Monday, March 13, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Friendless John Farrell's cultural advice

I invited John Farrell, who lives somewhere near Brisbane, Australia (wherever that is), to be my guest today. John goes on BGG by the username Friendless, which I really doubt is true, but when you look at the avatar he selected you might suspect there is something to the name.

Anyway, John's article from his own blog impressed me as a very good analysis of the tools a board game fan can easily use to generate opportunities to play the games they enjoy. I learned a lot reading the article and I'd hate for you to miss it. Thanks John!

Building a Gaming Culture

BoardGameGeek has become a fantastic success, both as the gaming database and community site that it was designed as, and incidentally as promotion for the hobby. Thousands of new members join each month. Some of those members get the disease, the compulsive obsession with the hobby that draws them to buy new games, read the site perpetually, and evangelise the hobby to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen. I know these people exist, I am one. You probably are too. For those inductees into the hobby, there is one burning question: will you play with me?

The sad fact is that not everybody else in the world is a board game geek. It may not seem so, but we are members of a small and mostly unloved subculture. This means, like other small and unloved subcultures (choose one appropriate to your part of the world), we need to proselytise our hobby. Don't worry if you don't know what proselytism is, that's what this article's about anyway.

I can't claim to be an expert on finding gamers. I don't have the easy extroversion of a Derk Solko, the grand poo-bah authority of a Greg Schloesser, or the innocent energetic enthusiasm of a Tom Vasel. In fact, I'm a fat bastard with no friends. However I do have a passion for games and a few ideas. In the remainder of this article I'll be discussing groups of people you can try to convert, along with the best ideas I have had so far for getting them to play with me.

Firstly, your family. Your children make the best game buddies because they are captive in your house and you rule their lives and can make them go to bed if they take the Craftsman. Also, they usually love to play games, and you don't usually have to force them at all. Once your kid is about 4 there's a chance you'll be able to play interesting games with them and it gets better as they get older. If they're younger, you'll have to settle for some not-so-good games, but just think of the time spent as an investment for the future. A is for Apples to Apples, B is for Bohnanza, C is for Caylus... and who says bed-time stories can't be San Juan strategy guides?

And how did you get those kids anyway? Your spouse is a prime target for playing games. Many spouses barely tolerate games, but you may be lucky. My wife likes card games - 500, Rummy, etc, so I have more than my fair share of those sorts of games, and I mostly enjoy them (thanks Mike Fitzgerald!). If you have a spouse who is not so keen on games, but might be convinced, buy games to suit them. Trying to convince your spouse to play Diplomacy when they want to play Lost Cities is doomed to failure, and if there's one thing that can ruin your gaming life it's an unsupportive spouse.

The other big difficulty with family gaming is that your family may not have a gaming culture. My family used to have a television culture, and that's a hard habit to break. I think persistence pays off. I now know when my wife's favourite shows are, and design our gaming around that. As a result, she's happier to play games and will often game with us rather than watching her second-favourite shows. I often get away with turning the TV off, and on very rare nights it doesn't get turned on. After about a year of gentle suggestion, my wife is not surprised when the kid and I ask her to play a game with us.

What about playing games with friends? Well, what would I know about that? I have co-workers, and they're different. So I'll talk about how I might try to interest my wife's friends in gaming. The first thing is, let them know you're a gamer! They probably think you're a nerd anyway, it's not like their opinion of you will change. And they might be a gamer themselves! That actually happened to me three times last year! But usually they're not, yet. I like to leave games set up in the corner of the room, because someone might say "that looks interesting" and you can suck them in. Another tactic is to have your wife bitch about how many games you've got. Or to always carry a pile of games in your car. Anything to let people know that you'll play when they're ready. Of course, you could even suggest playing a game with them, but pick your target wisely (more on that later).

What about gaming with your workmates? If your work is anything like mine, your workmates know your personality better than most other people, and you know which of them are smart, funny, and polite under pressure. You can tell who you would like to game with, and can probably guess who would be interested. And the guys at work are quite possibly geeks just like you, which is a good start. I work with one guy who plays Magic: the Gathering, and one who plays on-line shooters, so at least they're not going to sneer at my hobby, and one day when they've seen the error of their ways I'll teach them Tigris & Euphrates. I do some game shopping during my lunch hour at work, so my workmates regularly notice I've got new toys, and occasionally show a little interest. If I had a regular lunch hour I'd bring along games to play, as I believe some of the guys wouldn't be able to resist a mental challenge. As it is, my workplace is not particularly friendly to gaming, but there's a lot of smart guys there, mostly with kids, and one day they will see the value of what I do.

Now, to BoardGameGeek. Wherever you are, even if you're in Victoria, Queensland, there's a game group forum for you. Or if there's not, just ask Aldie and he'll create one. I posted the first article in the Brisbane forum nearly a year ago, and have had several responses out of the blue since then, resulting in new people coming along to the various game groups. Keep an eye on the forum for your area, and with the massive growth in BGG membership you should find someone eventually.

I also recommend putting your town in your BGG profile. When I see a new poster from Australia I always check to see where they are located. Sometimes they don't say, but if they say they're in Brisbane I drop them a note and ask why I don't know them. I guess that doesn't work so well for Americans, but in any case, you are more likely to be invited to a gaming event if people know you're nearby.

Probably the best thing to happen for me due to my involvement on BGG was the formation of the Critical Mass game group. Mr Critical Mass used BGG to locate a number of Brisbane gamers, contacted them, arranged a hall, and a new game group was born. I think we're about to have our 12th monthly meeting this week. If there is no game group in your area, BGG makes it easy to locate players whom you can invite. Often they are just as game-deprived as you are, so they'd be ecstatic at your suggestion.

Now if you live in a place like Brisbane (pop. 2 million), you know for a fact that there are other gamers out there. It's just a matter of finding them. With some research (i.e. Google) I have found quite a few games groups of various persuasions in this city. I also searched for Yahoo groups related to board games, and found a few of those in Brisbane as well. I joined everything I could. Some games shops apparently have gaming at their stores. That doesn't happen for board games in Brisbane (tell me if it does!), but it's worth finding out about. If your game shop supports it, you could put a note in the window with your email address, asking to be contacted by other gamers. Apparently a lot of people find gamers at their church, and I guess you can try to find people in any similarly social group.

My most recent project for locating gamers has been the Settlers of Brisbane mailing list, for which I sent email to every Chess, Scrabble, Bridge, Go, board game, miniatures game, and role-playing game club I could find in the city, and asked them to forward my invitiation to join the list to their members. It was mostly ineffective, but I think I contacted a few people.

You can also try attending games conventions. You'll need to search the 'net for information on which cons are in your area, but there should be at least one within reasonable travelling distance. You never know who you'll meet there, and you're assured of a good time. With any luck, you'll find someone who's familiar with the gaming scene in your area.

You can also start a games group. Because nobody wants to drive to my house (hey, I live near the beach, I can't have everything) I haven't been able to do that, but when other people start games groups I play with them. If you have a private games group, you could try expanding it and taking it public. Some cafes and bars will let you play at their tables if you're buying their stuff and don't come at a busy time. Who knows who you'll meet? If you run a public games group, have you thought about running a convention? Brisbane has an organisation designed to run games conventions, there may be similar support in your area.

What else needs to be said here? I guess you should be careful not to annoy people. Your enthusiasm might be irritating rather than infectious, and demanding that games be played at every social occasion, while acceptable to me, will just lose you friends. Let people be drawn in, and if you don't succeed in drawing them, try someone else. You don't want to be known as that annoying guy with the games. Even if it's true.

The fundamental strategy for enriching your gaming lifestyle is the same as for playing Settlers: don't wait for it to come to you, get out there and make it happen. Let it be known you're a gamer. Attend events. Organise events. Talk to people. Ask people to play. Be prepared to do the work - researching games, learning rules, teaching games, calling people. It's not easy to develop your gaming life, but it's much more likely to happen if you do something about it.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Great story, John.

People look at me strangely when I say that gaming is an evangelistic hobby. But it's true!

Now who can I convert today?