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.