Saturday, October 20, 2007


I often get questions about the public's attitude towards the games we sell. I grew up in a time when Dungeons & Dragons was demonized and the occult was the fear of choice. Now we have video games and terrorism to focus our fears and prejudices.

It's often the gamers themselves that think their game has a negative stereotype. It makes me wonder if they're just a bit paranoid or if they've had experiences to justify it. Maybe thinking their game is a little dangerous or deviant is more fun.

In three years I've had one upset mother. Her son was playing Magic in the store and she was upset because it had elements of magic. In other words, the premise of casting a spell was some sort of prelude to the occult. Fair enough. I expressed my surprise. No big deal. She casually left the store with her son; no Hollywood hysterics. I also had the local church youth group surreptitiously drop off flyers in the store, but that was more guerrilla marketing than desperate attempts at soul saving.

Someone once asked me if I was afraid of people picketing the store because I sold Dungeons & Dragons. I laughed. I laughed because the attitude towards these games have changed so much over the years. I told them that I wanted people to picket my store. This is California, after all, and such an event would be fantastic publicity. Please picket my store. Bring friends and a news crew. Hold on, let me draft a press release.

This topic got me started after reading about John Nephew, president of Atlas Games, and his run for city council in Minnesota. One of his rivals took the topics of a couple of his hundreds of games out of context in an attempt to demonize him. Let's Kill and Corruption where the tongue-in-cheek games of choice. We don't even carry these games, but mostly because they're not his best sellers. So what happened?

What happened was nobody cared. Times have changed. People are more savvy about games. What? This guy makes card games? How quaint. You mean like Apples to Apples, sold at Target and Wal-Mart? John Nephew responded:
Twenty years ago it could have been different," Nephew told ICv2, "but now if somebody tells a reporter to look into this, I will sit down with them and I find that the fact is that newsrooms are filled with people who are gamers or know gamers -- some of them even own games that we publish. The way this has played out, has really demonstrated to me how mainstream games are now -- how different it is from 1981."
Do you want to know what moms and grandmas are concerned about now? If a game is made in China (some people have personal boycotts). If a game is collectible (aka, resembles gambling). If a game has dark themes, not because it can possess your soul but because little Johnny is already a goth dufus who is socially delayed.

I've also had a number of discussions about game topics, especially concerning violence. I tell people about half the games I sell are about killing. Traditionally, back to the beginning of games, board games were about fighting or racing. That was it. Traditional racing games almost universally suck. However, we've elevated the fighting games to an art. We've got Warhammer, Warmachine, Flames of War, Wings of War, you name it, war is a hot topic.

On the other hand, I've got over 500 board games, mostly European style games associated with building, settling, and peacefully co-existing. Nobody ever dies in these games. They aren't even directly competitive most of the time. If you've got Wood for Sheep, you better hope the other player will trade you those sheep or the game is done for you. These games sell very well, but they don't have giant banners of wood and sheep to counter the superior marketing of the war games.

So when people ask why I don't sell games about puppy dogs and butterflies, I give the same reason for why I don't sell health food and fruit juice: Because nobody buys them! I've tried. Nobody wants that crap. And the person asking the question never buys the puppy dog and butterfly games when I introduce them. I think they're just being politically correct (aka pretentious and boring).

This may sound conservative or Republican, but retailers and manufacturers are chasing the demands of consumers. Only mega-corporations can actually shape demand. We're chasing consumers tastes and interests. It doesn't mean you can't take a stand. I don't sell Swear Bears or racy adult party games, even though I know I could sell a boatload of them. I've thought a lot about it. In any case, I've always thought healthy fantasy was an outlet to channel off violent tendencies, rather than focusing them. Ever see an angry pacifist? Definitely not enough war gaming in their past.

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