So today (cue music) is my birthday and, much as this tends to produce reflection in other parts of my life, it prompts the same in that part of my life devoted to geek. It has occurred to me that in the last couple-three months, I've sold the single remaining painted (i.e., playable) army I had, began began two new game projects, and given considerable thought to several more. On the "bookshelf of guilt", where I keep my halfpainted models, I currently have soviet infantry, Pyrrhis phalangites, bretonnian knights, 40k orks, and Dystopian Wars EoBS. Having gone through a big consolidation phase, what, 6 or 8 months ago, I find myself madly galloping off in all directions.
On top of the "to do" pile, I've been looking at 40k - the Tau codex (see the previous post), the marine codex, and the Ork codex, producing this:
4 down, what, 120+ to go? I've also been going through my annual "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to paint a marine army" phase, pondering chapter schemes, etc. This cropped up last summer, and resulted in the purchase of a ton of marine stuff, and the painting of this guy. I then swapped the marines and some other odds and ends for the orks, the first four of which I've painted almost two years later.
Then you can add in the basic fact that my gaming opportunities are shrinking. Family and work take up most of my time, and blowing off an evening or weekend afternoon to get a game in, while not impossible, can't be a regular thing. This has implications for painting. In the past, my primary motivation for "getting things done" was getting them on the table. Not getting to the table as often means less impetus to get things done, less focus on a specific project, less engagement with the social aspect of the hobby (in the, "as soon as I get these bikers done I'm really to going to give Ken's destroyers what-for" sense). Hence the half-dozen half-finished units mentioned above.
Am I just nuts, or what?
I've been thinking over how I got here, and how I function as a geek, and I think it boils down to three basic factors: nostalgia, finances, and the rewards I get from geeking.
Nostaliga: my happiest geek memories are from the beginnings of things. Best RPG arc was when I first started playing third edition D&D, with a new group. Best miniatures gaming is split between learning 4th edition 40k and 1st edition warmachine with the Newfoundlanders, and restarting warmachine in Toronto with my Magnus army in 2007. Hands down, the most fun I have had geeking is when I happen across a good group of gaming buddies, and as a group we figure out a new game or army.
I think a lot of my flitting around right now comes from nostalgia. There's a REASON I stopped playing GW, and 40k in particular. GW rules are just too loose; any game where the game company recognises there are holes in the rules and refuses to clarify them sets off alarm bells for me. Yet, like the mob, every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in. While this kind of thing can be settled amicable in a well-established "garage group", in pick up games it can be a problem. And the basic fact is, for the last several years, I've been playing pick-up games. But I keep coming back to GW, partly because of fond memories and partly because at the end of the day, the backstory and models GW produces remain as appealing as ever. From the time I was around 14, I've wanted to paint a sniper scout, or a swooping hawk, or an empire engineer, or a Bretonnian knight. At the end of the day, I still do.
Finances: I make a real effort to not have the costs of my hobby bleed into family finances, and have done so from around the time my son was born. I'm lucky enough to enjoy painting, to be a good painter, and to be able to sell what I paint at a mark-up on retail. Add in the deals one can get from places like B-town and eBay, and my hobby is pretty much self-supporting. I probably spend more on coffee than geeking, and I take a thermos to work.
That said, the way I handle my geekly finances means that I tend to acquire stuff in big blocks - I'll buy an army's worth of models on discount with the money I get selling off an older project. It's why I've got a closet full of unpainted models. What I don't tend to get is a lot of choice, or the opportunity to make an impulse purchase. When people sell large lots at a discount, you pretty much get what's in the lot, you end up with things you figure you might want to do at some point, but not necessarily now, and you often have to be ready to strip paint and do a little fix-up.
This means that if I really want a space marine army, I can get one. What's difficult is bombing down to the FLGS and drop real money on a box of space marines because I need a reminder of why I've never finished a space marine army. The price of a box of marines is comparable to the cost of taking my kid to the zoo. Guess which I'm going to opt for?
In other words, at precisely the time where I want to be able to diversify and shallowly involve myself in multiple projects, my resources require me to plan and focus. Add in the loss of my primary focus mechanism - the drive to get things on the table and play with them, and you can begin to see why this hasn't been happening.
Geekly Rewards: I get three main things out of my hobby, namely a framework for social interaction, a sense of personal satisfaction, and peace of mind. The first is pretty straight forward. Over the last several years, I've had to move around for work. This situation is now more or less settled, but one thing geek meant to me was that in pretty much any town I moved to, I could look up the game store in the phone book, walk in with an army, and meet people with whom I had at least one thing in common that WASN'T work. For anyone who's hd to relocate, you know how important this can be. I've made some pretty good friends geeking, and probably wouldn't have without.
The second element, satisfaction, is also pretty common I think. It feels good to get a unit done, get a painted army on the table, or hell, win a game. And while it's important to keep things in perspective (I think the basic problem with "that guy" is he DOESN'T), the hobby is a pretty harmless way to get a sense of accomplishment with minimal investment of time and energy. The biggest kick here, for me, is getting an army done. I tend to be goal oriented, and putting a well-painted army on the table is a definite "win" for me. I mean, let's face it, ego reward is a big part of the blogosphere, and I'm as guilty of soliciting an ego boost as the next guy. I know people who invest a considerable amount of time and energy in the local softball league or fantasy football. Not my cup of tea, but I betcha we all do it for much the same reasons.
The last thing I get from geeking is peace of mind. It doesn't matter how stressful my life gets; I can sit down with a brush and some paint, and half an hour later, feel better. Some people drink, some do triathalons. I paint toy soldiers. There's something essentially zen in the painting process for me, that seems to reset the tumblers. I don't need to do it every day, but if I don't paint for a few days, I notice it.
Given the restrictions in my opportunities for play, and the resulting impact on getting things done, these factors have certain implications. The way my life is going, the rewards of geek are becoming limited to zen; gaming and "project completion" are taking a back seat. The hitch is that my logic of geek practise is oriented towards a project-centred model: buy army, paint army using gaming as motivation, finish army, accept kudos, sell army, repeat. Removing step 2 results in the bookshelf of shame.
What I'm trying to figure out, I guess, is whether or not this is a problem, or maybe, why I think this is a problem? Does it really matter if I spend the next couple of years with a bunch of half-finished models and units, or if I float from project to project? At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is scratching the occasional urge to paint what I want when I want. So maybe what I need to do is work on a new logic - reorganise how I do things to provide me with choice rather than bulk. I'm not sure where to begin with this - about the only things I've got that aren't solidly in the "one day" pile are some 15mm Persian archers and javelinmen, but it bears some thought.