Growing the Hobby; Harming the Hobby
ICON, South Africa’s largest gaming-related convention, was held last weekend. This year, however, the event got a bit more mass media attention, than normal, in the form of this article, entitled Sex, mutton broth and gaming at Icon festsival. Before I get to the (mutton) meat of this post, let me clarify a few things:
1. I have never attended ICON, so my comments are based on my reading of the above-linked article and personal conversations with attendees. That being said, I have been involved with several other major events in South Africa, primarily as a Magic: the Gathering tournament organiser, judge and player. I have met and know many of ICON’s organisers and regular attendees.
2. I believe that growing any hobby occurs on two major fronts: keeping existing hobbyists involved with the hobby and introducing new people to the hobby. Both are equally important, but for the purpose of this post, let me explain my views on introducing new people to a hobby:
An isolated group of Magic: the Gathering players have a finite pool of cards, resources available to put towards acquiring new cards and a finite number of intra-group trade options. Each member of the group therefore has a limited number of deck-building options and a limited variety of decks to play against. Games eventually become more predictable and boring. Adding one new player to the group increases the group’s card pool, buying power and available trade opportunities. The complexities surrounding M:tG card interactions mean that only a few hundred new cards can allow for much more deck and game variety, keeping the game alive.
Back to the article:
It’s opening paragraph reads:
“Hundreds of South African nerds, geeks, and the generally weird were flipping through comic books, playing with action figures and slipping into medieval robes at the Jabula Recreation Centre in Johannesburg last Saturday.”
Generally weird? When I first tried to read the article, I immediately thought that this was going to be another poor South African journalism exercise in broad-stroke stereotyping, doing more harm than good. I decided to not read the article and carry on with my life. However, due to a lot of twitter-based conversation around the article, I found myself returning to give it a read. Ignoring the factual errors and subjective style of writing, I still don’t really know what the author was trying to achieve with this piece. Whatever the actual goal, I think that she may have succeeded in scaring off more potential gamers than attracting them. However, this isn’t the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from the article and the conversation surrounding it. Rather, there seems to exist two groups of hobby activists: one that aims to normalise the hobby and those that wish to express difference and individuality through the hobby. Now, I wonder, which is the best approach?
Does ample display of “tits and ass” really bring more people into the game? If it does, who does it bring in? Does it enforce the male dominance of these hobbies or does it enable a greater, positive female presence? Is a display of tits and ass appropriate for a car expo, but not for a gaming convention?
On the other hand, attempting to normalise or prime individuals to investigate the hobby, seems the safer option, but really, it’s just another form of (more subtle) indoctrination, isn’t it?
I lean more towards normalising the hobby first, making use of gateway activities and games or bringing in and referring to similar, but more commonly-known hobbies/games/sports like poker. Does that make me Lawful Evil?
Every month, the RPG blogging community holds a blog carnival. One blog hosts the carnival, providing a topic for the month and collating all of the links and blog posts that are written around that topic. This month’s (July) topic, Growing the Hobby, is being hosted at the excellent Mad Brew Labs blog. For more information about the RPG bloggers network, click here. For more information about past and upcoming blog carnival topics, click here.
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