Sunday, 16 November 2014

Evolution of Gamers (with thanks to Baz King for asking the question in the first place...)

Someone asked the question “What was the best decade in gaming?” and given my (de)evolution over the years, I have to say that there are a number of different answers, particularly when we consider the different stages of a gamers life.  In turn, that got me around to thinking about the things that we do as gamers and the different things we get up to.  I only have my own perspectives and those I grew up around for reference, but I don’t think that there’s too much of a difference between gamers in general.

Stage one – “You mean we can be heroes in our own heads?”

A lot of gamers start out when they’re too young to appreciate the subtlety of roleplaying and are just happy to get together with friends and play at being something they’re not yet, perhaps with the dream of one day getting to live that dream.

So for me, in the matter of gaming without thinking what about what we were doing, the 80’s were undoubtedly filled with win and in such quantities that we couldn’t carry it all, we never got further than a few weeks into anything before trying something new, and all of it was new, there was no shortage of things coming out and while some of them weren’t any good, it didn’t matter, because there were stores in a number of towns (anyone remember Electronics Boutique?) that stocked roleplaying games in large numbers and it wasn’t hard to get into the hobby because it was so popular.  That said, I do think that looking back on those era’s, we didn’t so much roleplay as wander down a dungeon and there beat things till we won.  If we were playing in space, we wandered down a big ship and there shot things till we won.  These were the times when just getting together with your friends was the main reason why you wanted to do things and whatever you ended up doing was a bonus, because you were there with your friends.  This is where my gaming really started, and that I had so much fun with it was the reason I stayed with the hobby, most of the people who were involved in it were similar to me, people who had interests that didn’t involve trying to find porn and beer (which is not to say that we didn’t have those interests as well, merely that they weren’t the only interests that we had).  I didn’t always get on well with the groups I was with, got asked to leave by at least one (mainly because I got a girlfriend and they didn’t like that…), and in general, got in less actual gaming than I did in all the years to follow.

But we made those moments that we got count…

Stage two – “Everyone Everywhere…”

The next stage, certainly for those of us born in the seventies and just becoming slightly self aware by the end of the eighties, was in the realisation that there were others out there who weren’t just in our small circle and from there trying to catch up with them and see what games could be played.

This for me was the 90’s

The 90’s were a strange time, I finally got to the point where I had enough money to both survive on a day to day basis and have enough left over to buy new games, and being a single parent, there wasn’t enough to try and save up, and games weren’t that expensive, and I had nothing else to do…

I could keep that list of excuses going for some time, but the long and short of it is that with a reasonable job and no other outgoings, I picked up a lot of games in the 90’s, didn’t always get to play them, but unlike later times, I certainly read through all of them and as I was getting to know myself as well, made a number of choices in the sorts of games that I wanted to play, things with atmosphere like SLA industries and Shadowrun, where the story was the thing rather than the system.

It helped that I had a boss who subsidised my MtG habit (he liked having opponents around who didn’t let him win), so that took up significantly less of my money than it did for most other people.  The 90’s were also the time when I started getting into the idea of campaign playing, with a few games in the early nineties and then a massive storyteller system that went across the whole gamut of books to the starting of the huge SLA campaign that introduced me in an indirect route to the internet.  Suddenly there was the understanding that there were hundreds of other people out there, maybe even thousands.

Maybe even…Millions…?

So the horizons broadened somewhat and I made friends with a lot of other people with similar interests, no longer separated by anything as petty as a few thousand miles of ocean, and from there I started taking an interest in what else was going on in the world, but not being tech savvy, didn’t ride in on the wave of net that everyone else was already surfing, that didn’t really occur till somewhat later in life.  However, when it came to campaign gaming, the 90’s beat everything hands down.

New gamers in this day and age get to this stage a lot faster than my generation, because it’s not hard to find local clubs and groups, and the companies that organise games are now actually organised rather than producing a few modules a year and hoping that would keep people interested.  The Internet may be responsible for a multitude of sins, but in telling people that they’re not the only ones who do things (for good or for ill), there’s no better tool in the world.

Stage Three – “What do you mean work’s more important than coming to the game…?”

Stage three usually occurs at the point at which most of the players in the group are starting to settle down and their jobs are taking up more of their time, all of which leads to less time for all the things that can be classified as “Non-life-essential…”

That for most of us includes games…

And that brings me into the 2k’s…

The 2k’s were a bitter time in many ways, the early parts of it were still taken up with going to conventions to run things and getting time to game when I could with who I could, but the real world was starting to intrude in ways I didn’t appreciate, the job was no longer abundantly providing, and as children get older, so they get more expensive, and this was certainly the case here and while I never got to the stage where we were in poverty, we weren’t far off on a number of occasions. I was still supporting every convention I could (didn’t work weekends back then, never let people doubt how much of a difference that makes when you want to go to all these places), helping a number of game production companies (Cubicle 7 is a long way now from those meetings in the back room at Finchley), and writing where I could.  The monthly game ceased around 2007 when I took my present job, there simply wasn’t enough time to get the games in without taking days off, but then I went to a new convention in Birmingham and saw something of the future in it and that brings me to the last stage of gaming (or at least the one I haven’t moved past yet), which is

Stage Four – “You’ve never played a game?  Try this…”

When you’ve been doing something as long as I’ve been gaming, there’s a good chance that you’ve had a lot of fun doing it, made some good friends, got reasonably good at it, and you get that epiphany moment where you consider how much fun you’ve had and you start to think about giving other people a piece of that fun…

That brings me to the 2010’s…

I still get a game once in a while, I have a fortnightly meet with my good friends down in derby, but with their kid just going to university and mine not being around a whole lot anymore, we often catch random tangents and just enjoy the others company, because work gets in the way for all of us and with me organising all the things I do, I’ve often been dealing with games all day and I just want to do something that doesn’t involve games and just hang out with my friends.

Does this mean I’m burned out on games?

Not at all, it means I’ve recognised (taken me thirty years) that games aren’t everything, and that it’s the people that you play with (Fnar) that make the games what they are.  But then a lot of people in my age range that have been lifelong gamers usually get to this stage and do one of two things.

1: Quit

I’ve seen this quite a bit recently, a lot of people that I would have thought would have been playing games in the old folks home have just sold up and moved on.  It’s not that they no longer enjoy the games, they do, but they’ve got to the point where they no longer want to learn new systems, they’re not interested in new games, and the games that they are interested in aren’t much being played any more.  Some people try and get the game that they’ve been working on since they were a kid published, some believe that if they make it, people will buy it (and more on that in an article to follow), and when no one does, they decide they’ve had enough and just walk away.

Others have found other interests that they like more than gaming, and that’s fine (Bloody heretics…), some have got kids and jobs that just don’t give them the time to game, and some, some have just moved on, it was great for a number of years, but when you’re playing Make:Believe, you can miss the Make part, others will do that for you, but you absolutely need the Believe bit of it.

2: Try and get everyone else into the game

Those of us who are still passionate about games when they get to this stage understand that there aren’t as many people at the same age as us now as there were twenty years ago, and in ten years there’ll be even less, so the only way to make sure we still get to play in ten years is to be there for the next generation, and I consider most people of my age to be second generation, because there were those who were around my age when I was six and it was those who showed me how much fun gaming was all that time ago.  The very least I can do is repay the favour to all those just coming into the game and give them the same chance for all the fun I’ve had over the years.

It’s why I put so much time for free into helping conventions around England, if even one person gets out of gaming what I have, then all the effort is worth it…

But this began with the question of which decade I liked most of all for gaming…?

I wouldn’t give up what I’m doing now for anything, but that’s because I’m finally giving back to games all that I’ve had from them, but for me, the best decade without any shadow of a doubt was the 90’s, when I was running one full time campaign and playing in another one, with another playing campaign running once a month in another town, there wasn’t a week went by when I wasn’t having fun playing and when it comes to gaming, that’s the point, to have fun.

So for me it was the 90’s, what about everyone else?