2019 – Michael’s Depth Year

Let me tell you about my upcoming Depth Year.


Update: Since there’s been some interest from others about undertaking a depth year, I’m going to setup up some groups for if people want to join in. At the moment there’s a Facebook group but I will add other things heading up to 2019 to make sure everyone has somewhere they can go. Keep an eye on this page!

Update 2; Mrs Meeple has written up her plans for her own depth year in 2019, so check that out too!

Update 3: Patrons at the $3 level will now have access to my monthly Depth Year Diary. Mrs Meeple is starting up her own depth year diary series that you can get for free!


This is a more self-indulgent editorial than we normally publish. I’m sure you’ll agree – coming from a man who wrote a post on applying the Bloom Taxonomy to board game reviewing that’s quite the trick. I’m writing this because if I don’t document it somewhere it will become as ephemeral and as consequence free as any other promise of self improvement. I’m writing this here so as to make my intentions public. I hope in doing so I create a little accountability for the future. You can’t stop me from doing whatever I choose to do, but you can at least make me feel bad about it.

Let me tell you about my upcoming depth year.

This is an idea I encountered on the Raptitude blog and it has stuck with me like few such things ever do. It’s a simple idea, best expressed by the author of the post.

I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need.

We’re all engaged in a fun hobby. However, this is also a hobby that is infested from trunk to skunk with a cult of acquisition. I’m no better than anyone else in that regard although I have been trying to fight the impulse for a while. It feels good to buy things. To take possession of things. To own things. Consumerism thrives on the little dose of dopamine we get when we indulge in frivolous purchasing. The rush of owning a new thing is such that we often seek novelty without our homes when there’s more than enough within to sustain us for the rest of our lives. It’s starting to weigh on me, because I have been a long-term offender on that score. Seriously, even Amazon throws shade at me for it. Here’s a screenshot of an honest to God email I got from them:

Depth year symptoms - Hi Michael Heron. You're receiving this email because you are purchasing on Amazon in large amounts. Are you purchasing for business?

It’s bad when your online retailer of choice is clearly on the verge of staging an intervention. It’s worse when you know it probably wouldn’t even work.

And you know what? I think it actually is time for some kind of action plan. I look at my shelves and they’re full to the brim of boardgames I haven’t played. I wonder why I even bother to have a wish list of games that I want to get – I don’t need any more. My pace of acquisition far outstrips my ability to play, and all I’m buying on a monthly basis is the stress of an ever-expanding todo. If I don’t buy another game for two years, I’ll still be able to review a new title every week. At this point here I think any reasonable person would say ‘That’s plenty’. Reasonable though was a long time ago in the rear view mirror. A quick check of the ‘value’ of my collection reveals a stark number. It becomes even starker when I think that maybe about half of that value lies unplayed and perhaps always will unless drastic action is taken. There is so much depth to be had on my shelves that it is ludicrous that I still feel myself pulled towards more games. We have a term for this – ‘the shelf of shame’. I think shame is a fair description, especially given what this conspicuous consumption does to enable gatekeeping attitudes within the hobby.

Depth Year Symptoms - board games Total value of $7545

It would be one thing if this was just board games but they’re just the recent manifestation of decades of low-key hoarding behaviour. I have a couple of thousand books at last count. I’ve read a lot of them. Most of them even, although that ‘most’ is likely to be true only by a gnat’s hair. There are still unread hundreds that I bought at one point, interested enough in the topic to seek them out and pay cash money in order to take possession. I keep a spreadsheet of the books I have read because I’m just that kind of bell-end. I get through an average about 42 books a year. I’ve easily got a decade’s worth of reading material here before I seriously need to contemplate a new purchase. They’re all fascinating books that I fully intended to ‘get to’ except that there’s always a new Kindle daily deal or Waterstones sale. A new thing that I may have heard about will inevitable draw my attention until the next shiny thing distracts me. That’s why on one shelf you’ll see a book about the archaeological search for the Ark of the Covenant sitting right beside one on the French revolution. I haven’t read either. Yet.

I’ve got genuinely hundreds of movies that I’ve bought and never watched. Whole TV series that I picked up in box-set form and then never got around to taking out of the shrinkwrap. And for the love of God don’t get me started on my unplayed Steam library. The Humble Monthly by itself injects new games into my account at a rate with which I couldn’t possibly keep up. And yet there I go, putting money down on a new bundle deal because ‘It’ll be good to have those when I have time to play’.

Depth Year Symptons - 599 games on Steam. 28% game completion rate

Enough is enough. This is not psychologically healthy. I feel weighed down by this – possessed of abundant distraction and yet still always seeking for something new. I’m not especially interested in this as a money saving exercise, but as an attempt to improve my mental health. I embark on a depth year for healing purposes. I bear the scars of a battle with consumerism and the trophies I have earned in the fight are closing in on me from all sides.

I don’t think I’m going to succeed. I think I’m in too deep. I think I’m going to buckle within months and find myself continuing this spiral of endless, suffocating acquisition. I know that’s what I’m going to do if I don’t put this to paper, so that’s why you’re getting this fed into your eyeballs.

I’ve never been a fan of these kind of exercises, because I usually find they achieve the opposite of what they are supposed to accomplish. I once did a reading challenge for example that left me finishing only a scant handful of books. It was so restrictive that I didn’t want to read anything that would be compatible and I didn’t want to read anything that wouldn’t make progress on the list. Faced with that, I found other diversions.

First and foremost then one has to consider the end goals of a project like this. It’s not enough to set a challenge – that challenge has to be with a particular aim in mind. If the reality of the challenge undermines the aims, that’s the only circumstances under which it should be thrown away. For that escape hatch, we need to be clear about what we’re hoping to do.

So here’s my goal: I want to develop a healthier relationship with consumerism by valuing what I have rather than what I (temporarily) want.

And I will do that by: Not purchasing unnecessary things while I have other unnecessary things already available.

I want to put a focus here on consumerism, because a self-improvement project like this is also somewhat at odds with the aims of Meeple Like Us. We get sent review copies on occasion, and request them once in a while so as to continue our mission to nail down the accessibility profile of the hobby. I don’t want to completely tie our hands here just in case we have an opportunity to get hold of an especially interesting game, or to assist a publisher with an accessibility project. I’m going to make an exception for review material, but not much of an exception. Once per quarter, I will accept a review copy of a game or a book if and only if I’m going to get it reviewed within a couple of weeks. I will adopt a similar policy for Amazon Vine – nothing will be accepted on the basis it was offered, but rather as something I need and intend to review very promptly. No more agreeing to review stuff that stays in an unopened box for months.

A Depth Year of Terry Pratchett books

I’ve read each Pratchett book often enough to make up the difference though

I am also going to make an exception here for my Humble Monthly subscription, because I keep that up mainly so I can give games away. However, I will not claim any key that I am sent until this Depth Year is over or I have died in the attempt.

Other than this though:

  1. No new physical books while I have unread books on my shelves.
  2. No new ebooks while I still have unread books on my tablet.
  3. No new board games unless I play all the ones I already have. Some limited exceptions, as above, for review copies.
  4. No new video games unless I play all the ones I already have. This goes for Steam, Switch and mobile. No new software in general unless I genuinely need it to accomplish a specific work-related task.
  5. No new movies or TV shows until I’ve watched the ones I have.
  6. No new hobbies. Full stop. No pretending a new musical instrument will finally be the one that shows I’ve secretly been talented all along.
  7. No new albums until I have listened to all the ones I own.

The necessities of life – clothes, groceries, electrical equipment for when other electrical equipment fails – those are all exempt. I don’t have to stick to cornflakes if I really fancy Rice Krispies. I’ve never been one for buying lots of clothes anyway, and we’ve precious little room for new electrical doodads unless something else vacates the space. I’ll also make exceptions for ‘format shifting’ – for example when a paper book I already own is available on a Kindle deal, or as a cheap audiobook.

One thing I’m having some difficulty with is working out how things like Netflix, Spotify, YouTube subscriptions and podcasts should factor in here. After all, nothing there needs me to purchase anything new. I get the new content there for free. It just doesn’t seem in the spirit of the thing to permit these to be an exception. I think Netflix is going to come under the movies and TV rules, but I’ll be a little more flexible with Spotify. I don’t want to lose the serendipity of discovery that comes from hearing a new song I like and finding out it’s from an amazing artist. My playlists before I played Life is Strange and Before the Storm had gaping holes I didn’t even know existed.

My rule for YouTube is probably going to be ‘no new subscriptions’, and similarly for podcasts although I listen to few of them as it is.

More problematic is the constant influx of content that comes via the internet – blogs, websites, and social media. I have of late been questioning the value of maintaining a social media presence on things like Twitter – while there are lots of people I enjoy chatting with, it never seems like I have the engagement that merits the attention I give it. Should the Internet itself be considered a source of media that should be carefully curtailed? No new web-pages until I’ve read all the ones I’ve got bookmarked? I could easily fritter away a Depth Year with nothing more than Facebook and idly scrolling through Twitter, but that’s not what I want to accomplish here. I don’t think cutting the Internet out of my life is feasible or even desirable – at least for now. I just don’t want to reach for Google when I should be reaching to a bookshelf. That’s perhaps going to have to be addressed on a case by case basis.

However, there’s a counter philosophy that’s going to underwrite all of this. I’m not going to stick with things that bring me no joy. I’m over forty years old now – statistically speaking I could drop dead of old age at any minute. For several years now I’ve been intentionally ruthless with my time – if a book doesn’t grab me in fifty pages, it’s done. If a TV show doesn’t convince me it has promise within two episodes, it’s gone. If I’m not enthralled half way through a movie, it’s time to bail out. I’m keen to explore the accumulated abundance of my possessions but I’m not willing to let that lead to a tolerance of mediocrity. While this is a reaction to consumerism, I also intend for this to be a pretty aggressive cull. By the end of 2019 I intend to have made a large dent in my various media todo lists. One way, or another.

So, here’s what I’m going to ask of you reading – help me keep honest with this. Every so often, send me a mail or a tweet or a comment on the blog asking ‘Hey, are you still keeping this up?’. Force some accountability here. Make me dread having to admit I didn’t have the willpower all along.

I’m posting this two months in advance in the hope of building up some interest in other people. Does this seem like something you’d like to do yourself? Maybe we could set up some kind of mutual support group. A cheerleading squad, perhaps? We can do it, team. GO TEAM. Would you be interested in regular updates? I was thinking of adding a Patron diary of the process to my routine to make sure I’m constantly forced to confront people with the truth of the endeavor.

From the 1st of January 2019, I will be engaged in a Depth Year. May it be the first of many.

 

  21 comments for “2019 – Michael’s Depth Year

  1. Nat
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    I am in. Firsttime reader of this blog. My game group buddy sent me this and I thought “EXACTLY”. I keep a reading journal and extrapolated my read rate vs my age and the results were depressing. Same for the wall of boardgames- to say nothing of 1000s of vinyl records….

  2. mangozine
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    Hi Michael… This Disqus thing is going to stop me commenting again, I think… And while I applaud your motives here, I have to say I suspect you’ll fail completely… Lol

    I’m in a similar boat with a gazillion things previously hoarded (to watch or read) and little time to do something about them, but I continue to kid myself that if I become old and bed-ridden or just end up in a home for old waifs and strays, I will at least have plenty of time to catch up with all those things I’ve never got around to reading or watching, provided my eyes and other senses haven’t given up the ghost by then

    I do of course wish you oodles of luck in this endeavour, regardless!

    Take care,

    Alex

    • 18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      I think I’ll fail completely too – really, the question is ‘how long can you do this?’. I’m hoping to make it a full year, because if I do that then I’m free. Free forever. Free like the wind. 😀

      The way I’ve always said it is, ‘I’ll have plenty of time when the bombs fall’, because in my mind I’ll still have a working computer, bookshelves, and people to play games with in the event of a nuclear war. I know I’ll certainly not have to work for a living in that circumstance… my boxes of old electronics equipment is my retirement fund for the post-apocalypse. Someome will need a stick of 512MB RAM to get an old laptop working and that’s my time to shine.

  3. Robert
    18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

    You’ve accurately described a very serious First World problem. I suffer from it as well, although at a smaller scale.
    I’ve already a much more narrow, but similar, plan: in 2019 I will not purchase any games. This applies to all games, although honestly I don’t play video games, except a few digital versions of board games.
    (And already I have one exception to this: I plan to back the Evolution Oceans Kickstarter. I tell myself, “Well, the game won’t arrive until 2020, so in a sense I am buying it then.” It’s November 2018 and already I’ve reneged on my 2019 anti-consumerism vow.)
    That said — I’ll be impressed if you can maintain your stated restrictions as long as two weeks into January. I’d bet money you’ll have altered the plan before that month ends. A sizable wager, in fact.

    • 18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      Haha, I’m not going to take that bet. I’m going to take the next couple of months to fine-tune the plan and I *think* part of that will be to permit a couple of pre-orders because the Life is Strange graphic novel comes out next year and that’s a ‘same day’ buy and read. I don’t know though… it already feels like a cheat and that’s not a great sign before I’ve even started. 🙂

  4. Emma in France
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    Reading Board Game Minimalist’s writing on his work at curating a small, thought out collection of games for his household is interesting too. I’m sorry about the lack of linkage, I am still very much under the weather at the moment. Imagine that, getting the flu the week before you were going to get your flu vaccine?

    I don’t have financial privilege but I do have access to a ludothèque and I am a member of two associations de jeux, both of which allow members to borrow games from their collections, this does mean that I have been able to play 90 different games in one year, all new to me. The healthy second hand market is also a benefit. Having to wait until someone is coming over from the UK to bring back games that I have bought there to play at home or buying French games and printing out English rules is a trickier element that I have to deal with.

    I don’t get to indulge in hotness, Kickstarters are tempting but I need reliable games that will be there next month or the month after or even in six months if I have to put my ‘treat myself to game money’ towards a new car battery or a school trip for not one but two daughters. (All actual events.) I know, Vassal’s Law – if only that were true. Indie games don’t really work like that though, not the really small publishers that I want to support like Weird Giraffe, for example.

  5. Behrooz Shahriari
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    When I first read the quoted paragraph, my mind instantly wondered if I’ve been starting too many boardgame projects. But I think that is a healthy part of the creative cycle. Starting more things than you plan to finish, in order to have some quality cycle.

    In any case, sometimes the birth of a creation is just a joyous experience. To promise myself to not even start any new prototype until I’d finished the few things I’m fairly sure I’ll actually publish (and the couple that are way late) would just make me even more depressed.

    Reading the original article though, it’s clear that a ‘project’ is not meant to be a new song you’re learning or a new article written. A new hobby is out, the boundary is gray, and I guess that’s down to the individual.

    After all, if you’re embarking upon this sort of decision, it’s best to tailor it to yourself rather than just adopt a set of rules wholesale because the general spirit of it appealed to you.

    As you say, the internet makes this fuzzy also. I think that the spirit of the thing would probably be to watch the things on Netflix you’ve decided to watch already, but then to not watch anything else. Maybe cancel your subscription. Maybe stop watching internet videos and cut down on the internet.

    If the point is to enjoy your existing hobbies and possessions, then you need to make time for that. It’s not enough to simply acquiring stuff.

  6. 18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    Greg and I are going to talk about what our mutual and individual goals are, but we’re in.

    • deloresmatuskaseaman
      18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      rebeccastrangtoplayishuman briefly

  7. AndrewL
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    Great article, thanks for writing. Sadly I can relate to much of it.

  8. Anitra Smith
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    A very interesting idea. I don’t think I’m going to do this, because our lives still feel very much in flux (we’re continuing to ramp up the board game reviews on our site, our kids are aging out of certain interests and into others)… but I am doubling down on my effort to read the books I have before borrowing & buying more. I’ve always been pretty good about being ruthless with books, AFTER I read them. And lately, my to-be-read pile has been taking over more and more shelf space.

    • 18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

      That’s fair – I know a few people who are signing up to this that have more focused goals associated with it. ‘Reading more of my owned books’ is a pretty great goal in and of itself. 😀

  9. MJLangford
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    I strongly recommend tracking your plays.

    This will help you quantify progress, reward repeat plays of things you like, show what games your friends have similar skill level at, and will let you see a menu of unplayed games at a glance (if you enter all the games in).

    It is also a decent starting point for journaling in general, but that is for another day.

    Here are 3 utilities for doing so:

    https://www.bgstatsapp.com

    https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/183412/log-plays-faster-splu

    https://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/plays

    All 3 back up into BGG if you want that. BG Stats can show a ton of stats too.

    • Nat
      18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      I love BS stats app. Its almost as much fun tracking data as it is playing games.

  10. 18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    This is off-topic, but it struck me. Have you considered making the column width of this blog narrower?

    Lines that average 12 or so words (10-14 is a number often touted) are easier to parse, because when a line is too long, you’re much more likely to lose your spot as you move to the next line.
    The lines in this blog are extraordinarily long, in fact. Which is especially relevant on a site about accessibility.

  11. Emma in France
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    This is a very popular idea in the fibre-arts community, it’s often referred to as going on a yarn diet or ‘cold sheep’. Yes, really.

    I am with you on the books. Even with my limited means, I have so many unread books on my Kindle thanks to the Humble and Story Bundle and my interest in finding new voices in SFF. I have only bought one or two actual paper books a year for a while now and they get read immediately as they are eagerly anticipated – although The Shepherd’s Crown took a bit of working up to.

    I have cut back heavily on my Facebook use since starting to use Twitter, perhaps too much as I have friends all over the place to keep in touch with but I do need to find the healthy balance. I have stopped sitting at the PC all day and that’s a good thing.

    • Nat
      18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      Amazing to learn about Yarn Diets!

    • 18/09/2019 at 5:33 am

      > I have cut back heavily on my Facebook use since starting to use Twitter, perhaps too much as I have friends all over the place to keep in touch with but I do need to find the healthy balance. I have stopped sitting at the PC all day and that’s a good thing.

      I’m still working out how social media fits into this. It’s a ‘waterfall of content’ problem of its own, wrapped up in a whole pile of high-school psychology nonsense. The problem though for this site is that readership and commenting are fractured into a dozen places and while I’m not great at answering comments and emails (because I am very absent minded) a part of that is Twitter and Facebook.

  12. Mrs Meeple
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    I’m totally on board with this.

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