Gaming Snobs

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I was speaking with someone recently about modern board gaming; she was enthusiastic and wanted to learn more, of which I was happy to oblige. She mentioned the older games that she had enjoyed as a child and as we delved deeper into the conversation, she related a story that I hear all too often. This was not the first of such conversations for her on the topic, and the previous participant responded with “well you shouldn’t play those games.” Many will recognize this as the words of a Gaming Snob: those who can be condescending to people who believe differently about their passions, in this case gaming. We’ve all been there; we like what we like and we want to share it with others. Such a feeling is perfectly natural and healthy, but the way in which we proceed can turn the best of intentions into an unfortunate evil.

How do we draw a line between suggestion and judgment? Gaming Snobs are real, and we must strive to never become one, not only because it fails the basic human decency test, but because they are bad for the industry overall.

As gamers who love gaming and want it to thrive, it is in our best interest to bring as many new players into the hobby as possible. As much as board gaming appears to be enjoying a modern renaissance – it certainly has become more popular than I can ever remember – gamers are still the vast minority of people. The opportunity for growth is plentiful, and growth happens one new player at a time. The more popular the hobby becomes, the more money that is spent on gaming. More money given to designers and publishers allows them to continue producing the content that we so enjoy. More content leads to new ideas and new inspiration, leading to innovation and better ideas, improving the quality of the content. Improved quality will penetrate new markets and create new players, thus restarting the cycle of growth and securing the future of gaming. The larger the potential market, the more publishers are willing to take risks on new ideas since the potential for finding a match has increased. We cannot afford to actively prohibit the development of new players since we are ultimately doing ourselves a disservice.

Whether we realize it or not, we are ambassadors for board games, and our behavior has a direct impact on the perception of the hobby. When I teach games, I cannot guarantee that the game will be enjoyed by all participants, but I should try to guarantee that they are welcomed and given due attention. This is something I personally strive for, although it is so easy, for myself included, to fall pretty to snobbish tendencies. With board games, it can be difficult for new players to make a distinction between bad game experiences and bad people – unfortunately, they will associate either with a distaste for the hobby and likely never come back. While we should always treat everyone with respect, it is essential to make sure that new players are carefully considered. In my experience, many people come to game nights because they were looking for something to do that would allow them to meet new people. It was never about the game themselves; games were the vehicle through which they met new people, and it is impossible to grow gaming without focusing on the people who play them.

I’ve written before about how to determine what games to recommend to new players, but there are a few more subtleties to the approach that can alter your effectiveness. Consider the case of Netflix, Pandora or other suggestion based platforms – the first question they always ask is what you currently enjoy. If you enjoy Country Music as a genre, Pandora is unlikely to suggest that you start listening to Rap and vice versa. This is especially true of gaming, although there will occasionally be a blank slate for this hobby, as some new attendees never played games before, even as children. Take time to get to know the person a little bit – ask about their interests, the level of complexity with which they feel comfortable, what they do for a living – this information helps refine the selection and improve the new player’s experience.

If you are trying to get new players into board games, consider playing games with which they would be comfortable, not you. If you are not willing to play games at their level, how can you expect them to be willing to play some at yours? Believe it or not, I have played both Monopoly and Risk in the last calendar year – two games I have no intention of ever playing. Yet making myself available to those requests and suggestions has made a difference in a few ways. First, it builds credibility – it demonstrates that I am more interested in with whom I am playing a game rather than what game I am playing. By making the activity personal, new players will be more appreciative of your efforts and therefore be more likely to continue. Second, such a tactic provides a nice comparison between the familiar and the unfamiliar; if you truly believe that your game is better than a classic game, playing both within the same night will provide a relatable experience on which the new players can draw their own conclusions.

One lesson I’ve learned, particularly in recent years, is that even games that I would not play – that I used to consider to be bad for gaming – are, in fact, good for gaming. Those who know me know I hide no distaste for Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens, two games that I see being played repeatedly by the same people week after week. It is easy for me to believe that such games water down the hobby, but there is value in the opportunities they create. As I mentioned early, the same people are playing week after week. These games cultivate the habit of coming to game nights, and when these people do, they get exposed, either directly or indirectly, to the hobby at large. Most players need to start somewhere; it is a lot easier to start with a casual game and work your way upwards in terms of complexity than to overreach and expect that you’ll want to try any game after a three-hour marathon of rules and mechanisms. Although I don’t personally play those games (as an AI programmer, these games do not resonate with me), I’ve learned to see their value to the industry overall and it is important to make a distinction between making a statement about the game and making a statement about the player. If you are coming to game night, I should be celebrating your attendance, not judging your selections.

There are a lot of barriers that make it difficult to bring new players into gaming. People don’t always want to think; they have short attention spans or equate it with being nerdy (which it is not). We must not make the process even more difficult by adding rudeness and misconceptions to the equation; how we present ourselves goes a long way in the impression that modern board gaming will have on a new member. With some luck, you won’t just create new players for game night; you will develop new friendships. You will also be securing the future of gaming in the process.

The person with whom I played Monopoly and Risk became a great opponent – we grew to play Smallworld, Smash Up, Ticket to Ride, Star Realms and many others every chance we had.

Everyone has to start somewhere.