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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Evangelism: Threat or Menace?

Chris spoke of his reluctance to come out of the closet regarding his gaming hobby to the general public. My first response was to consider myself an evangelist, but then I started thinking about what that meant. After spending more than seven years with this game group, I've discovered that I've been changing my attitude towards getting new folks into the hobby.

I spent a lot of time trying to get everyone I knew interested in gaming after I discovered euros in the late 90’s. If we went to our vacation place with friends, they were pretty much doomed to play at least one game. In some cases, this was a painful experience, with one guy wondering aloud why anyone would "waste their time" playing games. Note that this guy is a distance runner and will need new knees in a few years, so it’s hard to take a comment like that seriously. Still, it leaves a bit of a mark.

While some non-gamer friends do enjoy occasional gaming, it is abundantly clear that they do not think of games in the same way that I do. They will never have a closet stuffed with games. They will wonder why I want to teach them a different game than we played last time. They may buy two or three games, but never more than ten. While it’s nice to introduce them to a game, and they derive some pleasure from playing, they will never be hobbyists. I'll still turn them on to interesting games from time to time, but I have no expectation of them becoming a collector, or as my wife says, an addict.

The people I do get interest from tend to either be hobbyists already, or else nascent gamers who used to play games in high school and just haven’t had the opportunity or exposure to play currently. Even then, friends who played Cosmic Encounter with me in high school, often until dawn, show little interest in more than an occasional game here and there, if anything.

So why be an evangelist? Of all the times I’ve put out calls for gamers in non-gamer situations, I’ve had exactly one person show up who ended up playing regularly. That’s out of perhaps 400 people I’ve mentioned gaming to. BTW, that number is not an exaggeration: When you sing in a large choir or two and get the chance to introduce yourself, you cover a lot of bases. If we count the number of people at my former employer who read my “junk-mail” posting, it’s perhaps five times that number. One out of 2000? Hard to justify a significant effort with those numbers.

While I don’t think of myself as an “active” (or “annoying,” depending on your interest) evangelist, neither am I apologetic. I have a blast playing games, we have a great gaming group that gets along well and enjoys each others company. Gaming has given me other benefits as well; skills such as abstraction, diplomacy, teaching, arbitration, parsing rules, critical thinking, not to mention the benefits of puzzle solving. When some knuckle-dragger tells me I’m wasting my time, I usually respond that it never feels like it to me. So it’s a niche hobby. It’s mine, and I love it. I may not be trying to convert the heathen, but I'm not shy about saying to the world that I love games.


  • At 1:13 PM, Blogger dave said…

    I could imagine you getting responses here from other folks posting their own experiences with a much higher success rate. Before they do that, let me mention that this is Oregon, where even the gamers usually have something better to do on a Tuesday night.

  • At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Jeremiah Wittevrongel said…

    My success rate probably hasn't been quite as bad as 1 in 400. Maybe 1 in 200 or 1 in 100. Still, you make a valid point. It's not always worth teaching people games if they're not interested.

    Often, I'll guage a person's interest in board gaming by bringing up the topic in conversation and seeing where it goes. Most people will talk a bit about it, even if only momentarily. Often it quickly becomes clear they don't want to play board games.

    Most of the success I've had with gaming it work has started out small (I manage to get one person trying a game or two), and then gradually some of the spectators take an interest in joining in. At my current workplace, it took about six months to get to the point where we play a 4-player game twice a week or so. And we generally only play about 4 different games (all of them Euros).

    It's a very slow process, but I think it's worthwhile, in that I get to socialize with people on a different level, and introduce them to something new (which some go on and introduce to their families).

  • At 8:12 PM, Blogger George said…

    My experience with introducing games to other people have been have been mixed.

    A lot of times people roll their eyes (most likely picturing me behind a Candyland board or so) even after I tell them that playing games help you develop various brain/social skills, like Doug (Dug?) described. For instance, my boss still does that when I talk about gaming, or when he sees the guys I lured into gaming play during lunch.

    This brings me to the people that do take up an interest in the games I play. Mostly these are people who are already (avid) gamers, mostly the regular Ameritrash variety, but my co-workers for the pleasant exception to the rule.

    As part of our intra-office social activities I offered to host a game lunch one Friday in May. I had about one guy show up so I made the rounds to get some more people involved. Grudgingly a couple more accepted and we pulled out the trusted entry level Eurogame called Carcassonne.

    During play another guy sat down to watch. Everyone liked it so much that this group, plus a couple of new converts, have played Carcassonne just about every (yes, every) single lunch hour since May and often play a couple more games back to back around 4:30 before going home.

    And just about everyone bought a personal copy of the game, with one guy even getting all expansions without ever having played them before.


  • At 9:07 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    Understand that my point is not that I don't like gaming with non-hobbyists; I do, and will continue to play games with friends and family.

    What I am not trying to do is turn people who enjoy an occasional game into hobbyists.

    BTW, I define a hobbyist as someone who collects games and has a large collection, something approaching or larger than 20 games, say.

    Also, certain environments will have a much better success rate: college, for example. I wish I'd had euros in college instead of D&D, although that was good fun too.


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