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Cardboard Children: Change Or Die

Hello youse.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote last week – particularly that part about how we move new people into playing board games. It seems so fucking weird that I care. I’m trying to place myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t give a shit about board games. They’re looking at me, I’m sure, thinking “Why can’t I just not like this crap? Can you please allow me to not like this childish crap?” But I’m getting weird about it. I think society needs more people playing games together at one table in one room. I think it might be a vital thing.

This week, I want to try to attack this thing head-on.

WHY IS BOARD GAMING UNCOOL?

And it IS uncool. And you could argue that cool doesn’t matter. But it does. Cool always matters. The definition of cool is the only thing that can be argued about. And even that’s a pointless argument, because “cool” is something you can feel. For young people, board gaming isn’t attractive. It has an image problem. A major image problem.

The most high profile public face of board gaming is probably Wil Wheaton, with his show Tabletop. He seems like a lovely guy, for sure. But he couldn’t be further from cool. He’s a nerdy guy playing to an audience of nerds and nerd-sympathisers. Outwith this weird circle that we (me and you) exist in, Wil Wheaton carries no weight. He is there, doing a thing he is comfortable doing, surrounded by people who are comfortable with him, embraced by an audience of comfortable people. And that’s fine. I’m not asking him to give all that up. He is doing it well.

The recent Tabletop Day thing that Wil did was a nice idea too, but it was also kinda fucking weird. I had a similar idea a while back – “HOST A GAMING DAY! INVITE STRANGERS!” – but that was fucking weird too. Look, I’m trying to challenge some thoughts here. Look at that website. Is it just me, or is there something a bit creepy about it? “Take a game to your community centre! Have a game day in your house!” All lovely stuff, but… Why? Why do we need to be so fucking culty and oddball about it? Why does board gaming often move down the same paths we expect Christian bake sales to take?

I’ve heard that Tabletop has broken some new people into board gaming. But are they the right people? I think that people who would find board games through watching a show like Tabletop, or Tom Vasel’s stuff, or one of my old things, is probably the type of person who would find it anyway. When I get tweets from people looking for advice on their “first proper board game”, it’s always a similar type of person. Late twenties or older. Usually male. Often with young children. Usually with a beard. And I’m GLAD those people are trying out board games. But where is everyone else?

MY FEAR OF BUBBLES

There are no real easy answers – but this is what I’ve been thinking about lately:

When I started writing and making videos about board games, there wasn’t a lot of people doing it. But now everyone is doing it. And we’re all doing it in exactly the same way, and playing to the exact same audiences. We’re all trampling over each other, stepping on each other’s toes, tugging each other’s beards. It’s not healthy, I don’t think.

We’re in a bubble. The internet is full of bubbles. The people we follow on Twitter, the things we search for on Google, the websites we visit. We stretch out our arms and we quickly touch the soapy wall around us. It’s why we’re not, any of us, cutting through with the message about board gaming.

WHAT MESSAGE?

Fuck. What IS the message? It isn’t that Agricola is a great farming game. Or that Cosmic Encounter is the BEST space game. We’ve done all that. The message is that people need to be beside each other. That’s all the message ever was. People beside other people, smiling at other people, touching other people. And people means every person. Everybody. It doesn’t matter what the game is. As long as it’s something that makes you laugh in close proximity to another person. Good people. Good drink. Good laughs. Good fun. Together.

THE CHANGE OF DIRECTION

Which means a change of direction is necessary.

Rock Paper Shotgun is an amazing website. I think it’s the best source of games writing on the internet. I really do. But lately I’ve been feeling like my column is just a place like many other places. Sure, sometimes I go way off and weird it up a little. But I often come back to that default position of recommending a board game, probably the same board game that others have recommended that week. And it will have been recommended by many other people in the same way. The same ground being covered again and again.

When I come back from holiday, you’ll be seeing a new Cardboard Children column. In fact, I’m going to change that name too. I want to take coverage of board gaming in a completely different direction. I want to take a broader look at it, and cover it in a much more subversive way. If there’s a website that allows experimentation in games writing, it’s Rock Paper Shotgun.

And if, after eight weeks of that new direction, I don’t feel like this column is different enough? Then I don’t think there’s any point in it existing at all. I’ll walk away from it. But I don’t think it’ll come to that. I’m fizzing with ideas.

I’ve been heading in this direction for a while. I’ve been very aware of that Raven watching me. I’ve been trying to climb the mountain that is my new video game show. Trying to find new ways of talking about the stuff I love. I’ll still recommend games to you, don’t worry. But we’re on a bigger journey than that this time, I think.

Change or Die.

I don’t want to die.

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Robert Florence

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