Nothing can stay the same forever. Eventually, things have to change. Games are no different, although nowadays the changes are as minor as they are high-profile. Take Scrabble. A few years ago the world was in an uproar over the fact that “Scrabble will allow proper nouns”. What wasn’t included in the outrage was the fact that it applied only to a specific variant of Scrabble. Meanwhile, Hasbro had been mucking around with games for years: Risk, Clue, and Monopoly had all received minor revamps, often for the better (the so-called “Black Ops” rules for Risk make the game much, much faster and more enjoyable). It’s not even anything new: the copy of The Game of Life that my parents first bought in the late 80’s was nothing like the version that was in stores just a year or so later, and even the current version bears little resemblance.
The games we play today will not be the same games we play tomorrow. Few modern games have the sheer staying power to remain unchanging and unchallenged for more than about a decade, and those wind up mostly being card games. Uno is still the same game that it was twenty-five years ago, and poker has enough established variants to stay more or less evergreen. But if you contrast that to something like Magic: The Gathering– which is defined by its ever-evolving ruleset and constantly-shifting balance– you can see that change is inevitable.
Still, changing the game is good. It prompts innovation and forces people to use new strategies– often as quickly as they can devise them. There’s no thrill quite like being able to turn the tables on an opponent who’s stuck in the “old ways” of thinking about the game. Likewise, a game that changes itself can often find new players, or bring lapsed ones back into the fold. My hiatus from Magic has served to help me sharpen my focus and figure out just exactly what I want out of the game; I have a newfound respect for Standard-format, seeing it less as a money treadmill and more as a way to keep the game fresh and competitive. Likewise, Pez has come back to Magic with the intent of resuming his previous M.O.– conquering foes with combinations so out there that they can barely be predicted; he just has new cards and new ways to accomplish this.
It’s not really fair to say that gaming is a stagnant activity, because quite frankly it never sits still long enough to stagnate.