A Geek With Restraint: What I Mean When I Say “Hobby”

There’s no den of nerdity in my house. You won’t see a massive board game collection, or Funko Pops, or painted miniatures, although I’ve collected figures, painted minis and bought and played (and sold. And bought again) multiple fidgety board games. My other car isn’t an X-Wing, and I have the lack of a bumper sticker to prove it. No tattoos of Superman logos or Green Lantern rings or dragonmarks here. My closet isn’t populated with anime costumes for convention wear. I don’t think I’ve been to more than a handful of conventions, and that’s counting non-geek, work related ones.

That’s down to mindset, not a hatred of geek ephemera or ownership. My tastes fall more towards minimalism than sprawling collection, but since I get value from gaming, computers, and media, these aren’t on some “never own” chopping block. What’s happened is a shift in what makes me happy in my hobbies, and a shift in what I require from those hobbies.

What Makes Me Happy

With RPGs and other board games, the play is the thing. Socializing with friends, working together towards a common goal in RPGs, playing to win in competitive board games, crafting a story together, sharing a memory. The tactile bits, the presentation of the games, those are still important but not my driving reason. I play Battletech regularly with a mix of old plastic Mechs and paper standups. Our D&D games feature finely painted minis and glass beads from a craft store, and we don’t have any 3D terrain.

Even my competing love of rules-tinkering isn’t done in a vacuum, it’s part of that fabric of socialization, increasing the collective enjoyment of everyone at the table. There’s no extra tools required for that, just a calculator, a pen, and some paper.

The little bits, the physicality is important, and adds to the enjoyment, but if all I had were minis and full color rules, and no players, no game happening, it would be pointless shit. Pointless shit doesn’t make me happy. Engagement makes me happy.

What I Require From A Hobby

A hobby has to be actively entertaining, has to promote growth, and has to be something I can pick up when I want and put down when I want. And I’m not against play for the sake of play. But at the heart of play is experimentation. It’s not stagnant, passive, obsessive.

Hobbies as Active Entertainment

There’s not a person alive who hates their hobby. I mean hates it. Following an NFL team? Sure, when they crash and burn at the beginning of the playoffs (sorry Pats fans!) or never get started (sorry Bengals fans!) it’s frustrating, but that’s part of the entertainment of having a team. The highs and the lows. Painting miniatures can be frustrating, but the high of finishing outweighs the lows of stripping paint and starting over. The low of a nightmare D&D session is outweighed by the high of That One Session. You know, the one your players still talk about, or the one where the table finally clicked and started storming together. Entertainment is born from an enjoyable activity, where the highs of great play, or completion, or learning/experiencing something new beats out the slog of failure, of struggling in the beginning.

I’m calling this Active Entertainment, where you need to participate. It’s the difference between playing a pick up game and watching the NBA on TV, or turning a live sporting event into an actual event with your friends/family, and reading about a tailgate party. The difference between painting an miniature, and clicking on miniatures on Pinterest. Between playing and obsessive collecting.

Hobbies as Growth

I learn something every time I play D&D. Maybe not about D&D, or how to be a better player, but I learn how to tell a story. Or how my friends tell stories, or what’s important to them in stories. Maybe I learn how they’re an archery medalist, or how they almost fell 80 feet when visiting Castle Balfour in Ireland. There’s times I’ve learned a bit of history through a side conversation, or about the history of the game, or about healthy eating. But there’s always something new.

As a writer, I learn stories through engaging with story, reading, listening, watching. I count reading as a hobby since I annoy/inform my social group about either how amazing a book I’m reading is, or some new author, or a reading event coming up (active), and I learn something from every book I read. I stopped playing MMOs a while back because, though they are chock full of story, I was treading water in doing anything new. I wasn’t learning. So I kept in touch with my friends in game, but phased out hardcore gaming from my hobby time. If I’m going to spend hours on a project or hobby, it needs to be leading to something worthwhile.

Hobbies as Temporal

An eternal hobby doesn’t exist. It can’t, as everything we know is going to end. Everything changes, and change itself ends at the heat death of the universe. Even taking a biblical look at things, a new heaven and new earth mean this stuff now ends. Ragnarok and remaking. The cycle of life.

Gaming is on again/off again for me. When our twins were born, my wife and I both took a lot of time off from our various hobbies. Some I still haven’t come back to, and that’s OK. They served their purpose. Their watch is ended. Computing, coding, technology, that ebbs and flows in importance to me. Gaming, painting, sports, all wax and wane like the moon in my free time. Writing, since last year at least, has moved from hobby to something I’m doing because I have to. I can’t not write, I’m doing blogs, short stories, a mess of projects. I’d like it to be a profession, so it takes on a different place. It’s entertaining, and I’m learning, but writing I can’t put down whenever I feel like and pick it back up months later. Not at this point.

Maybe We Just Disagree

You don’t have to agree with me on what makes a hobby. You could think that hobbies aren’t just something you pick up and down like a cup of coffee. OK, bad example; no one who drinks coffee can just flip a switch and give it up (note: I did this, just to contradict my own point). But I believe you can do that with a hobby. It’s fine if you think I’m crazy (could be) and my brain is wired weird to allow me to do that (could be). This is how I see things, and the lens through which everything on this blog is written. I’m just giving you all fair warning.