Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Questions Than Answers

I had one of those excellent days where I got to introduce a couple kids to hobby gaming. It got me thinking about why this direct introduction doesn't happen more often. Sure, we'll sell starters sets and explain the game, but this usually happens with people whose friends play the game. It's more rare nowadays to actually get a kid interested in a hobby game without that connection. It got me wondering to what extent hobby gaming is an insulated sub-culture, if that's changed over time and if it's an American thing. Most importantly for the store, what role do we play and is it increasing or diminishing?

There's nothing wrong with sub-cultures, but they tend to be fairly well insulated, trade information via word of mouth, and are generally considered weird by the mainstream. Buy a Grateful Dead album from a music store and you're considered normal, but follow the group around the country for six months and you've delved into the realm of sub-culture, with its own language, style and methods of cultural transmission. Hobby gaming feels like this right now, more so than any time in my life. I often feel like a line sergeant in the gaming sub-culture. Then again, I think you could argue that the concept of "mainstream" American culture is so marginalized as to be a sub-culture itself. It's just as odd and bewildering. News, entertainment and hobbies are all so balkanized that it's hard to point to any baseline.

I also wonder if gaming has taken the opposite route, gaining a certain ubiquity. The availability of gaming books in major book stores and online, the "coming out" of major celebrities as gamers, the popularity of the fantasy and vampire movies, has actually made gaming and the idea of gaming so mainstream that it has lost its edge of danger, or at least become a kind of dorkiness that "straights" simply find dull. Fringe religious groups used to do a good job of keeping the edge on, but they've moved on to video games. Or maybe gaming is just an accepted sub-culture, like the many others. In this scenario, game stores are just another place to find and learn about games, as opposed to the place. Yes, I know, there's this thing called the Internet and game stores have lost some of their relevancy over time, but it's not like we're buggy whip salesmen yet. But can the Internet inspire you to play Dungeons & Dragons? Can it show you what it's like to build, paint and play with Warhammer models in a way that's tactile and approachable?

One of the kids that came into the store took time learn about the games we carried, but even better, wandered into the game center to see what struck them as interesting. Billy, our excellent Magic organizer was playing in the back and he introduced him to Magic, handing out some free cards. Another group was playing Dungeons & Dragons, which worried me for a moment because I know it's the kind of game that's amazing to play, but looks like grown men playing tea party with Barbie dolls to the uninitiated. The kid was still interested - phew! Warhammer 40K was our next stop and we were lucky enough to see one person cutting models off sprues, another painting and a third with completed models set up on the table. This was by far the game that held the most interest for him, but it was also somewhat inacessible to ten year old just starting out. He settled on the D&D, and with any luck, a hobbyist was born.


  1. Congrats Gary.
    This is where the hobby is born, in kids aged 10-12. For the future, this is where our marketing dollars should go. How we reach them is another question altogether. Maybe summer camps?

  2. Summer camps are a good idea, although you're competing with the many child activities out there.

    From what I've seen from other stores, it's mostly deeper community involvement and support. That was something I had planned for 2009, before I started hunkering down and focusing on what I know works. Sad, but true.