30 August 2008

How Do We Introduce New Blood to the Wargaming Hobby?

I'll bet many of us began this way. . . plastic toy soldiers and a "fort".

There is currently an interesting discussion unfolding over at the Old School Wargaming Yahoo group about how to introduce younger, new blood into the wargaming hobby. So I thought I’d crosspost my thoughts here too.

Based on my own experience, adult gamers have more expendable income and space than do their teen-aged peers. I think they also have greater patience as far as gradual painting and collecting are concerned, rather than wanting everything "in a box" at once.

The problem of introducing new blood is something also discussed in the ham/shortwave radio hobby. Many there have attributed the lack of interest among young people to the fact that the "gee whiz" curiosity factor has largely gone away. And why chase elusive radio signals that are subject to the whims of the atmosphere and sun when you can listen online without fading or static? Why, I listen online almost exclusively these days myself!

A lot of young people in the Western world today have too much of everything without having to wait for any of it. Too much ready cash (possibly from overly indulgent parents?) and too many other bells and whistles compete for their attention. In other words, things like computers, mobile phones, and i-pods, to say nothing of formerly adult preserves like cars, sex, credit cards, and alcohol. Of course I am making generalizations, but it's nevertheless easy enough to observe this kind of thing among many, many high school and college-aged students. . . and, sad to say, among many others old enough to know better. A judgmental, arrogant, and grim view of society, yes. But nevertheless glaringly apparent.

Many young people also tend to have much less appreciation for the development of any kind of project over time -- school-related, hobby, or otherwise. This is nothing particularly new, I think, but it is something that has been exacerbated by the cheap technological gadgetry of the last 15+ years. It's all about how fast you can get (through) something and how little effort you can get away with in getting whatever it is you might want at the moment. Don't agree? Text me all about it. And make sure to use all those cute little abbreviations and misspellings in your message, please.

On another related note, painting and collecting toy soldiers is viewed by some as a somewhat humorous eccentricity at best, and just downright weird by others, as is much of gaming by the non-gaming population. This is, unfortunately, another factor at work against historical figure gaming and one of the reasons why, at 16 or 17 for example, I was very careful not to mention a word EVER about my hobby at school to anyone. Only my nerdy D&D friends knew. And even they lacked the patience/interest to have a go at wargaming themselves.

My girlfriends in high school weren't terribly understanding either. Some of the problem might have come from the fact that people tend to suffer from the herd instinct rather acutely during adolescence and the teen-aged years (and these days that seems to continue into at least the 30's for some). So, they don't really tolerate perceived peculiarities in others very well. For the record, my family WAS interested and supportive, so maybe I was very lucky there.

Anyway, I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that many younger minds have rather fewer interests and less broad horizons than do some adults. I think the way society and technology have gone in recent decades encourages this narrowness in spite of the apparent opportunities offered by things like the internet and web, which have only reduced our collective attention span along with our ability to sit still and concentrate for longer than a few minutes at a time.

And this problem is not just limited to the younger, tech-savvy generation either, though it might be somewhat worse there than among other segments of the population. Anyway, it takes a special kind of person -- young, old, or somewhere in between -- who possesses a number of different personality traits (curiosity about the world and its history, a creative artistic streak, perhaps a love of reading and learning, above average patience, etc.), to enter this particular hobby in the first place.

I don't pretend to have any good answers as to how we might bring in newer, younger blood. Although it occurs to me that the concept of quasi-historical imaginations might possibly have some appeal to the fantasy reading/gaming/movie viewing crowd. Jonathan Broadus expressed the idea of inviting along the father and/or entire family to wargming events at OSW, and it sounds like a great one. I think this is something that Donald, the man behind the Electorate of Vulgaria, does with some regularity and has mentioned on his blog in the past.

Clubs too might work. Paul Robinson has mentioned several times recently that his son is now going along to club nights on Mondays. And the two are discussing a joint WWII project according to a recent post on Paul's Grimsby Mariner blog. Maybe something like wargaming social events at the local YMCA, library, church, temple, or school during a Saturday might help get the word out? Along with ample promotion beforehand, of course, that targets youngsters specifically.

In short, we, as participants in and ambassadors of the hobby, must make a better effort at promoting and marketing historical wargaming to young people and, indeed, the general public, perceptions of weirdness notwithstanding. Let me assure you, we are nowhere near as weird as some who pursue other hobbies! I mean, what about the people in basket weaving, fly fishing, or horseback riding? Now, those are weirdos! And long distance bicyclists? Oh, puh-leeze! ;-)

Finally, as my maternal grandmother used to say, "You are only bored if you choose to be! You have a house full of books, a tree-house, a bike, lots of toys, and space to play outside. And there is always your schoolwork. Now go do something constructive." That was usually all it took for my sister and me. I humbly suggest people might use a variation of her reply whenever a child or teenager complains of terminally bleak boredom.


Grimsby Mariner said...

In the main I agree with your thoughts here about new blood. But the experience for the Grimsby club has not changed much in twenty years. It has always been difficult to attract new young players.
Geeky and nerdy it may be, indeed always has been probably and there lies the problem I think.
attend a Games workshop store on a Saturday and there are not a few teenagers in attendance. However, note how many are over fifteen. None probably. Then look at the major purchasers of the figures and most are in their thirties or over.
The hobby has always lost a generation of youngsters. Once they hit adolescence they vanish hopefully to return in a few years. But they only return if they know where and when.
For the Grimsby club we have remained fairly stable at around twenty members but the average age increases every year and the gap from youn to youngest always increases. Pessimistically I beleive the hobby has had it's high water point and will decline from here as fewer and fewer kids become involved.

Der Alte Fritz said...

I believe that the best source of new recruits is from the adult population. Invite some of your friends over for a small game and let them participate. I've had more success with this than I have had in recruiting players under the age of 21.

BTW, men seem to be naturally curious about military history and wargaming. So don't feel ashamed or modest about your hobby, invite others in to look at it. You might be surprised by the positive response that you will get.

Stokes Schwartz said...

I like your idea Jim!

Best Regards,


A J Matthews said...

One of our club members sometimes brings his children with him to a game. David at 14 has a mild interest in gaming and will take part, but his 12 year old sister Alice has a killer instinct and ruthless application when she takes those dice in her hand!

On the whole I agree with Fritz. We have more success attracting adults to the game rather than teens. Usually but not always they're men; my fiancée is interested in our hobby and has wargamed with me. If the love of history is there, then it can be developed further as an adult rather than a teen.

Bluebear Jeff said...

Another blog to check out along this subject is "Murdock's Marauder's" -- whose last few posts have been about "Garden Gaming" with his son (who is, I think, nine):


And, of course, the HUGE disconnect in the teen/twenties group of boys is their discovery of girls.

-- Jeff

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

...I have to say I'm kind of ambivalent about the whole thing..

...not to be negative, and purely in the interests of putting a different point of view, why are we so bothered about finding new players for the hobby amongst either the young (or the old)????

...this is a fascinating and enjoyable hobby - nobody lead me to it in any evangelical way - I found it by myself. We live in an information era - which makes it even easier to find the information it took me a while to find...

...last (devils advocate) question - what difference will it make to you if their *are* more wargamers about???

I can honestly say that in my case it would make little or none... I have a good buddy I've been gaming against for 10 or 15 years, I've never regularly played anyone else, or wanted to - I'm not a "club" or competition minded person! :o)

Declining numbers and a knock on effect on the products/markets? A shame, but not a great issue - I've made my own soldiers, terrain and written my own rules in the past, and I can do it again... that's the essence of Old School...

...just a thought.......

MurdocK said...

Thank you for re-posting your thoughts here Stokes.

Having been part of a larger club and moved about during my military career gave me exposure to different regions of Canada and locations with vastly different population density.

Where there are lots of people, you will find lots of players.

Just basic statistics.

Now some demographic thoughts:
age 6-13 (male or female) will play in almost anything. Keep it fast-paced with simple 'game' methods and they will stay 'in' the game.
Girl Gamer Thoughts and;
Girls & Minis
13-17 Boys: generally a transition time and while there are some that will either start or continue with minis during this time it has been my experience that this is the 'drift away' period for many. It is the 'experimantation' factor that comes into play and keeping anything consistent can be a challenge.
13-17 Girls: The first flower of womanhood comes on most stronly here. To many our hobby is seen as "childish" (even though giants like Winston Churchill played games with toy soldiers his whole life), and just as dolls and toy horses are put away during this time for girls so too are the colorful miniatures.

-->please remember these are generalizations and there are always exceptions<--

17-24 Male and Female: This is the 'bonding' time for many, when great and giant changes are happening. When the migration goes on, leaving home (just for a while or permanently), changing from high school to more advanced education or becoming a part of the workforce. All these adjustments take a toll in time for everyone. Especially when new children are brought into the mix.
This age cohort has always been the hardest for any organization to hold onto (past 19 or so) or to attract for a volunteer basis. Yes playing in these games or within our activity is equivalent to a volunteer organization. One where the tangible results are less obvious...you are not 'raising money' for some cause (though I have seen one group that did that during thier annual convention) or building a reservoir or some such 'tangible' thing. Awareness of history in a person is such a hard thing to place a value on.

25-32: Men; now it gets easier to attract them to our activities...as they are often set within a career (for a while) and may have some time or inclination to have a small escape. The Trumpeter Club has had a good result with many from this age group whom have continued within the hobby. Certainly for me it was when I 'came back' to minis hobby actions.

25-???: Women: Here I will admit no awareness as I just do not see many active. Unless their spouses and or children are taking part, then they are involved either as part of set-up or organizing such things as the canteen at the events or driving the younger set from home to the event locations.

32-++ Men: It has been my experience that the groups will catch the fellows later in life only if those groups take any effort to advertise. They may catch the men as fathers of younger players (such as those that come out to a role-play or 40K tournament and see some historical game display or such like), or outright as advertised minis games. The point here is you will not 'introduce' anybody to anything unless you are extending your hand. Take some time to advertise, put on a demo game at a hobby store, run a game at the local recreation center (if they will let you in see: my own challenges and success for some details.

In the end Stokes the answer to your question is to, as grimsby mariner puts it, POR = Press On Regardless.

Do a demo at your university, better yet do it with written orders in one of the foreign language classes that you teach and time the written orders section so that there is no time to 'research' the right phrases but you have to do it in real time, just like the real world.

You do not need anything more than what you already have, use the Charge! rules and have plenty of snacks on hand...see what results!

Fitz-Badger said...

I wonder if the hobby is really declining as some have suggested. Where are the numbers that show that fewer and fewer people are getting into historical miniatures gaming? Or is this just another case of "why, back in my day..."?

It seems to me that this (like many other hobbies) has always been and always will be a niche hobby. The perception of the "graying" of the hobby may be due to the likelihood that one's fellow gamers tend to be peers and therefore of a similar age?

It's great that some of you make the effort to introduce others to this hobby we all enjoy. On the plus side, in this "information age" it is easier for anyone who is interested to find out about the hobby on their own. I suspect more new gamers will come that way than from "recruitment", but that's just a guess based on how I tend to approach things.
I think it's always been this way. Some get into the hobby because they received a gift (miniatures, a game, a book), others because someone else introduced it to them, others because they came across information (in a library in my case; or probably more likely on the web these days), or because they "progressed" from other gaming.
Yes, things change, but change does not neccessarily equate with decline.

MurdocK said...

Good point Fitz-Badger about the gifts end of things.

I have painted some of my Prince August figs up before and had them on consignment sale at a local game store. All the redcoats went in about a month. The French 1/2 went as did the Austrians. Now I have done another run of Brits and have been told by the store owner that he is planning a window display with them. The last run only got some mild interest from two people, perhaps the expanding circle can continue to build?

You do raise a good point though and I have a 'plan' now to give such troops as I can to all the young folks that have contact with my sons.

They may have inspiration that I can never enjoy yet be the catalyst for.

Jesse said...

Interesting post, lots of good points.

The younger generation, of which I'm a part, suffer from chronic disassociation with the past. Miniature wargames can come alive when you have the historical background necessary to furnish your imagination.

And for all the simulation games that calculate grains of gunpowder, our hobby requires a great deal of imagination to be enjoyable.

As you rightly said, young people are used to being fed stories and entertainment, rather than creating their own.


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