Bobe-Mayse (באָבע־מעשׂה) is one of many irreplacable Yiddish idioms. It means “tall story”, an old wives’ tale, urban legend, or, if said in a more sneering sort of way, a way to call bullshit on an associate. In my family, however, bobe-mayse was used more to mean pointless… not just a wildly untrue story but untrue living — spending valuable time doing something beneath a mature person’s stature.
When I was growing up, reading comics and playing video games were bobe-mayse compared to the serious business of homework and A-pluses. Drawing my own comics and programming my own games were a yet deeper form of bobe-mayse — gournish (nothing), luft gesheften (affairs built on air) meant for luftmenschen (men with their heads in air or full of air, i.e. intellectuals).
I got into college on an eight-year medical school junket. How proud everyone was. When I dropped out, my suggested alternatives of journalism or (gasp) being a working novelist were bobe-mayse in the eyes of my family and most of the social circle I was, at the time, still confortable with. To lessen the damage a bit, I wound up centering in on computer science, which was still a bit radical and unknown at the time, and probably still mayses-gesheften compared to the stolid world of a law degree, accounting certificate, or starting a real business selling something people could touch. But it was still on the straight and narrow enough to keep the tuition checks coming. “Maybe you can create computer programs for radiologists to see things,” my dad advised. “I hear there’s good money there.”
As a graduate, when I seriously contemplated the games industry, it was utter bobe-mayse. But by then all my friends were bon-a-fide luftmenschen. Getting a corporate job at all was pretty damn straight laced and radical.
Years later, it’s clear to me how bobe-mayse is all a matter of context.
Let’s look at games as an example. There’s a pecking order:
Graphic researchers view medical imaging professionals view Hollywood special effects masters view 3D engine writers view game developers view level editors view “digital fine artists” as either beneath them, irrelevant, or downright worthy of contempt. This view goes up the ladder as well as down. Above them all are the theorists in physics, optics, cognitive psychology — people who feel they originated the real work of recreating the world digitally. Then of course there are sci-fi writers, who truly pioneered the concepts upon which virtual worlds and the metaverse were built.
Within the narrow slice of the gaming industry itself there’s a hierarchy of bobe-mayse that works both upwards and down. MMOG developers scoff at the simplicity of stand-alone core developers who scoff at handheld developers who scoff at casual game cloners who can’t believe anyone that spends a weekend making a Facebook game dares call himself a game developer. And let’s not even talk about paper-and-pencil game designers.
As with most things, there’s the narcissism of small differences at play. Someone who does something similar to you, but not exactly what you focus your hard-fast hours on must be the most misguided of all fools.
I’ve certainly got my own predjudices, and I routinely trivialize the work of others as utter bobe-mayse. To me, most “fine art” with that Grand Statement about how games are life or life is a game is pretentious self-referential claptrap. Most academic or or deep critical writing about games isn’t worth boo-shee — empty words that are either childlishly obvious or hopelessly obscure. I’ll admit, as a commercial game developer, I generally have little patience for the purely academic or meta-artistic. The things those putzes pop out is worth bubkes.
But every once in a while I read an academic article or play an experimental game or see a work of “digital game art” that reminds me there’s actually a reason to keep an eye open, reminds me of why I really care about computer games to begin with. And then I tear up and lose my mind in the luft for a while and dream big and write blog entries like this.
Truth is, we’re all of us telling our own story, from different POVs. None of us who really care about computer games can say we toil at honest trade. Whether you’re a storyteller, visionary, architect, thinker, patron, or other enabler — you have the fortune to be dwelling in the land of tale tale. And you realize that games, above all other bobe-mayse media, have the potential to connect the domain of bobe-mayse with the domain of the important and world-changing. The domain of more worthy and worldly pursuits like profiting deeply from global mega-capitalism, waging warcraft in the name of geopolitics, or recombining human genome to create a superspecies.
It’s not that we don’t care about the real world, it’s that we honestly believe that tall stories, especially multimedia digitally-enabled stories, are the truest path to communally get there.
So whatever your preferred flavor, long live bobe-mayse!