I have two main hobbies these days; one is gaming, and the other is IndyCar. A weird mix of hobbies, I know, but that’s me.
It seems to me that both hobbies, however, have more in common than it appears on the surface. IndyCar is still recovering from an event known as “The Split”, which saw two rival American open-wheel organizations battle for supremacy from 1996-2008. Meanwhile gaming has seen its traditional distribution module greatly lessened, with tabletop gaming much more of a niche hobby than it was during its heyday in the early 80s.
The commissioner of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Randy Bernard, often talks about picking “low-hanging fruit”, that is, getting those fans who still love racing but hated the contentiousness of The Split to come back and try IndyCar once more. Similarly in games, we have a lot of people who loved gaming, but saw life, disagreements, or circumstance cause them to stop gaming.
(I always like to think about how many RPG books are sitting in an attic or closet, stowed away, almost forgotten, that could see the light once more. Even if that person doesn’t play, perhaps a child or even grandchild stumbles across it and wants to know more).
So how do gamers go about getting back some of those former gamers? Certainly, you can argue a good percentage have probably moved onto other pursuits, and that’s natural; people change, and their hobbies change with them.
Honestly, I think that the variety we have out there today works in both positive and negative directions for the prospective returning gamer. On one hand, given the resurgence of classical gaming and the huge variety of games, plus the advent on social networking, it’s very easy to find something that should be near and dear to just about any preferred gamestyle. On the other hand, anyone diving back into the hobby would find hundreds of possible game titles, with only small differences between many of them, and the fractured nature of our fandom often means trying to find a group for a specific game can be difficult.
Right now, getting gamers back into this hobby is a grassroots effort at best; the Pathfinder Society and D&;D Encounters programs are, at best, limited in their offerings to returning veteran players outside of the window to play something.
Imagine coming back into the hobby now, or wading into an online community to see what’s been going on the past 15-20 years in gaming. Or say you click on a link to a blog where one of the gaming community’s interminable flame wars is continuing. Or, heaven forbid, you ask for recommendations on what’s a good game from RPGnet. I think the potential to be turned off, confused, or disgusted is pretty high. In a lot of ways, we remain our own worst barrier to others in this hobby, more so perhaps than even time or circumstance.
There’s probably a good reason a lot of low-hanging fruit goes unpicked. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.