Last Sunday Frontline Gamer wrote one of his excellent Sunday Sermons on the topic of taking a break. He was specifically talking about blogging, but he told a few personal stories of painting burn-out. I’m sure most of us have been there, especially if we play either of Games Workshop’s big systems. The stories he told really struck a chord with me. The whole thing did actually. It was one of those rare times as a blogger where you read something that makes you write something.
It’s no secret that I pride myself on being a casual gamer. I think that all too often we take our games too seriously, treating them as obligations, personal disciplines or even *gasp* work. I think in my first ever post I wrote what has become for me a sort of personal gaming slogan: games are important, but not serious.
So there’s no shame in taking a break. I’ve gone for years without playing 40k in the past. I haven’t played a pen and paper RPG for about four years now. It doesn’t make me any less of a gamer that I can pick it up and put it down on a whim. I think that’s the way it should be.
Painting burn-out is a different beast though, and I place the blame for it squarely on two factors: games companies continually increasing the scale of their games (which I’ve talked about before), and the obsessive culture of achievement and perfection amongst us modern gamers.
As I commented on the above-mentioned sermon:
Your horror stories are just an accident of our hobby. The joy of painting really comes from the creativity and craft, not from the mechanical act of painting. Of course painting a bazillion grots and ultras is a grind. Who would actually WANT to do that? It’s torture!
I stand by this. Think about it for a second. Why would anyone want to paint a model? Obviously, to gain satisfaction from creating something artistic. Painting is meant to be a pleasant aspect of wargaming, something that people can do to add a bit of spark to their armies of otherwise tin (or plastic or resin) soldiers. It’s not meant to be something you have to do to play the game. I’ve had my fair share of painting entire infantry platoons and mobs of Ork boyz the night before a tournament. Only a masochist could call it fun. If a game of 40k only needed a dozen models, I’m sure we’d all love painting again.
I used to think that if someone hated painting models they should get a new hobby. Now I realize that attitide is part of the problem. If someone hates painting models, fair enough! They probably hate the grind. I honestly enjoy painting the most out of any part of the hobby, but I also hate painting hundreds of near-identical dudes to a standard artificially raised by the internet and Golden Demon to be beyond most gamer’s time and energy. There’s always a lot of talk about power creep, but no-one seems to notice painting creep.
Right, so that’s why we get painting burn-out I think. What we have is a perfect storm of peer-driven painting creep and industry-driven game up-sizing. This has the potential to crush the spirit of nearly any painter. But GW, PP and the rest are not going to stop increasing the number of models needed to play now, are they? This means we have to change the other cause of painting creep: the obsessive, perfectionist gamer culture. We have to change what we expect from one another.
Maybe we need to stop buying into what the companies want from us, and be a bit more savvy. We should stop expecting everyone to have a fully painted army to “table-top standard” – which by the way is much higher now than when I was a kid, and higher than it is for historical games.
We need to be smart about this, and we need to accept it when people say they don’t want to paint their models. That’s their prerogative. It’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take in these strange times of obsessive gamer culture and companies who are, quite frankly, expecting a lot of us. But an even better approach is to get creative. Think outside the box. Paint them all without really painting them.
For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of a 40k army of, say, Orks, painted to look as though they are shadowy shapes with yellow eyes and glinting weapons. If GW (and my fellow gamers) are going to expect me to field more than fifty models in a game there’s no way I’m sucker enough to paint them all to a modern table top standard. Not again. There has to be other ways to get a good-looking army without sinking an hour or more into each trooper. We just have to use our heads.
Now I have to get over my modeling burn-out. Painting might be optional, but models sort of aren’t. Any suggestions on that one?