Gamers organise school games groups; they run clubs; they organise family game nights at schools, libraries or churches; they give games as gifts; they regularly demonstrate games for free. We do this because we love the games - and when you love something, it's natural to want to share it.
Gaming is a fantastic hobby. It promotes social interaction, it accommodates different-sized groups of people, it can be played in mixed gender and age groups. There's a growing body of evidence that shows that families that share a hobby like gaming are more resilient than those that lead largely separate lives.
Gaming can foster a range of interests, encourage logical and rational thinking, promote the development and understanding of key skills. It's cheap, you can do it almost anywhere and, best (and most important) of all - it's fun!
When it comes to promoting games, we have mixed success. It takes a lot of perseverance to get a good-news story into the mainstream media or into public places for people to explore. It's considered "normal" for adults to coach a football or cricket team, or to drink beer in front of sports TV, but it's not considered normal for adults to get together to explore a more intellectual/cerebral interest like playing games.
As far as promoting our hobby of gaming, there has been success in a range of places. I know I will have missed people and activities - this is by no means an exhaustive list - but please add to it in the comments for this post.
- The Spiel des Jahres award is credited with bringing gaming into the mainstream in Germany.
- BoardGameGeek provides a central 'home' for gamers and also a contact point for journalists seeking informed comment or information.
- Ben Baldanza coined the Beyond Monopoly name and was the first, as far as I am aware, of many people to run games classes at adult education centres.
- His wife Marcia has brought games into the mainstream in the elementary schools where she has taught; other teachers and parents have picked this up, including Giles Pritchard, who has worked to bring games into schools and has even established a games library for a local school. Chris Brooks often blogs about the game classes he runs at a local school.
- Neil Thomson, the president of Border Gamers Albury-Wodonga, has a regular column on gaming in the regional newspaper. Some years ago, the Melbourne's Child (Sydney's child etc) group of newspapers ran regular reviews of games. Ward Batty runs (ran?) a weekly syndicated column on gaming for several newspapers.
- Greg Schlosser has written about his experiences with church family game nights.
- Many, many games clubs run open-to-the-public events and work to promote gaming in their local community. Here's a coming-soon listing that leverages an existing activity.
- Fraser and I try to do our bit, with a family games night at Biggie's school, consultation with teachers on games for use in the classroom and in the out of school hours care program, and of course the month-long display of games at the Melbourne Museum last September, complete with accompanying demonstrations.
- Phil Davies, of Mind Games Albury, has worked hard to bring Eurogames to local schools and to promote them, even founding the Australian Games Expo to promote gaming to the wider community.
One of the people who, to my mind, has done the most effective promotion of gaming over the past few years is Jon Power. Jon is the founder of Beyond Monopoly! - a games club in York, in the UK. From its beginnings as a once-a-month event in 2005, the club has gone from strength to strength, helped in no small measure by Jon's enthusiasm and commitment. Anyone who has ever been involved with running any non-profit organisation knows how much effort is involved, how hard you sometimes have to work to find the drive and commitment to keep things running smoothly, but Beyond Monopoly! doesn't seem to falter.
As well as running the now twice-monthly game club, Beyond Monopoly! has run demonstrations at public events and venues including York's National Railway Museum. They've featured in newspaper articles, radio spots, even had a mention in the BBC's Mind Games Magazine. Jon himself is widely recognised and respected by gamers around the world, and he has been very successful in securing donations of boardgames for the club's library as well as marketing material and posters from publishers to use in his demonstrations (trust me, after the demos we ran last year, I know just how hard it is even to get a response from a publisher, let alone some actual product). He's always happy to lend an ear and help out others, in their promotion of gaming and also on a personal level, as a good friend and listener.
Jon is also known to BoardGameGeek readers as the font of all knowledge on the Essen Spiel fair. I remember introducing Jon to a friend on BSW late one night, where recognition was immediately followed by "I followed your Guide to Essen word for word last year. It's great!"
This week, Jon hit the holy grail. Daily newspaper the Yorkshire Post ran a fantastic article about Jon and his games collection, with column space for Beyond Monopoly! and also BoardGameGeek. You can't buy publicity like this in a national newspaper - this sort of promotion of our hobby is a boon to publishers and distributors as well as to games clubs around the country. And of course to Beyond Monopoly! as well.
That's why it was so disappointing to see Jon's story picked up and damaged by the tabloids. In yet another example of shoddy tabloid journalism, they perverted the truth of the original article, invented quotes, and ran a story about yet another lonely loser with a sad and sorry hobby. Jon - and, by extension, all gamers - was turned into a laughing stock. Worse, a similar bastardised and disrespectful "story" was run in his local paper for his neighbours, friends and colleagues to read.
Responses on BGG have been mixed - there's been some sympathy, but mostly there's shared amusement - a feeling that being mocked by a tabloid is somehow a badge of honour. I think that's shortsighted.
Articles like the tabloids ran undermine our credibility. They invite people to sneer at us and our hobby, and they suggest that there is something wrong with those who share it. They ignore the proven and readily demonstrated benefits that playing games brings in favour of that laziest of devices, mockery.
Meanwhile, these same papers that sneer at us continue to promote inferior and dull product like Mousetrap and its ilk as the best gifts every Christmas.
So where is the common ground? How can we build a credible and reasonable media profile for games and gamers without opening ourselves up to mockery and vicious slurs? How do we sell gaming to a wider audience?
Or is it all a mistake? Maybe we should stop our evangelising and figure that people who WANT to play games will find us, and forget the rest.
Meanwhile, there's a train spotter I want to get to know a little better.