31 August 2008

New Blood Part II. . .

Is this the way to win lasting new converts to the wargaming hobby? This kind of mentoring is known as "Elmering" in the HAM radio hobby. How many of us might be willing to become an "Elmer" to a young person interested in historical miniatures?

The discussion on bringing new blood into the wargaming hobby is gaining momentum over at OSW, and a recent remark by Andrew Copestake of Old Glory U.K. just made a number of things click into place for me this morning. So, once again, I’m crossposting my reflections, originally posted at OSW, here on the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog too. . .

"For me the biggest change in the hobby has been in the last 10 years or so as it slowly evolved from a toy soldier led hobby to a rulebook led 'gaming experince'. Oh brother" -- Andy OGUK

Aha, that's it!

Presumably, what has attracted so many of us to the wargaming hobby in the first place is the spectacle of model soldiers in their hundreds. It's about that first and foremost, followed by a love of history, an interest in creating, and so forth.

I've loved toy/model/miniature soldiers since I was about four or five (early 1970s). I was in an independently owned bookstore (remember those?) with my father one Saturday, picked up some book (wish I could remember title and author), paged through it, and was mesmerized by all of the black and white plates of some big dioramic layout of hundreds of model soldiers. When questioned, my dad explained it was the Battle of Waterloo in miniature.

A year or so later, about 1972, Alistair Cooke did a program called Alistair Cooke's America, which appeared on public TV here in the U.S., which my parents allowed me to stay up after 9pm to watch. Fascinating stuff! I've been into (military) history ever since. Parenthetically, I still have my green plastic soldiers and tanks from the 70's packed carefully away in a box in the next room.

At any rate, maybe what we need are better "stories" than much of what passes for history as taught (or not) in schools currently, as suggested in an earlier post for this discussion thread. On a rather different note, Jim Purky suggested in a comment here yesterday that perhaps our recruiting efforts should be limited to those over 21. I think he might be onto something there. After all, younger people have more limited funds and too much else competing for their attention. . . and that's nothing new.

Let's be honest here. If we are talking about teen-aged guys, would you rather have stayed home on a Friday or Saturday evening to paint small lead figures? Or would you rather join your pals/girlfriend for several hours of (probably) unsupervised fun or otherwise illicit activity? Many of us would probably have chosen the latter. . . and often too. And yet here we are a number of years later, painting, collecting, gaming, and discussing the wargaming hobby like there's no tomorrow.

Remember too, that although there are apparently many of us who congregate here and at both OSW and The Miniatures Page, wargaming and playing with model soldiers has always been kind of an eccentric, niche interest. . . and I think historical interest falls here too. Neither are things that will ever appeal to, or even be understood by, the masses. Leave that to Michael Jackson and Britney Spears! For example, I have a grad school friend, "Swedish Allison", who weaves for her hobby and has a huge loom set up in one corner of her house. Now, it's highly impressive to watch her work, and she produces some interesting things, but it's not something I "get" or care to do myself.

As far as the move toward a rulebook led hobby goes, I guess what we have seen is the huge commercialization of the wargaming hobby (maybe taking a cue from the D&D boom of the early 80s) over the last quarter century. This might possibly explain a couple of things, for example the profusion of books, rule booklets, dice, commercially produced scenery, and other products we absolutely "need" in order to have a good time with our hobby, along with the gradual death of the early do-it-yourself spirit that Greg Horne discussed on his Duchy of Alzheim blog a few days ago.

When considered along with with the various societal, scholastic, and technological changes that have taken place in roughly the same timeframe, it's no wonder that the median age of the hobby has risen somewhat. But let's look at the early leading lights in the hobby for a moment. Young, Grant, Featherstone, Scruby, Morschauser, and Bath, et al were all in their 40s (or older) in the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s. So just maybe playing with toy soldiers has always been the preserve of calmer, more mature gentlemen "of a certain age". And maybe we might do better not worrying too much about bringing in new, younger blood. Those individuals with an interest in , and an awareness of, (military) history will find the hobby. And of course,
some gentle evangelizing in their direction never hurts! ;-)

As for me, I'll take a cue from Alte Fritz. I've got a transplanted Australian bicycling friend close by, who is in his 40s (and wargamed in the 1970s), who I'll invite to a game sometime along with his 8-year-old son Michael. Michael, incidentally, is responsible for the Grand Duchess and I finally deciding to tie the knot. And then there are a couple of other male friends in their 30s who might also enjoy joining us at the wargaming table. One or two possible recruits to the hobby might come from that. We'll see.


MurdocK said...

Keep it small (on the table) for the first game.

My mistake - so I have been told - is to show a larger game and I scare off many...

A J Matthews said...

Yes, smaller is more controllable and you have time to explain things as they arise instead of shunting units all over.

Stokes, you said "As far as the move toward a rulebook led hobby goes, I guess what we have seen is the huge commercialization of the wargaming hobby (maybe taking a cue from the D&D boom of the early 80s) over the last quarter century..."

This describes Flames of War to a T. It spoon-feeds the gamer with everything pre-selected and packaged, but it has its uses. A new WW2 gamer can get a reasonable force and build on it quite quickly, adding packs of units at need. Maybe it will also serve to break new folks into the historical side of the hobby by giving them a similar set-up to the popular games like D&D and WarHamster.

Bluebear Jeff said...

A small battle that can be played more than once is a good idea . . . as long as the rules are simple to understand.

-- Jeff

Bloggerator said...

If you make it, they will come, I think.

I'd say there has been a fair old share of angst over this issue over the years, along with the not-so-unspoken sub-text of "What if the hobby dies with us???". The hobby is still there; indeed it has long-out-lived it's founders and will continue on for as long as little boys like to play with toy soldiers and a few of them remember this long after they have "grown up".

Sure, if your nephew or your own child is interested in playing with your own toys, by all means let them and have a good go with them, too, but really, if the child has the inclination, then he or she will be there at SOME stage of their life.

A bit laissez-faire, I know...




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