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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Growing gamers

Before I move onto my take of this month's subject, a word or two on where it came from.

I don't recall exactly why, but I was reminded recently of my days in the Sealed Knot, a British based English Civil War Re-enactment society, which I was involved with for almost 20 years, from my days in college all the way until shortly before we left to come over here. As might be expected, this involved dressing up in period costume and putting on events with pike, musket, artillery and/or cavalry involving anywhere from 2000 people (full scale battles) all the way down to a dozen people in a small display of weapons handling.

For most of these events, especially the largest ones, we used to travel some considerable distance, but as time grew on and we become more accomplished and confident, we started developing an interest in doing something more locally. Now, remember that we lived in the very north of Scotland, where most people hadn't even heard of the English Civil War, let alone the Sealed Knot. (And before everyone stands aghast at the deficiencies of the Scottish education system I am speaking somewhat metaphorically. Hmm, I may be closer to the truth than I first thought, as I was never taught much about British history at school, and absolutely zero about Scottish history. Until I met my SK buddies at college I certainly didn't know anything about Scottish involvement in what was called, after all, the _English_ Civil War.) A few of our members expressed doubts about people they knew finding out that they spent weekends dressing up and running around with pointy sticks. One, in fact point blank refused to be involved in anything in the local area where he had a chance of bumping into someone he knew. (At a more distant event, someone we knew was visiting, recognized us and came over to chat. Our guy dodged and hid in the toilets until the visitor had gone....)

Anyway, the point is that I was never worried about displaying my SK involvement in public. And anyway, whenever anyone raised an eyebrow about it you just say that it's all to raise money for charity (which it was) and then you get that 'Ah...' response, as if that explains or excuses any weird or unusual behaviour.

So, it was with this in mind that another memory mingled recently. At one recent game session the host needed us to move to a common room in the central building rather than game in his condo apartment. The trip over involved putting the games in bags, so no-one could see them, and then closing all the blinds in the room, so that no-one could see that we were *gasp* playing games. (OK, I may be exaggerating a little for effect, but you get the idea.) I've never worried about playing in public, and would be more than happy to arrange a regular gaming session in a local Starbucks, Borders or whatever.

OK, so now that we've established that I'm not a closet gamer, back to the topic at hand. I've got a small, and growing, group going here at Nike that meets every Thursday lunchtime. Numbers have varied between 2 and 10, but are generally around 5-6 mark. Some of us also meet on Tuesday as well, where we always (and only) play Carcassonne, which has been a huge hit here.

I've also been doing some game sessions at the local library. The ones over the last Christmas holiday break were tremendously successful, about 50 people over the two afternoons, although the regular Monday sessions have been very hit or miss, with numbers ranging from 1 to 10. I'll be doing the holiday sessions again, and I hope that it will spill over into the regular Monday sessions.

As for National Games Week, anything that encourages kids to switch off the TV or video game and do something that involves social interaction is to be applauded. Even if it is promoted by game companies, which is is, athough I don't see a big Hasbro promotion. I was very disappointed that the library were very not very interested in doing anything. I'll probably run an open house on the Sunday (11/20) afternoon for the neighbors.

In his entry, Dave had some very interesting thoughts and points. The major one is whether we should even care about hobby growth. As I said above, I'm concerned that our kids are losing opportunities to develop social interaction skills. (And, no, killing evil dudes together in on-line Diablo or World of Warcraft does not count.) I think our hobby has a lot to offer in this area, as well as building bonds and shared memories between parents and kids. Added to that is my general interest in sharing something I love with others. So, yes, I care about growing the hobby.

As for defining hobby growth, it's making people aware of these games that I'm referring to. fwiw, I think there are already plenty of games (perhaps too many, even), so I'm not interested in growing that side. (The fact that I couldn't design a game to save my life has nothing to do with it. I'm in total awe of those who can come up with the ideas for all these fabby games.) Partly I'm also wanting to remove from people's minds that playing games either means Monopoly or smelly geeks playing D&D for days on end surrounded by mountains of rule books.

He also presented his view that the best way to grow the hobby is to encourage the local games stores. From my experiences at Nike and the library this would be fine if the store was in a location where people could see it while about their regular business, like the local mall. Most people I've spoken to had no idea of existance of our local store, and don't have a high enough awareness of games to find out if theere is a local store. I really don't believe that sticking a store in an out of the way place is really going to do anything to help bring modern/Euro/designer (pick your favorite term) games to awareness of the general public. And even if they are aware of it, what is going to make them stop and go in? (I passed our local store many times before I bothered to go in - I thought it would be just another video games store.) And when they are in, how are they going to know what to buy? Presenting opportunites to educate them and let them try games, in my view, comes before them venturing to the store. Don't get me wrong, I think we need a local store (and I make sure that any new people are made aware that they can purchase these games locally), but it's not the first step in the process - 'If you build it they will come' isn't a viable method for growing the hobby.

Anyway, that's probably enough drivel from me for this week. Thanks to those of you who made it this far....


  • At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Rita H said…

    As to the location of local games stores - Gresham has a couple CCG stores where folks get to play and they probably carry a few Euros (though only KC and the boys go, not me). The other Gresham store is Toy Bear which is primarily a toy store but does carry a nice selection of board games. Unfortunately, there is no playing space so to your point about how folks know what to buy.


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