from Latin competere, in its late sense ‘strive or contend for (something)’, from com-‘together’ + petere ‘aim at, seek’.

Oxford Languages

Mike had shared a link to Sean Tucker with me the other day and I’ve been watching films from his YouTube channel. I just finished listening to Artists Should be More Competitive. That reference to the etymology of “compete” forms the foundation of Tucker’s idea and I can’t help but think it resonates into our work too. Especially “our” work since we are the people doing the hobby and so long as we keep doing it, it will always be a thing, have a future.

Forget about the future though. I am.

Think about what we are trying to do. Immediately it’s some permutation of “make something somehow” but ultimately it’s the work and output of establishing a line of communication from my imagination to yours. It’s too easy to find a list of what’s wrong or a plea for how to do something the best way. What techniques could we be learning to describe what we’re trying to do? What are the better questions?

As competitors, how can we move together?

Watching Tucker’s film made me think about my October contemplations on our community, who we are, and how, how we connect, has changed: I said to myself and Dégelis. I feel like the better we understand who we are the better we understand how we are which helps us be truer in our work.

Categories: How I think

3 replies

  1. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse, but the themes discussed in the video strike me as another way of posing art as both a finite and infinite game.

    Our usual understanding of ‘compete’ seems to fall in line with that of a finite game. In model railroading terms, approaching it as a finite game is characterized by deadlines, schedules, building for competitions, shows, conventions, or magazines or other such venues. There are rules to be followed and rewards to be won. In this version, model railroading is somewhat like a business activity, or professional sport or entertainment. Viewed in this light, what we understand as competition is essential for success.

    One of the key features of an infinite game, and infinite model railroading in particular, is that it isn’t driven by externalities like events, deadlines, prizes, or money, and their associated rules. It’s a personal pursuit where playing ‘the game’, in all its dimensions, is the focus. The infinite approach isn’t a disguise for new age squishiness as things like the pursuit of craft through skill enhancement and mastery aren’t abandoned. When Tucker talks about this roots version of ‘compete’, what I hear is approaching model railroading as an infinite game, where personal friendships have a foundational role to play.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying your posts and looking forward to more.

  2. James makes a great build on the video, and both have deepened my thinking on this so much so that I’ve included something in the book about it.

    Creatives bouncing around off one another has happened in our own hobby for many years, and the internet has made the ability to find ‘like minded’ souls even easier.

  3. Thank you both for the conversation. It’s enjoyable to contemplate our relationship with our work, when looked at these ways.

    I haven’t read Carse’s book. A search of the Halifax library shows other titles but not this one. I’ll certainly check those out.

    I would think we could relate all our output in the hobby in the finite game’s box. By its nature, we are always adopting in techniques and styles of work to gain relevance with those we’ll share it with. Examples like those publication deadlines or dates when we’ll share our work in public forums are familiar examples of this finite game. In the models we make we often reference them as shadows of real things so these too, perhaps, are as finite? Once we’ve included all the details and completed all the finishing processes the model is accurate and precise. We judge it complete and move on. Perhaps, too, even those decisions of compatibility in our work become additional examples? Choices of scale and gauge, control systems, or even prototype choices themselves are satisfied by community adjudication and that feeling of belonging, because we’ve made something that our friends can connect to become finite when a familiar structure, train, or sequence registers.

    But maybe this is where Tucker, Carse, and you and you and me connect is through the infinite game of competition? In this sense it’s considering the hobby divorced of its tangible output; model railroading without models of railroads; the naked modeller. Too much of our vocabulary and vernacular is aimed at appraising the work itself. That’s why we struggle so much to talk to each other about what we’re doing. We can ramble on and on about a special train or the best era but gasp for a breathe of words when faced with describing what we’re trying to do. Equally, to facilitate conversations with our friends that propel their work forward. Even our most exhausted smalltalk of the future of the hobby is really a conversation about if we have enough things.

    Last fall, I listened to Nigella Lawson describe to Christopher Kimball the idea that the future of food wasn’t insured by cooking but by eating; not by advocating for food but by expressing the joy of its consumption. That, simply eating was all we had to do. By extension, she described, we would kindle recipes for our future not by aesthetics but from hands to mouths. It was a beautiful and honest. I thought of that, again, as part of this infinite game. By studying how we talk about our fascination with model railways we were insuring its future. Most importantly, by working on learning a new vocabulary that prioritizes the human over their material identity we are investing in each other. That feels healthier and, well, like an unstoppable propellant into infinity and beyond.

    How we got to this hobby is unique but why we stayed is something we made, you to me and me to you, and feels like a place where good and competition marry.


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