Growing the Hobby; Harming the Hobby

Posted in board game, m:tg, rpg, south africa, war game by Jerall on 31 July 2010

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?

- Jerall

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.

7 Responses

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  1. Mad Brew said, on 1 August 2010 at 6:39 am


    One, I’m sure a fine display of tits & ass will definitely bring in more people to ogle at those displays, but I somehow doubt it creates new gamers. The car expo is a GREAT example. Sure, lots of young males probably pay for admittance to a car show with lots of T&A, but it doesn’t make a lot of future car customizers… just gawkers.

    That being said, I’m not sold that the display of T&A enforces any sort of male dominance. If anything, being able to make so many men drool and lose their wits certainly says something about feminine power. But I guess it all depends on one’s opinion about sex, sexuality, objectifying, and the whole bag of social mores that go along with that (which is a discussion for another type of blog)…

    I’m on the fence about normalization. I fear that trying to push the culture to some sort of arbitrary “normal” shouldn’t be a goal. Accessibility, yes. I think expanding the flavor of options to entice new demographics is good, but normalization sounds like some sort of crusade to weed out what someone thinks is fringe.

    Anyways, enough rambling; it’s fairly late on this side of the pond and I don’t want to write anymore nonsense than necessary ;)

    Thanks for your contribution to RPG Blog Carnival!

  2. Kurrel said, on 2 August 2010 at 4:33 pm

    So far as I am concerned, normalization can get bent.

    In order to appeal to the most people, it would involve dumbing down, getting politically correct and removing as much of the imagination from roleplaying as possible while adding as much competition as possible.

    So far as I am concerned, the ‘freaks’ are the ones who need to be spoon fed a game and then brag about their Generic Uber Hero with the latest Sword o’ Swordiness.

  3. jatori said, on 3 August 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Perhaps I used the term normalisation in the incorrect sense.

    The hobby will always have it’s own selection of sub-groups, which would cater for many different tastes and needs. Removing the element which makes those sub-groups unique, by dumbing down the content or PCafying it, shouldn’t happen. Currently, there’s debate about (the lack of) female 40K space marines in the Deathwatch RPG, for example. I, for one, don’t mind that there are no options for female space marines, but more on that in a later post.

    When I referred to normalisation, I was aiming more for acceptance that the hobby (a) exists and (b) is understood as a fun passtime and not some deviant and corrupting force and (c) there is nothing more weird about the weirdest individuals in the hobby than the weirdest in any other field or hobby.

    Though I do not really understand the appeal of camping, for example, I know and understand that there are people that truly enjoy it. I don’t know of all the nuances and joys of a camping trip, but I don’t bash the activity or shun/differentiate myself from people that enjoy camping just because they enjoy camping.

  4. trashcondor said, on 3 August 2010 at 1:31 pm

    There is never enough T&A. It’s like saying its possible for a girl to be “too slutty” – obviously that is not possible. :p

    More to the point; an old adage in advertising is, that there is no such things as negative advertising. Personally I think there is some truth to that; and applied to ICON I’d say that any exposure to a greater audience helps market the products to more people.

    Personally I prefer a more individualized, disparate and eclectic community, over one that is overly homogenized. Take 4e for example. Nothing attracts me to that system as the game is overly normalized – the stated intentions of making the game more accessible to gamers (and girls) hasn’t done enough to make the sacrifices worth it. (At least I haven’t seen an abundance of scantily clad girl gamers dropping double-entendres at gaming tables.)

    • jatori said, on 3 August 2010 at 2:15 pm

      Sure, bad press coverage might not actually be bad, but good press coverage is always better. :P

      To be fair, the last few lines of the article do try to show gamers in a better light. I just don’t think that the rest of the article really supports those closing lines.

    • trashcondor said, on 3 August 2010 at 2:22 pm

      Maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek?

  5. [...] Tenletter – Being vigilant against uninformed journalism. [...]

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