The Analog Gamer: Lurn 'em Good Boy! Lurn 'em Good!
There is one role that every player and game master takes on while playing a traditional RPG or wargame whether they know it or not – the role of teacher. No one enters the gaming hobby initially fully burst from the head of Zeus with the complete knowledge and understanding of any RPG system ever created… we have to learn them as we go. We learn to read the vast tomes of knowledge, listen to our companions and by playing and observing the choices and decisions of our gaming partners and our fearless storyteller. Our opinions on a system is just as easily colored by the actions of our fellow gamers as it is by any flaw in a rule system.
Too many times over the years I’ve ended up on the topic of role playing games and immediately the other member of the conversation will mention that “I played that once in high school/college/the military” and when I follow up with the next logical question: “Why did you stop?” half the time or more I get the “The guy/gal running things left.” While not every player is a future dungeon master, it says something to me that in many cases the person running the game becomes the glue with which these social gaming units are held fast and the cohesion of that unit is often not supported by the people who are enjoying it so much.
Role Playing games (or just about any hobby game including miniatures) require an atmosphere where players are introduced to a game or system or story and then helped along in creation of their character avatars. The process of making that connection can be very unique and is often the very point where a player will decide if gaming is for them or not. One bad experience, one unreasonable limitation or response from a dungeon master or fellow player will color the new folk on how long they will often spend in this hobby. A string of these things will eliminate all but the most determined. Often players rely on the storyteller to mitigate the rough edges of a gaming session without truly taking on the role of mentor or advocate for the newer players.
This is a social hobby, one often littered with arcane math, odd or unfamiliar language and a obscured by the public stigma which commonly represents it as an activity for pimply faced nerds who spend hours sitting in their parents basements dreaming up wild adventures for their fictional alter ego with their collection of similarly socially awkward buddies. The reality of course is often quite different. Sure, many gamers fit these paradigms: they have acne, live with parents or are not the most socially developed, but seldom is the responsibility of the player to promote the hobby, teach it and encourage a change to those perceptions well executed.
Bringing in new players is a joy for me. I personally love the thrill of watching someone develop a story, a character and come to recognize the creative freedoms of cooperative storytelling. I take very seriously that the best way to continue enjoying my gaming is by introducing the concepts to people who either only have the preconceptions of society and the media or in finding and including someone who had an interest squashed through bad experiences or lack of continued opportunity.
Whether I’m a player or a storyteller my selfish little goal is to make sure the people I enjoy the hobby with continue to enjoy it and that we regularly encourage them to invite friends or even to take up the mantle of game master themselves. I’ve found this tactic more often than not cements a long term love of pen and paper RPGs into those who might never have considered spending an evening drinking beer or soda while pretending to be someone else in a fantastic adventure.
New gamers are the target demographic for a lot of publishers these days. The recent announcement of the Green Ronin published Dragon Age introductory box set and the recent release by Wizards of the Coast of the D&D Test Drive makes it clear the tools are available to help gamers recruit/convert/introduce new blood into the hobby. The D&D Test Drive is not quite the same type product as the old D&D Basic Set of yore or the recent Introductory products but it does include a free copy of the first 4th Edition D&D Module – Keep on the Shadowfell and includes supplemental materials to introduce not just the latest version of the game, but also this whole wonderful pastime. Other introductory oriented products or player focused items like the recent D&D Heroes miniatures sets are aimed squarely at involving someone other than the Dungeon Masters in the game support process and also seem like good tools in the teaching arsenal.
Role playing games and minis are unlike most other forms of entertainment – they are powered by imagination, require little more than time and a few friends to enjoy, and are not nearly as passive a form of entertainment like film or television. If you ever lament that you aren’t playing in a game right now then maybe its time to take up your rightful role as teacher and grow the industry yourself. Go out, find other like minded players and build a group. The game publishers are trying to help and there is no greater reward than to have a new player’s eyes light up with excitement or demand that you make time to play because they’ve caught on to all the things that we veterans already know about RPGs and miniature games.