The Midnight Table: A Forgotten Dream

By Robert Florence on June 5th, 2013 at 12:00 am.


THE MIDNIGHT TABLE

I had a dream about a black, midnight table.

The table was big, not too big, but big enough. Big enough for what? Big enough for everything. And it was black. It was speckled with little stars and felt warm and smooth to the touch. I was sitting alone at it, and I can remember looking at the empty chairs and smiling.

I was waiting for people to sit down at this beautiful Midnight table.

I didn’t have this dream last night, or last week. I had it when I was a teenager and somehow only just remembered it a few days ago. I was in Disneyland, watching an incredible late-night light show over Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and suddenly I was back there at the midnight table, waiting for people to turn up. The memory shocked me, because I usually hold onto weird dreams and romanticise them, and I couldn’t believe that I’d forgotten this one. It was as if the memory had been unlocked for me during a moment of peace and joy, as I watched fireworks explode over a pink fairytale castle.

Was it a gaming table? It almost certainly was. When I was a teenager I was mad about board games and role-playing games. My life was planned around one question – “When can we all sit down and play?” At school I rushed to finish my work so that I could start constructing RPG ideas and planning home-made board games. My every waking hour, for that period before I discovered girls, was consumed by thinking about gaming. So the Midnight Table was a gaming table for sure.

Was it a fantasy then? Had I dreamed of an ideal future? I wasn’t a teenager in the dream. I was a man.

THE ROOM

The room was dark and small. The details of the room are a blur. As I try to look away from the table, to see where I actually am, all I ever see is the table. I don’t think the room matters. But there is noise. The room is silent, but there is noise outside the room. A chatter. As if I’m somewhere busy, but my Midnight Table is behind a closed door. Is this place my home?

I don’t think it is. And this detail is important.

THE TABLE

The table is a beautiful, black midnight table. “It’s a midnight table.” When the dream came back to me, the memory came with that description of the table fully formed. It’s not just a black table. It’s a “midnight” table. There are stars on it. It’s a beautiful thing. But why is it a midnight table? Is it midnight? No clocks in the dream, no way of knowing. Is it just a romantic name for the table, perhaps? That’s a very me thing for my brain to spit out.

ME

I wonder if, when my mind unlocked the memory of this dream after more than 20 years, it also aged me up inside it. Did it put an appropriately aged me at the table to make me connect better to the dream? Or did my 13 year old self really visualise this? I have hair in the dream, so there’s one tragic inaccuracy. I’m also wearing sunglasses indoors. That’s frighteningly right. I’m dressed all in black, and I look a lot like I do now. Not old yet, but nearly. Wrinkles round the eyes as I smile. I’m sure my mind is filling in these gaps. Why would my 13 year old self dream this?

One thing is certainly true – I always romanticised being in my thirties. I imagined that a man in his thirties would be fearless, collected, sure, calm and strong. Imagination is a hell of a thing. Maybe it was my 13 year old self who pictured this future version of me, sitting alone at the black table, happy and still and patient.

One thing’s for sure. The only thing that matters in the room is the table itself. Everything else is out of focus, faded, vague. The Midnight Table is constant, sharp, very real. Whatever the dream meant, or means, the point of it all was the table.

The Table.

BUILDING THE MIDNIGHT TABLE

A couple of weeks ago, in my very last Cardboard Children column here at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I spoke about my need to find a new direction. I’m not tired of writing about games, but I’m a little bit tired of how we write about games. And I’m talking about board games and computer and video games here. I’m talking about the whole deal.

Imagine, if you will, that there is a beautiful, black Midnight Table.

Everything begins with that table. A game is placed on it. The box is opened and the game is laid out. The seats around the table are filled. The game is played. An experience is shared. The game is cleared away and the box is closed. The game is taken away from the table. And then there’s just the table again. A beautiful, black, Midnight Table in some unknown room somewhere.

When you dream about something like that Midnight Table, and you see yourself sitting at it, and you see yourself smiling… What are you smiling about? It’s the anticipation of the game, and the people you’ll be playing the game with on that night. The beauty of a board game is that it is an experience. The game changes, the people change, the experience changes. Only the table stays the same. Everything is out of focus too. Constantly shifting. There’s nothing you can give a score to. It is like smoke, or memory.

Look. There’s me at the Midnight Table. See me? But it isn’t me. That guy has hair. It’s a version of me, in dark glasses, smiling. Waiting. Only the table is in focus. I think I’m an observer at that table. I think that’s all I’m supposed to be.

It seems that games writing is all about ego these days. (This is the self-proclaimed God of Games saying this, so I know it’s true.) Almost everyone is saying the same thing, differentiated only by whatever projected personality is in the mix. Games writers want you to see them as your pal. The experience being recounted becomes secondary. It’s a popularity contest, a race, and there are too many runners. Can we move the focus back to the table, and try to make sense of that constantly shifting space around it? Can we detach ourselves from the experience and try to analyse the magic we’ve all fallen in love with.

I’m going to build a Midnight Table. I’ll take it from room to room and I’ll fill the seats around that table with interesting people. Things old and new will be placed on the table, and some things will return to the table again and again. And each time, I’ll try to make sense of the experience.

I won’t be talking about me. I won’t be doing reviews. I won’t be reporting any board game news.

I will be talking about the experiences I see other people having. Will all these experiences happen at midnight? I don’t know. Will I be taking my Midnight Table to somewhere near you? Will you sit with me at it someday? I don’t know. But I know that the Midnight Table has to exist in reality, and everything I write from here on in needs to be about that one, beautiful thing, and all the beautiful people who sit at it, and all the beautiful games they play.

It feels, in a way, like I’m leaving. Or at least fading into the background.

So, goodbye then.

Our table is waiting.

, .

27 Comments »

  1. Coccyx says:

    Most evocative.

  2. Memphis-Ahn says:

    But I liked Cardboard Children…
    Should I tell you the same thing I told Gillen when he left (“Fuck you.”) or what?

  3. Phendron says:

    Sad days today.

    I’ve never had a gaming table. All of my play surfaces have been awkward dining tables, decrepit coffee tables, and carpeted floors. I’ve always want to own a Sultan.

  4. Izkari says:

    It makes me think of all those boardgame experiences I never had and it makes me sad. :(

  5. Geen says:

    I’ve… seen board-games you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Adventurers on fire off the coast of Talisman. I watched bolter-shells explode in the dark near the Tannhäuser Space Hulk. All those… moments… will be lost in the internet, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…

  6. djriverside says:

    Your representation of gaming news seems overly harsh. While, yes, the flavor and personality of the reporters plays a very important role, websites like RPS hinge on highly insightful, pointed articles on the games industry.

    In contrast, this article describes a vague ideal of games journalism and spends too much time detailing the dreams and aspirations of the writer. This post might be better suited to Tumblr or LiveJournal, where personal and undefined articles are better suited.

    Does this article seem unprofessional and too undirected to others, too, or am I just too critical?

    Disclaimer: I really enjoyed Cardboard Children and have nothing against Mr Florence.

    • X_kot says:

      I get the impression that Rab is trying to avoid contributing to the game writing “scene,” wherein a rote formula is followed [witty anecdote followed by game overview followed by hyperbolic praise (genuine or not) followed by gentle/snarky critique followed by parallel ending] by various commenters. For one, because that mode can be tedious and capitalistic, i.e., writers serve only as aids to consumption. Also, the writing can become more a cult of personality around the critic rather than celebrating the act of playing, i.e., “I don’t care about playing and experiencing what this designer is trying to communicate, I just want to hear what X thinks about it.”

      Commentators of other media, such as video games, struggle with this, too. I imagine it’s a tough space to navigate, but I can’t wait to see where Rab goes next with this. It feels like I’ve lost some appreciation for the spirit of games as I’ve gotten older, and I think post-Cardboard Children articles might address some of that.

  7. Lothion says:

    This has been the direction that Rab has been going in for some time now it seems.

    I can’t help but feel that something quite dark is happening or has happened in his life lately.

    The cardboard children articles that he wrote were entertaining, passionate, and evocative, and they inspired me to get into boardgames again after a ten year hiatus. I have played at least a dozen new boardgames in the last year because of this. Boardgame time is now something that I look forward to, usually I get it at least once every week or so.

    Thanks for your contributions Rab. Good on you. Good luck with your table.

    • Premium User Badge JB says:

      “I can’t help but feel that something quite dark is happening or has happened in his life lately. ”

      He’s gearing up for the imminent Kelvin Brawl, and there’s certainly been some goings-on related to that. See his Twitter feed for details, I guess.

      • Bank12 says:

        Okay uh what the hell is this Kelvin Brawl shit? I’m trying to understand but so much accents and twitter wars.

        • Jorum says:

          it’s a wrestling event with Robert and Greg Hemphill leading the teams.
          The Story So Far:
          Rab started a brawl with Greg at signing. Recently Greg has posted vids of himself outside and inside(!) Robert’s mums house. Robert adopted a handle “the irresponsable Mr Florence” and implied potentially career destroying naughtiness is afoot.
          Oh and Rab has ended up gonna have to fight a professional wrestler I think.

          I’m really not sure how much of the stuff going on is kafaybe stuff and how much is whoh this is taking-this-too-seriously stuff.

          • BooleanBob says:

            “Holy cow! The Irresponsable just piledrivered Greg Hemphill through the Midnight Table!”

  8. sheldonbartleby says:

    Is Mr Florence familiar with Ethnography? A useful way to remove the ego from writing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnography

  9. Premium User Badge Xantonze says:

    Yet another of these Grand Projects that will never come to fruition. It seems like each of your posts those last months hatched one of those.
    Anyway, thanks for all the nice reviews.

  10. Premium User Badge distantlurker says:

    Uncertainty.

    Without uncertainty, value cannot be ascribed.

    If the table is utterly unchanging, a constant, then all around it is utterly unknowable and without worth.

    The observer, their environment, must be able to influence the fundamental properties of the table. It’s the principle of the matter.

  11. frightlever says:

    More power to you, man, but this is absolutely not what I want to read. I’m sure you’ll find an audience but this seems like quite a compromise to your actual problem. You’re bored so you’re trying to make your job more interesting. If you pull it off then kudos, but most people keep doing the boring job and do something more spiritually rewarding or plain entertaining with their spare time.

    Anyway, best of luck.

  12. Angel Dust says:

    Yeah, like some of the other people here I’m not feeling this and I think what you were doing before was working fine. Before Cardboard Children I had never gone further than Monopoly for my board gaming fun or ‘fun’ as the case may be. I thought that all that lay beyond was super nerdy RPGs with pens, paper and ridiculous dice*. Your hilarious, yet informative and inspiring reviews changed all of that. I now own 10 board games of various types, have a list of many more I’d like to get and have managed to get my wife, brothers, friends and even my mother-in-law into them as well. Christ, I’m even halfway through painting some Descent 2 figures at the moment.

    But if this is the direction you feel you need to go in, then far be it from me to stop you. (I did like that ‘nails’ article though)

    * While I still have not played one of this RPGs, I no longer have such a disparaging view of them.

  13. Reapy says:

    Yeah I don’t know wtf is going on, but don’t read game journalist twitters or whatever to see all the ego or whatever problems. Honestly this felt like a depressed midlife crisis series of articles, and while m all for a good ‘rethinking my life’ story revolving round gaming, it’s hard to pick that out of these articles. I honestly have trouble even understanding what is being said, but we all look at the world differently, so possibly my world view is so different I can’t follow the analogies.

    Either way would be cool to read some game articles.

  14. Premium User Badge corinoco says:

    Thanks, I found out about Kyklades from this column.

    Hope you find the table, it sounds fantastic.

    “Oh my god, it’s full of stars…”

  15. Premium User Badge corinoco says:

    Can I add something possibly pointless and unhelpful?

    Look up Ferenc Mate – a Hungarian author. Your writing reminds me of some of his writing about yachts on his books published in the late 80′s. ‘Best Boats’ in particular.

    His stuff now is about the importance of small communities, vineyards, friends and food. It’s not hipster, it’s Epicurian – who was hip about 2,600 years ago.

  16. Phendron says:

    So without Mr. Florence, does that mean that RPS is no longer covering board games?

  17. bahadorn says:

    So… does this mean the end of Robert Florence days on RPS, or just the end of Cardboard Children and the beginning of Midnight Table? In any case, I’ll miss Cardboard Children.

  18. Strange Brew says:

    So you want to escape ego dominated writing and sign-off with an enormous wank?

  19. Heimmrich says:

    One of the reasons I love reading Rab is that he seems so much like me. He’s always making these grand plans about everything and he’s so fucking passionate about it… but most of them (to my knowledge) don’t see the day of light. And that’s very much like me. I can’t nor will I count how many ideas and dreams I have abandoned. And my girlfriend knows, so she doesn’t even give attention when I’m rambling on about something I dreamt while asleep, rolling in my bed, last night. And I feel like I know Robert a little, so I don’t pay no mind when he’s rambling on every week or so.

    The difference about this time is the commitment in it. It seems like something wonderful. And the thing is: I dreamt about this too. And I really want it to happen by one of the most capable persons in the craft. Let’s roll the dice and see what makes.