Boardgamers' Love/Hate Relationship with "The Mass Market"

KB Updated
There Will Be Games

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"Sound advice, except for the 'giving money to the (evil) Wal-Mart part...."

Does this seem familiar? If it doesn't, you haven't been spending enough time in the boardgaming forums. For whatever reason, gamers seem to have a tangible hatred for "The Mass Market".

Why is this? I have no idea. It probably has something to do with that "us against the man" vibe that runs through many hobby communities (though I don't see this as much from video game communities--and even if I did, it would be laughable...what, don't buy from Wal-Mart but or Gamestop instead? Yeah, Gamestop only owns *every videogame store outlet* there from them, that will show "The Man!")

Personally I've always gotten the warm fuzzies when any game that could be deemed "geek-worthy" finds its way onto mass-market store shelves. And if people really cared about the hobby as much as they claimed, they'd cheer too.

I can't tell you how many times I've been browsing the boardgame section (such as it is) at the local Wal-Mart when I'll see someone--maybe a young couple, or maybe just an older guy--hobble through the aisle. You can see it in their eyes; a listless but at the same time relentless, hopeful search that SOMETHING is out there that will catch their eye. You see them pick up game after game, showing it to one another, but maybe with a slight shake of the head put it down again. And who can blame them? I don't doubt for an instance that these folks have bought a game blindly in the past from these very same shelves, only to be wildly disappointed.

Still, that something...that urge...brings them back. There has to be more, right? Maybe they've heard or seen some of our "geek" games out there and are puzzled when they can't find such things on Wal-Mart or Target shelves. And very likely they don't have an online resource such as BGG...they probably haven't the foggiest clue that such a thing exists!

How do I know this? I used to be that guy. Of course, I'd seen great games like Space Hulk in the past, but still I would browse the store shelves looking for something like that. And part of me still does that. I still catch myself looking over those tired shelves hoping that something "geeky" has punched its way through.

That's probably why I celebrate games that do make that breakthrough. I sing the praises of games with a geek pedigree such as Battleball or Epic Duels or Heroscape...probably disproportionally so. Sure, they're good games, but you cut them a little slack because they rise above the muck such as Spongebob Monopoly or High School Musical: The Game or even Failed Party Game Where People Shout Words at Each Other #3718. Seeing a game like Crossbows and Catapults or Laser Challenge mixed in with that lot of rubbish is cause for celebration.

For a lot of people, that's the only hook into our hobby that they'll ever have. They've seen the "Game Store" but shy away because of (mostly wrong) stereotypes of mouth-breathing CCGers and bespectacled D&D nerds and old men carrying big tackleboxes full of Warhammer figures painted with frightening detail. (I said mostly). They just don't think that such a place holds anything for them. And to turn the tables, the same would apply to you if you weren't into a particular hobby; imagine not being much of an outdoorsman and having to entertain thoughts of going into a Hunting hobbyist store filled with live bait, expensive gear you couldn't possibly tell one apart from another, and orange-clad "Good Ol' Boys" chewing tobacco and talking about getting up at 3 am and covering themselves in Deer essence just to get the drop on an unwitting Buck. Stereotypes RULE!

So where does that leave our potential "normal" would-be gamers? Shuffling the aisles of Wal-Mart. Or Target. Or whatever. Looking, endlessly looking.

I don't usually take it upon myself to be an evangelist, but I can't help myself in such situations. One time when doing my own Wal-Mart shuffle, I noticed a man and his young son pick up the Heroscape box. It was obvious that the man was interested--his son doubly so--but the price tag of $40 was certainly scary on an unknown entity. Still, Heroscape grabbed them, peering out with its attention-getting large shelf profile, indicating its dominance over the weaksauce titles that surrounded it.

"It's a great game," I said to him. He turned to me. "Is it really?" he said. "Yep. Your kid is going to love that."

And that was enough, that gentle nudge, that assurance from someone who seemed to know what they were talking about. Now, I would've never talked this guy into going to a hardcore hobbyist store, but the bait was there in a place where he would find it...and ultimately, he took it. Did he and his son become boardgamers for life? Eh, not so sure about that. But this was the only shot for that to ever happen.

So I'll keep on shopping those big store shelves, looking for new champions of worthiness among the drek that's out there. And yeah, I'll cut it a bit of slack...and more importantly, I'll buy it from a big store too. Even though I'm just a datapoint, hopefully I'm one that says, "More, please". So I'll buy Heroscape stuff at Wal-Mart. So I'll buy Travel Blokus from Target. I'm probably naive, but maybe we can shape "Mass Market" into our own image, or at least enough to hook in another father and his son into a lifetime of memories.

There Will Be Games Ken B.EditorialRant
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