Put Down the Pickaxe

(Featured photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. This week’s blog is a guest post written by a dear friend, fellow game designer, game director, and pickaxe carrier, Halden Ingwersen. Her current ongoing project is Dystopia Rising: Georgia. Check out her various flash fiction, musings, and tiny games at her blog, and occasional rambles on her twitter. While this post is mostly about game designing, I see a lot of players carrying a lot of pickaxes too. Maybe we could all take a moment to step back and figure out why we’re holding onto that thing if we don’t have someone to yell logic at us. Well, I’ll let Halden tell the story…)

I just started playing Skyrim.

Yes, in the Year of Our Lord 2019. I’m more a Fallout kind of gal, but I got bored and I figured, why not?

It’s an unfamiliar yet intuitive system, as a Bethesda game. And it’s the type of open world crafting game that I can happily get lost in for hours. But it has the same problem that these games always have for me: the carry rate. (I swear I’m going somewhere with this.)

See, I’m the type of player who wants to steal everything my little gay hands can carry, primarily to sell, but also becuase it might be useful later. You just never know, especially in a new game with plenty of crafting options, what you might need. It didn’t take me more than a couple hours of gameplay to have a favored weapon, and to begin to develop a stock of must-have items that I’d carry and refuse to drop. For me, that was healing potions, an axe, and a pickaxe. You know, just in case of crafting and harvesting opportunities.

I’ve been doing this since my middle school Runescape days. Keep an axe, pickaxe, and tinderbox on you, no matter what, because you never know.

The trouble was, after two hours of dungeon crawling I had a lot of valuable items and kept bumping into my own carry rate. I want the gold for the good items, I want the nice enchanted new armor, but I also want the comfort of knowing that if I happened across a rare vein of ore, I could mine it.

My fiance, Lex, was witnessing this, and watched me ditch increasingly nice items for a while before speaking up. Our exchange that followed went something like this:

Lex: Hey, just drop the pickaxe.

Me: No, I might need it.

Lex: It’s like 15lbs.

Me: Yeah but I want it in case I find any ore.

Lex: Have you found any ore in this dungeon?

Me: No, but it’s underground so it’s possible.

Lex: Babe, just drop it and come back for it later.

Me: No way!

So I clung to the pickaxe, passed up a lot of nice loot I could have carried instead, and never once saw an ore vein. And you know what? In the very end, I ended up dropping it anyway because there was a quest vital item I had to carry instead, and I didn’t want to slow walk my happy digital ass all the way back from the dungeon.

The funny thing is, the more I think about this, the more it’s indicative of my entire approach to gaming. Not just in playing, but in organization and game running. (I told you I was going somewhere.)

I’ve been doing LARP org for a little over a year. I love it, it’s a huge passion of mine. But I have a remarkable tendency to grab proverbial pickaxes, cling to them, and refuse to drop them, even when there’s objectively better things I could be carrying instead.

I do this with a lot of stuff, but a good example is writing. Each month my game creates a master document full of mods for the weekend. I don’t write it alone, though I head up the story side of game. I have a team of other writers. In theory, everyone on the team should write about 10 mods, while I write anywhere from 5-25 to create the main arc of the weekend.

Problem is, I struggle to leave it at that. I end up writing way, way more than I need to write. Not because I don’t trust my team or because they aren’t excellent writers, but because I worry about asking too much of my (paid) team and, for me, it’s easier to just do something myself rather than explain what I need.

Writing massive chunks of the document has become a pickaxe for me. I’m comforted by knowing something is written a particular way, just in case I were to come across “ore”, or a situation where my insider knowledge is helpful for the mod. And, like the ore, I theoretically could come across such a situation at game… but usually I don’t.

This metaphor applies to a lot of other areas, from creating marketing content to managing emails. In each case, the pickaxe is the thing I refuse to stop doing just in case I come across the ore, a rare situation where that pickaxe would be useful, even when it negatively impacts my carry rate, which can be my time, my patience, or boundaries.

And I don’t imagine I’m the only person with this issue. I think it’s a core element of the kind of personality drawn to any type of organizational calling, from event running to project management (both of which are absolutely elements of LARP org). We see it all in our heads, so we find ourselves attempting to carry it all, even when it’s detrimental to our health, time, and well being.

And we don’t want to let go of our pickaxes. We obsess over that one situation where it will be useful, no matter how unlikely it is. Perhaps we’ve been caught in that situation without a pickaxe before and we’ve been kicking ourselves about it ever since, perhaps it’s never happened but you know it could and that anxiety alone is enough to keep you clinging to the pickaxe. Because, heavy as it is, if you can just find a way to manage the weight, you’ll be covered.

There are two solutions here.

Not to belabor the metaphor, but you could hand the pickaxe to a companion. They have their own carry rate, going unused, and they can carry it for you. If you find yourself in a pickaxe situation, they won’t be too far away to step in, hand you the pickaxe, and help out. Good co-runners or game staff can be like that. They have their own bandwidth, they can take over the pickaxe, and they can be there to handle any arising issues with you, providing the knowledge they took on for you.

But what if you don’t want to do that? Your companion already carries too much, or worse, you don’t have one (maybe you, like me, are terrified they’ll die and you’ll have their blood on your hands). Then it falls to the second choice.

Just let it go.

Sure, maybe you miss out on the good ore vein. Or you have to come back later to resolve it, when you’ve offloaded your loot and can carry the weight of the pickaxe. But in the end, the ore is never life or death. It will be ok if you can’t mine it right now because you need to finish a questline.

Shockingly, there are very few life or death LARP problems, too. I struggle to accept that myself. I want everyone to have a wonderful time, I want to do a good job, I want to create the best thing ever, because I love my players and I think they deserve it. So I refuse to drop my pickaxes, terrified that not handling that ore vein will mean ruining someone’s game.

But you know what? Your players and your team are people, too. They’ve got carry rates. They get it. And if you’re honest and frank, and say, “Hey I want to handle this, but right now, someone else has the pickaxe / this other thing is more time-sensitive- can we hold off and do it later on?” you’d be surprised how often they’ll get it.

Easier said than done, sure. I’m still learning how to pass the pickaxe off to others. And, if you’re trying the same thing, you’re probably going to take some time, too. That’s cool, as long as you keep on trying.

Let’s all make it a point to put down our pickaxes a little more frequently, put a little more trust in our friends, and get that carry rate off our shoulders. We’ll all breathe easier.

And free up more room for enchanted battle axes.

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