Art, theme, coincidence and cartharsis
Monday I played a rather pedestrian card game, full of workmanlike mechanisms. The players have to collectively (its a coop) deal with a deck of bad cards and empty it. Most of the cards do something horrible, but in a defined way. So it’s got hand management, some cards cause a random card to be added, so it’s got some press your luck. And, of course, it has a bomb (in the technical sense of game design, as used by Jonathon Degann): If you trigger some card combination, disaster.
At some point, players can pause, which sweeps the board and (possibly) lets them get rid of a few permanent bad things, gain a new positive action, etc. etc. But it’s also the timer, and if you pause too often, you’ll trigger a game ending loss.
In all honesty, it’s been done better so many times, but the game does have an elegant simplicity. In some ways, its like someone took the challenge of trimming Knizia’s Lord of the Rings down to 60-ish cards. A well done minimalist co-op.
Which would not normally intrigue me, except that The Grizzled is one of the most compelling pieces of art in recent memory. On looking at the box and hearing it’s a co-op set in World War I, I asked (semi-jokingly, but also hopefully) “is this about the Christmas Truce?”
I wasn’t far off. The Grizzled sees a bunch of young foolish boys volunteering for glory and country, with the goal of all making it out alive together. Over a deck of cards, you’ll see them age from clean shaven teenagers to scruffy young adults, and they’ll gain neurosis from the stress of war: fear of loud noises, anxiety about being ordered over the top. Some will crack and curl up in a ball when they could make play that could help their team.
He can’t help it anymore, he’s suffering from shell shock.
You could abandon him, of course, but you’ll honor the oath: Everyone goes home together.
At the bottom of one deck is rests the Monument, etched with the names of the six characters.
The Grizzled boasts stunning artwork. The desolate scenes of snow cover- no man’s land. The destroyed buildings, barbed wire in the foreground and birds in the distance mix beauty with implied horror. The cards convey some information via background. You might not notice it’s a game, except for an icon or two. The art’s clean style reminds me of Sergio Aragonés, although the muted colors create a sombre mood.
Then on Tuesday, I looked up the artist Tignous and discovered that the brilliant artist who drew this inspiring peon to the pointlessness horrors of war was murdered by radicals during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such a horrific coincidence struck me as poetic, a thought instantly followed by self loathing for judging a death aesthetically. (Judging any death based on aesthetics is bad enough, but a terrorist murder?)
I’d already considered The Grizzled haunting in conception and execution before I discovered that the artist was a member of Cartoonists for Peace and literally executed for his associations and beliefs.
Now, I can’t shake the thought that Tignous’ murder is symbolic, he was another idealist who marched off to war and was ground into a mulch, as war all too often does to idealists and realists alike. And I wonder, was Tignous the latest victim of the Great War, or the first victim in a new war, or (sadly and most likely) simply one of all-too-many during the infinite Clash of Cultures.
My only excuse is that these thoughts came unbidden. And I remember a phrase that I’ve heard and don’t think I invented, but I can’t remember the author. The mind can do what it wants, but it can’t want what it wants. I think it’s a german philosopher.
So while I forgive myself for thinking unclean thoughts, now I sit here and look at this post and wonder if I should publish it. Is it right to let others know information that may make them consider a death poetic, instead of tragic? Would they be better off in ignorance? I cannot bring Tignous back, but would he prefer this to be known or unknown? Can I exorcise them by publishing (as I am able to do in other writing)?
I do not want to investigate anymore, and that is a sign of moral weakness.
I doubt I am the only one thinking of this, and for a second I am annoyed at this game for bringing me back into the world, instead of distracting me from it.
I am reminded of that line by Wordsworth, that The World is Too Much With Us.
And then, again, I am not sure.