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 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 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.
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.
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.