board and convert it for Catan use. In this post, I’ll show you how.

Time needed: 45 minutes
Cost: $11

Trouble board game box

Three references to the Pop-O-Matic on the cover alone: in the logo as words, in the logo as the “o” of Trouble, and in the caption under the pieces. I think Hasbro’s trying to tell us something!

Advantages of the Pop-O-Matic

Rolling dice with your hands has a few disadvantages. They roll off the table. Some joker rolls them across the board and scatters all the pieces. Or the pieces land on edge, and then the players debate whether the dice need to be rerolled. A game like Catan has lots of pieces, so the game table can get quite crowded. It never fails, every game, all of this drawbacks take place.

The Pop-O-Matic solves all of them! No longer will dice roll across the table. Rarely will the dice land on their edges. And best of all, you get to experience that sweet popping sensation over and over again.

Bu-BOOP!

And the best place to put the Pop-O-Matic? In the desert, where else? Catan fans know that the desert is a “wasted” space. Nobody wants to build on the edge of a desert if they can avoid it. The desert is initially the home of the robber, but he can sit off to the side.

Materials Needed

To complete this project, you’ll need the following tools:

  • Razor blade
  • Small flathead screwdriver
  • Metal file
  • Something to cut on

And you’ll need the following materials. The cost of this project will vary dramatically based on which of these materials you have already:

  • One Trouble board (the game retails for $10, though if you can find a cheaper used copy, even better)
  • Two 12mm six-sided dice
  • One extra Catan hexagon tile
  • Super glue

Depending on how authentic you want your dice to be, you may need to purchase some paint. I used the following colors to paint my dice the exact colors Catan uses. You can find them at any craft store, like Hobby Lobby or Jo-Ann’s.

  • Americana brand acrylic paint: Santa Red
  • Americana brand acrylic paint: Bright Yellow
  • Paint brush
  • Toothpick
Trouble game board

This board is one piece of plastic, including the housing around the bubble.

Trouble game board bottom

The bottom of the Pop-O-Matic is a separate piece of plastic. Fortunately, there’s a large gap between the two.

Dismantling the Pop-O-Matic

Upon examination of the Trouble board, you’ll see that it is mostly one piece of plastic, including the top of the Pop-O-Matic. To make this Pop-O-Matic usable, you first need to remove it from the rest of the board. To do this, place the board on a safe surface (I used a cutting mat), and take out your razor blade.

The Pop-O-Matic has 8 sides, four long and four short. The corners are rounded, but it’s very difficult to cut a rounded corner. So instead, cut eight lines, one along each edge. Don’t cut exactly along the shape of the Pop-O-Matic. Instead, extend your cuts about 1 inch beyond. This will make removing the Pop-O-Matic easier.

I found that it takes about 10-12 cuts with the razor to break through the plastic. Be very careful to place your cuts exactly on top of each other. Cut as close to the Pop-O-Matic as you can. After about 20-25 minutes, the Pop-O-Matic was removed.

Trouble game board sans Pop-O-Matic

Separated Pop-O-Matic

Opening the Pop-O-Matic

The Pop-O-Matic contains six parts: the top, the bottom, two sheets of metal, the plastic dome, and the die. The top and bottom are the only pieces actually attached to each other. To separate the pieces, carefully slip your flathead screwdriver between the pieces of plastic. There’s actually a sizable gap, which makes your job easier.

Start by wedging the screwdriver in between the pieces on the long lines. Once wedged in, pry it just a bit, but not too much. You don’t want to crack the top piece. After prying the long lines, pry along the short lines. This is the tough part. Basically there are four main attaching points between the top and bottom pieces, one in each corner. Very carefully, pry around all edges of the corners until you hear something break: this is the part where the plastics connect. You have to break four attachment points, and the pieces will come right apart.

Now you’ll see everything inside. The popping mechanism is two pieces of bent metal placed on top of each other. The plastic dome sits right on top: it’s held in place by the top piece of plastic.

Pop-O-Matic contents

Pop-O-Matic separated

You can see on the right piece (the bottom) where I had to break the four connections in the corners.

Cleaning Up the Plastic

Even with careful cutting, all your work so far has probably roughed up the edges of the Pop-O-Matic. I used a small metal file and spent about ten minutes sanding all the edges. Be careful not to sand along the surface of the top piece of plastic: you don’t want scratches to show. Just file wherever you cut the plastic, file those corners so they are rounded, and then file the bottom piece at any place your prying may have dented the plastic.

Separated Pop-O-Matic edges

The edges are a bit rough, but a little filing will fix that.

Adding the Dice

Here’s where you have to make some decisions. The Pop-O-Matic works great for one die, but add the two red and yellow Catan dice, not so much. I conducted about 50 popping tests and found that the rolling isn’t always fair. Often one will just pop up and straight down, unchanged. This clearly won’t work. Try adding a third die (the Event die from Cities and Knights) and the Pop-O-Matic definitely won’t work as intended.

Pop-O-Matic with two Catan dice

Pop-O-Matic with three Catan dice

So instead, you’ll have to add two smaller dice. The Catan dice are 16mm; but you can find 12mm dice if you look. 12mm dice aren’t as satisfying to roll in your hand, but the Pop-O-Matic takes care of that. Two 12mm dice work quite well in the Pop-O-Matic. Depending on your gaming store, you might be able to find 12mm dice sold individually. I had to buy them in a pack of 36 from Chessex. $9.53 is a bit much to spend for 2 dice, but I’m sure I’ll use the rest elsewhere. The price averages to $0.25 a die, so that’s how I arrive at the $11 price tag of this project ($10 plus tax for the board game, $0.50 for the dice).

Unfortunately, you won’t find a 12mm version of the Event die from Cities and Knights. If you don’t use that expansion, don’t worry about it. If you do, well, maybe just roll the Event die on the side.

The Dice Colors

Switching the 16mm dice with 12mm is mandatory. The next decision you’ll need to make is: what colors will the dice be? The normal Catan game uses a red die and a yellow die: wonder why? In Cities and Knights, acquisition of cards is determined by the face value on the red die and the event die. So, that’s why the yellow and red need to be differentiated.

If you play with Cities and Knights, if you can, find a yellow and red 12mm die. I wasn’t able to (I mean, I could’ve bought a 36 pack of red 12mm and a 36 pack of yellow 12mm, but I wasn’t ready to spend the money). Instead, I took two 12mm die and painted them.

This is the most tedious and time-consuming part of the project. The dice require many coats of paint to look decent. I used acrylic paint, which doesn’t feel very glossy, but again, nobody’s going to touch these dices. They look pretty good from a distance. Time will tell if the paint actually holds up after years of popping.

Now if you don’t care about authenticity, don’t worry about the colors. Just use two of the same color, or use two different colors and just decide when you play Cities and Knights which die will count for the cards.

Some notes about painting: If you go the painting route, add 2 hours to the project time and $4 for paint. I used acrylic paint because it dries fast and is cheap, but it doesn’t stick very well. Sand the dice first with your metal file and that will help some. If somebody knows a better paint, feel free to experiment.

Second, paint the faces first. It took me about 6-7 coats. The pips will get filled in, so before you paint the pips, use a round file to get some of the excess paint out. Using a toothpick, carefully drop a dab of paint into the pips.

Finally, if you are going for authenticity, the pip colors are the opposite of the face colors. So the red die has yellow pips and the yellow die has red pips.

12mm Catan dice

I’m not exactly satisfied with the paint job, especially on the yellow one, but again, they are pretty small and people won’t be looking at them that closely.

Putting it All Together

Alright, so we cut out the Pop-O-Matic, separated the pieces, and figured out what dice to use. All that’s left is putting it together. First, place the metal pieces and dice inside the bottom piece. Then put four dabs of super glue in each of the colors, right on those connecting areas you broke earlier. Then, holding the dome inside the top piece, carefully place the top piece down. Make sure only the top and bottom pieces are glued together. The metal pieces and dome should not touch any glue. I learned this the hard way: the metal pieces need to slide around for the popping mechanism to work. If they get glued down, take it apart and start again.

Now, I used four dabs of glue in the corners and that worked well; I’d recommend against using any more glue than this. Simply: if you decide to ever open the Pop-O-Matic to swap out the dice, you don’t want to create too much work for yourself.

With the Pop-O-Matic constructed, wait for it to dry then test it out. I was surprised to find how hard the Pop-O-Matic is to push, a lot harder than I remember as a kid. Time will tell if the Pop-O-Matic holds up after thousands of pops: does anybody know if the metal pieces ever wear out and get bent?

The last thing to do is put the Pop-O-Matic on a hexagon tile. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sacrifice my desert piece (in case I ever want to play without the Pop-O-Matic). My Catan games have always come with a few extra pieces, like one extra hexagon tile that’s tan on one side and water on the other. What’s the purpose of this hexagon? It’s sat in my box for years, but I’m so glad I didn’t throw it away!

Catan extra hexigon tile

The tile on the right is the extra one. It contains a water background, as seen in the left tile (just a normal resource tile).

With a little super glue, attach the Pop-O-Matic to the hexagon (I glued it to the tan side). Just use a dab of glue: again, if you ever need to take apart the Pop-O-Matic, you don’t want to destroy the tile too much when you pull it apart.

Now, the Pop-O-Matic is square and the hexagon is obviously not, so the pieces don’t fit together perfectly. A little bit of the Pop-O-Matic will extend beyond the tile. However, because it is raised above the tile, it should fit perfectly next to your other hexagons. The only slight drawback is that if roads are built directly on the PopO-Matic piece, they won’t fit right on the edge: you’ll have to nudge them inward a bit. It’s not the best solution aesthetically, but then on the other hand, people don’t often build on the desert piece, so you might not encounter this problem that often.

Pop-O-Matic in place of desert in Catan

The Pop-O-Matic in place. As you can see, the corners overlap the tiles slightly. I don’t think it’s a huge issue.

I play Catan using these magnetic plastic hexagon holders called Hexels. The Pop-O-Matic fits perfectly on top, and actually gives me a bit more space between the hexagons, mostly eliminating that road problem I just mentioned. The plastic hexels appear sturdy enough. Like I said, pressing the Pop-O-Matic is a bit hard, so I’m worried that if I press on the hexel too much with the Pop-O-Matic will break or crack it (and it sounds like they might not be making any more!). So I’ll be watching the health of my hexel closely. Perhaps in the future I’ll find a way to reinforce it so that it can take the abuse of the Pop-O-Matic.

Pop-O-Matic in the Catan hexels

The Pop-O-Matic inside a hexel. As you can see, no overlap with the resource tiles!

Now Your Turn!

And that’s it! If you don’t paint your dice, this project should only take about 45 minutes and cost $11. Give it a try and let me know how it works and if your players enjoy it! I’m excited to debut it with my friends! And more importantly, if you find a way to improve my design, let me know in the comments! If you have pictures of your completed Catan Pop-O-Matic, send them to me and I’ll post them for everybody to see!

Bu-BOOP!

Game on,
~Dennis