Within my social circle of friends and family, I am very much known as Jim the Gamer. It seems to be a popular topic of conversation when I am with them. I think it is a novelty for them. Something out of the ordinary. This more than fully grown, rather hairy man likes toys?! I do often try and steer the conversation away to other people where possible. I was brought up right by my mum after all! But, this line of chat does often lead to the question, "Shall we play a game then?" And then I panic.
Now, I don't want to sound ungrateful. But I have learnt something about myself over the last 43 years of my life. I am somewhat grumpy, and like things a certain way. I score quite high on the Autism spectrum, and although I enjoy social situations, I do struggle in groups when I am in unfamiliar territory, especially when there are lots of conflicting noises or I am away from my wife who does a good job at offering me some perspective and calming me down.
I am working on these issues, but feel being aware of them at least is a start. And I have got noticeably better over the last few years thanks to multiple rounds of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Which is amazing, and I would highly recommend to anyone. But back to the point, oh yes. I am not a fan of playing games with non gamers!
There, I said it.
OK, let me try and explain myself.
But first, let's put it into context. Would someone who really enjoys playing Tennis for example enjoy playing Tennis with anyone? Anyone at all? No matter their level of ability or importantly, enthusiasm for the sport?
It seems that everyone wants to play a game with me, and at first I embraced and welcomed this. However, I have come out of quite a few gaming experiences thinking to myself that firstly, I did not really enjoy the game. But secondly, and most importantly, I didn't really like who I was when we played.
With non-gamers I can become quickly irritated and impatient. Like the Tennis example above, I may be hitting forehands to the other player, only for every shot returned to me to hit the net. That's not a lot of fun for the tennis player, and it's not a lot of fun for me either. But stick with me here! This is not the full story.
Now, don't get me wrong. I have taught hundreds of games to hundreds of people. Most of the time, I love it! And the people I am playing with don't need to be gamers, or good at games. But I do prefer it when they are at least engaged with the process.
It is not necessarily the fact that the ball is never returned to the tennis player in the above analogy that is frustrating to the tennis player. But it's more the fact that as this tennis player watched the other player struggle to do as well, they also notice them not really wanting to play the game in the first place, and subsequently assume they are not trying their best to do well.
When people want to play with me, it seems that part of this is because they think that this is what I want to do. I am sure that they fancy a quick game too. But generally speaking, it seems that most people don't really want to commit to anything more than 20-30 minutes, or anything that requires any significant listening to long rules or figuring out complex strategy. People rarely go from zero to hundred in their interest in anything, and I don't expect that in games.
This is one reason why we have so many popular games we all politely refer to as gateway games. Games that are good for new players. Simple rules. Quick to setup, teach and play. And mostly fun. Mostly.
But let's be truthful about this. Some of us gamers don't really want to play gateway games all the time. We want to play the games we like. For me, I love a long complex euro. Something you can really sink your teeth into. Would you take someone who loves French classic cinema to a new Marvel film? And if you did, would you be offended if they didn't love it?
We, as gamers, seem to be expected to want to play any game, with anyone, all of the time. And obviously this is not the case. As such, I have taken this very firm, and constant stance. I will never ask anyone I that I consider to be a non-gamer if they want to play game. It will never be initiated by me. And if they ask me, I will reply "if you like." Then, if we do actually get to playing a game, I will do my best to find something fun, fast, and simple. I have plenty to choose from. Downforce being a current favorite for this. But the trick for me, is to have constantly updated gateway games to reach for, so I don't get sick of Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne over and over! If I am going to play a simple game, for me, at least let it be relativity new and exciting for me to play as well.
I fully understand I sound very grumpy here. And also quite a bit privileged in all the games I have access too. But having spoken to a number of other people, I sense maybe some other people feel the same way. But as gamers ourselves, we seem to never want to turn down the opportunity to play a game. No matter who we are playing.
But cast your minds back. Have you ever been in a situation where you are playing a game with someone you know is not really into it? Maybe they are getting distracted by their phone or other people, or even the TV? Or just by the simple fact that they don't really want to be playing the game in the first place. How did it make you feel when you were playing that game?
I would never personally implement rules, but am a big fan of a no phones when playing a game, which is hard with instgramers! ;) But taking the odd picture isn't really the issue. It's more the sense that they are just not into this game. I don't mean less into that I am. That's fine. I get I'm obsessive with games. I mean more that they are not really into the experience at all. Perhaps they started playing as they thought it would be nice for me? Maybe they thought they may like it more than they are now realsiing, as they sort of like Connect Four, and are now regretting it! This is way more complex than Connect Four! What is Jim doing to me?
And on top of the issue of 'if they are having fun', am I having fun? I am playing a game, I don't really want to play, with someone who doesn't really want to play it. Simply it seems, because they think I want to play games all the time. No matter the game. No matter the person. It's a bit of a vicious circle.
I think a lot of this is because non-gamers don't really understand the gaming world. The scale and majesty we have around us. Part of that is our fault as gamers. When I play games with non-gamers it is generally either a gateway game or a party game that I will reach for and bring out as I say. They may well have a much better experience with Scythe or The Castle of Burgundy if only I just suggested it. But I don't! So, maybe this is all our fault as gamers. Another viscous circle. We under estimate the non-gamers, suggest average games we don't want to play as much, and then bemoan the experience.
One such experience for me was when a group of colleagues asked me to organise a game night in the office one evening after work. I happily agreed! I brought in so many games and made so much prep! I recognised that I needed to have low expectations, but one of them is a proper gamer, another had played and enjoyed a few proper games with me recently. And one had been buying a few games based on my recommendation and seemingly enjoying them. I wasn't starting from scratch!
I laid out 6 Nimmt to start of light and then quickly realised that 'game night' means something very different to some people! To me, it means playing games, for a good few hours, with a lot of laughter and fun, with the odd drink and snack. To them, it meant getting blind drunk and playing one game. We struggled through 6 Nimmt, in their drunken state, the concept seem to escape them all. The vibe seemed to be more about how hard it was and how abstract the concept was, more than actually trying to figure out a repetitively simple game. But I stayed calm (ish) Packed away this game and also the game I had set up to play next as I quickly realised I had reached far too high with that as well, and suggested we play Werewolf instead. Surely anyone can play this? After a few rounds, they all got it and we played about ten games. I think a relative success in the end.
But I hated it. It just wasn't fun for me. It was a chore. I felt like a school teacher trying to encourage a group of unruly students to do something they didn't want to do. I don't want to feel like that ever. Let alone when I am playing a game. Especially when I have been asked to arrange the night in the first place.
I later realised though this is down to me and my expectations. Not them. They just wanted a fun night and thought that I and the games could facilitate this. But like the Tennis analogy, (admittedly, now over used!) would you ever ask to play a game of Tennis with someone who really likes Tennis, turn up in a swimming costume and no racket, and then just get drunk?
I do understand that Tennis is different to games, and you can play and enjoy games with a few drinks. But for me, games are not a once in a while novelty. They are something I love. I play pretty much every day. I don't really have the same interests as others to mess around with a game whilst getting drunk. I want to actually play the game.
But as I say, this is on me. My expectations for that night were wildly off. If it were to happen again, I would polity decline. If I couldn't get out of it, I would bring one game. It would be a very simple one that could be played by anyone in any situation. And I wouldn't have any expectations of how many times or how successfully we would play it.
Again, I know this makes me sound grumpy. But as I say, I play games most days. I don't need to force new or extra gaming experiences into my life. I would rather be selective with who and how I play games. If I don't enjoy something like this, and seemingly, others don't either, why make it happen? I am hpapy just playing with my son in truth. He is amazing at games, mostly wins, but loves all the same games as me. I am very blessed. He is a joy.
There is a funny relationship between games and the people that play them. Perhaps we are all seen as fun, lively people and in a social situation, a simple thing to suggest is "shall we play a game?" But I like playing games in relative quiet. Sure, there can be chat and laughter. But mainly it's about the game. And I do like when all players are engaged. Most other gamers I have played with has shared this attitude. 90% of non gamers I have played with have not.
I am not trying to make any specific point in this. Or put any expectations or judgment on anyone else. Nor am I trying to cast any blame or shame in anyone's direction. It is simply a statement of my mental state when playing games with different types of people. I thought it may be useful for others who have experienced this and thought they were alone. But I would love to hear your thoughts on this.