Friday, October 12, 2007

People Aren't Wearing Enough Hats

Two questions bubbled up to the top of my brain while sick these past few days. I've had both questions for years but I thought I would share them. The first is kind of innocuous, while the second is a bit more loaded. It's like the Monty Python skit in The Meaning of Life, where the boardroom members get a bit distracted:

[Large corporate boardroom filled with suited executives]
Exec #1: Which brings us once again to the urgent realization of how much there is still left to Own. Item six on the agenda: "The Meaning of Life" Now uh, Harry, you've had some thoughts on this.
Exec #2: Yeah, I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One: People aren't wearing enough hats. Two: Matter is energy. In the universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person's soul. However, this "soul" does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
Exec #3: What was that about hats again?
Exec #2: Oh, Uh... people aren't wearing enough.
Exec #1: Is this true?
Exec #4: Certainly. Hat sales have increased but not pari passu, as our research...
Exec #3: [Interrupting] "Not wearing enough"? Enough for what purpose?

My first question then is why do miniature carrying cases get such a horrible discount from distributors and manufacturers? It's 35%, compared to most things in the industry which are at 50%. My guess is it's to absorb shipping costs. However, as new manufacturers come into the market, the discount remains the same. Are distributors shaving a much higher margin off these bags because of past pricing, or is it related to how manufacturers are negotiating pricing with distributors? If I were to make a bag with the express purpose of selling it at a very competitive 50% discount, would the distributors knock it down to 35% to cover their extra costs? Are there really extra costs? They're lightweight and don't need extra packaging.

My second question is why aren't there more African-Americans in the tabletop gaming hobby? Contra Costa County, where my store is located is 10% African-American (although Walnut Creek was only 1.5%). I've got two regular customers who are African-American our of a cast of many hundreds. I also go to most of the regional conventions and see very few African-Americans there as well. Trade shows are also barren of African-Americans. African-Americans find my store, but honestly when I have an African-American walk into the store, it's usually a mistake. They were looking for video games or game-boy accessories. This happens with people of other races as well, but the fact that they're African-American is an obvious tell that this new person will likely be disappointed with what I offer. During the short time I sold used video games, this changed dramtically, however.

This is certainly not an income or class thing. Tabletop gamers come from the full range of the socio-economic spectrum, but actually tend to be a bit farther down on the totem poll. I used to believe that putting a store in a wealthier community meant wealthier gamers. I learned it meant that my customer base just had to drive farther.

The African-American question has been asked about baseball recently, with just as much uncomfortable squirming. Baseball has been dominated by white and Hispanic players of late, where once it was a battleground for breaking the color barrier. Gerald Early, a professor at Washington University, who helped Ken Burns on his baseball series is quoted in this article as saying:
Baseball has little hold on the black American imagination," writes Early in his column, titled "Unpopular Answer to a Popular Question." "Relatively few blacks
watch the game. The game is not passed on from father to son or father to daughter; lacking that, the game simply will not have much resonance with African-Americans."

I think this is probably the key to tabletop gaming. Is there something in tabletop gaming that doesn't capture the African-American imagination? Perhaps fantasy and science-fiction as predominant themes don't relate. If these games came out of the Mid-West or Europe, I could certainly see that they would lack an element of tradition about them. Then again, my parents never played any of these games and it's only recently that we've seen multiple generations of gamers. Why would they capture the imagination of other non-white groups, but not African-Americans?

And why are all miniature cases black?


  1. "why aren't there more African-Americans in the tabletop gaming hobby?"

    I think it has something to do with hats.

  2. Dave posted a link to Mel Thompson's site. Mel gave a presentation about demographics in the game world with a similar observation:

  3. Baseball no longer has resonance - or relevance - to most Americans.