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Gateway Games - Critique of Barnes on BoardGameNews

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25 May 2008 12:51 #7053 by colleen
I finally got around to reading the article on BoardGameNews.com where Michael Barnes and others discussed the concept of gateway gaming. I'd like to discuss this further and didn't feel as though any intelligent conversation could occur at that site, so I am posting here. Forgive me if there is already a thread on the topic, but I didn't see one.

Barnes claims that gateway gaming has become a meme within gaming and it does not exist. It's an interesting claim that I hadn't thought much about before the article.

I am going to speculate that gateway games originally referred to the first games that hobbyists played as their "introduction" to the hobby. Now introduction may also be a bit of a farse since people cannot really be "introduced" to gaming when our culture is so riddled with games and gaming images that they've been introduced for their entire lives. I would even argue that children are taught gaming as toddlers when they try to fit the triangular block into the triangular hole. The very concept of the "introduction to gaming" is non-existent.

So people began to refer to their first boardgame as a gateway game. Although the gateway may have been there for years before that moment, I will grant that the first boardgaming experience could be described as a gateway. But this is also riddled with problems.

Most people claim that games such as Axis and Allies, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, or whatever is their gateway game. But pretty much all of these people played Hi-Ho Cherry-O as a child, or Monopoly, or Mouse Trap or whatever. So what people are really trying to say is NOT that this "gateway game" was their first boardgame, but that it was their first "hobby" game.

I think Barnes made some shallow distinctions along these same lines. If we can only describe a gateway game as a game that is part of the hobby, then we need to ask what games qualify, or better don't qualify as a game of the hobby. If Monopoly doesn't count as a hobby game, then does Acquire? If UNO doesn't count, then does Bonanza? If chess doesn't count, then does any abstract?

Something doesn't fit here.

I think people really mean to refer to gateway games as a genre of games (like how Ameritrash or Euros are a genre) that have a simple rule set and are popular. When people ask what gateway games others have played, they are asking for a list of games that meet this specific genre.

As a matter of definition, think of gateway gaming as having several distinct meanings:
1) a game with the ability to lure someone into boardgaming
2) a genre of games with simple rules and common themes
3) a genre of games with the ability to lure people into boardgaming

Now Barnes is pointing out how definition 3 gateway games do not exist because we cannot have a single genre that captures what attracts people to the gaming hobby. I agree with him. I'm not so sure that I agree that theme is the ultimate attractant to new gamers, but he is right to point out the ridiculous concept that we have a genre of "gateway games" that will lure people into gaming.

Definition 1 claims that certain games can lure people into gaming without claiming that an entire genre exists. Once again, I think Barnes rejects this notion because he argues that games with a good theme will lure people into gaming. Hence, we should not refer to gateway games, but of well-themed games (my interpretation of his argument).

I disagree with him here. Games don't lure people into gaming. Culture lures people into gaming.

I am a bridge player and bridge is one of the most awful, boring, difficult to learn games in existence. I'd say that of the 100,000 members in the ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) 99% of them did not game outside of bridge when they learned bridge. But many of these bridge players took up gaming as a hobby later. Does that make bridge a gateway game? Hell no!

There is something about the culture that lures people into bridge. Culture may entice people into certain themes such as movies, music, or videogames. This is where Barnes may be headed, although not explicit in his words. In this sense, games that tap into popular culture are the best candidates to be gateway games. Bridge, I think, taps into a rich and snooty culture for some - since most bridge players are rich and snooty. Just like Descent taps into the videogame pop culture, or pirate themes tap into the current movie culture. If we are to comment on what lures people into gaming, we can look to pop culture - and as the lure for almost anything.

The concept of a gateway game is fine if we stick to definition 2. Gateway games have simple rules and common themes. We can refer to a genre here. This genre does include Ticket to Ride, Zooleretto, Zombies!!, and more. If people are looking for light games for adults, then they are looking for a gateway game. It doesn't have to be more than that.

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25 May 2008 13:13 #7056 by vialiy

If people are looking for light games for adults, then they are looking for a gateway game. It doesn't have to be more than that.


But a gateway from what? And to what?
And why not simply do away with the transitional thing so many people worry about and call them "light games for adults"?
The concept makes sense if you talk about your own gaming experience, for example, because the origin and destination are known and specific. "Gateway games" in the abstract makes no sense.

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25 May 2008 13:18 #7057 by colleen
Yes, gateway is probably not the right word for it. I think Barnes was really onto a great idea here that was completely shut down at boardgamenews. The entire concept of gateway gaming is fake. But people are referring to something. I was merely trying to flush out what people really meant when they said "gateway gaming". The definition above was what I came up with and the word "gateway" doesn't seem to fit.

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25 May 2008 16:46 #7060 by Dogmatix
colleen wrote:

I disagree with him here. Games don't lure people into gaming. Culture lures people into gaming.


I like your thoughts in the original post, but I think that the most important post is the one you hit on here. I believe you're right-on here. The "gateway" to gaming isn't the game, it's the experience surrounding the game. And this is where I think you and I probably part ways in thinking while using exactly the same terms. I infer from your argument that X people are drawn to X game [rich-n-snooty to bridge, for example] because of the culture surrounding the game---bridge has a reputation for being a game of the rich-n-snooty, thus the rich-n-snooty come to it because either it appeals to their socio-economic demographic or at the very least because they *think they should* play bridge. (If this isn't what you were getting at, I apologize, but bear with me.)

One trope that was repeated by a number of folks both here and over at BGN regarding "gateway games" was that "well I progressed from [insert RPG here] to [light-weight wargame] to [eurogame] and I don't see what's stopping that from happening now." The part that went mostly unchallenged in all those threads was the fact that everyone who brought that up was...a 40-something middle-class suburbanite. No one has given much of an indication of what is grabbing the attention of that up-and-coming potential boardgamer. They're not "potential gamers" because, to most of them, "gamer" means "Xbox", "PS2/3" or PC-gaming, and they have a hell of a lot of experience there.

In otherwords, the "gateway" has long been opened; they just don't care to come into your boardgame-infested yard.

I think the point Barnes was trying to make is that to sustain, and more importantly, grow the hobby, we don't need more games that appeal to the 40-something middle-class suburbanite--there are lots of them in the hobby already and they dominate *all* the genres of gaming--from miniatures to wargaming to economic efficiency engines to competitive Pretty Pretty Princess tournaments . Instead the hobby needs something that competes with the eyeballs and wallets of the plugged-in online-gamer Ritalin-popping blipvert-advertising generation.

Any boardgame that wants to compete with that segment of the mass market really will need to compete with the dominant multiplayer gaming experience for those folks--the action-heavy eyecandy-rich video game. By getting games like Carc and Catan onto *their* game platforms, there's a chance you'll get them interested in the table-top version. However, to really get their attention you'll need something to compete with Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Rainbow 6, SOCOM and the like. That's where the theme- [and gaudy bit-] heavy games like Heroscape have huge potential. If you can suck them into the market with that, then they can go through that progression of "heroscape" to [light wargame or Euro] to [monster hex-n-chit game/heavy euro/whatever].

I don't see too many sub-30s at my local gaming store [with 30 tables or so, it's a pretty busy place] on game night playing anything but warhammer 40k and some form of CCG. The boardgames and RPG tables are loaded with folks that look like me--mid-30s [and up] who have been playing games of one stripe or another for a very long time. And, unfortunately, I'm not at all sure that it's a natural leap for miniature and CCG players to make the leap to boardgaming. If they don't have something to suck them into the other side of the hobby, boardgaming will atrophy.

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25 May 2008 17:44 #7061 by daveroswell
I think the term "gateway game" is simply a marketing label, an advertising tool to hook "non-gamers" (another label) in to the "gaming world". A very simple yet powerful advertising tool: be part of the group. A group of what exactly I don't know.

Another marketing label I don't get: "The family game." What exactly does that mean? My family played Risk, Axis and Allies, Dungeons and Dragons and Poker when I was a kid. Another attempt at labelling the advertising world uses (and sometimes quite well...look at SDJ and how many copies of Zooloretto were sold before and after the awards last year.)

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25 May 2008 18:03 #7062 by jur
in most cases, there isn't a gateway game. The gateway is the people you play with.

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25 May 2008 18:19 #7063 by Mr Skeletor
If you missed it there is a fair bit on the topic here: fortressat.com/index.php?option=com_cont...ew&id=291&Itemid=190

Its mixed in with Barnes on BGN talk.

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25 May 2008 19:08 - 25 May 2008 19:08 #7064 by colleen
Mr Skeletor wrote:

Its mixed in with Barnes on BGN talk.


I figured there was a thread somewhere. I read all 6 pages. I still don't feel like anyone really got into the "what" is gateway gaming before talking about the "why". I did like the comments about gaming literacy. If you determine that someone is gaming illiterate, then they need a gateway game. We should call them games for tards. Then we can be honest about it.
Last edit: 25 May 2008 19:08 by colleen.

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25 May 2008 23:03 #7069 by colleen
After I've thought on this some more with regard to DogMatrix's post, I think what we are trying to say is that "gateway games" (if there is really such a thing) are constantly moving, changing, adapting, and by definition can expire. If we think about kid's toys, whatever the flavor of the week is what kids want.

Gateways need to have the flavor of the week. A gateway one year will not be the same the next year. If we can tap into pop culture routinely, then we can develop a genre of "gateway games" that will lure people based on fad. It's cyclical. The games eventually move out of gateway status as the trends shift.

Barnes, perhaps, was trying to point this out by his 18-25 year old comment. Clearly the age is not relevant. Only the current trends, which tend to appeal to a certain age.

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