This post forms part of The List. The List is where the worst parts of gaming belong: those errors that designers and publishers repeat, over and over again; those aspects of the hobby, and of the culture surrounding it, which embarrass and shame us.
Compiling the whole List would be impossible – no one person could ever hope to detail all that is rotten in the kingdom of board. But we can point to its lowest, most worrying points – a Worst Of Gaming compilation. Read on, dear gamer, and despair.
Game shops are awful.
“But my local store is great!” I hear you cry. Perhaps it is. There are a few havens. But are you sure your local store is really great? Are you sure you haven’t just been desensitised to its worst points; succumbed to a gamer’s form of Stockholm Syndrome?
So common the cramped little shop, dark and unwelcoming, staffed by people more interested in chatting with regulars about the finer points of Quarriors than welcoming new customers, where female shoppers are to be stared at like alien creatures until they’re forced out of the shop by overwhelming discomfort.
So normal the shop where acres of space are given over to (those oh so lucrative) players of [insert collectible card/miniatures game here], whose rowdy behaviour is tolerated, but where the arrival of a parent and child arouses immediate disdain and mistrust. After all, they don’t look like they even know what a D20 is: what could they possibly want in a place like this? And goodness knows what that child might do should he get near any of the board games – what if he damages the box of that pristine copy of 1st Edition Space Hulk (never mind that it’s been sitting on that shelf for years).They must have wandered into the wrong shop, best ignore them and hope they go away – we don’t want riff-raff here.
There’s an unpleasant stereotype that gamers are odd, unsociable types, a stereotype that leads to an interest in games being perceived as unhealthy. A large part of this stereotype must come from the way in which our retail outlets present themselves to the public. The funny thing is that by far the most friendly, most ‘healthy’ perspective offered on our hobby in this country comes courtesy of the much-maligned Games Workshop.
Despite only offering a narrow range of extremely involved, compulsive collectible-miniatures-based games for sale, and despite having a reputation for being ‘pushy’ amongst many gamers, the average Games Workshop is clean, staffed by friendly and welcoming workers who do their utmost to introduce would-be customers – young or old, male or female – to their game.
To new gamers this is the lifeline they need. Here are people who won’t turn their noses up at someone just because they aren’t intimately familiar with the concepts of armour values and scatter dice, people who will take the time to introduce them to core concepts and help them get a handle on things. Some gamers complain of Games Workshop staff members being overbearing – “I know what I want”, says the disgruntled gamer – “why won’t they leave me alone?” – as if a salesperson trying to recommend things is somehow a sign of a shop doing something wrong. Which isn’t to say that there are no overbearing salespeople working for Games Workshop: as with any large company, there are some bad apples, but it’s nothing compared with the overwhelmingly insular staff members that populate other games shops.
If only there other game shops so routinely had staff that were enthusiastic and welcoming, where the emphasis was on encouraging new gamers to feel welcome rather than purely on maintaining the custom of a small set of regulars. It’d lead to a much broader, more varied gaming culture. But as it stands? Yuck. Game shops are board games’ main ambassadors, and for the most part they do a fucking terrible job of it.
As the first (and for many, last) place that the average person will encounter the wider world of board games, it is only fitting that Game Shops are the first item to be put on The List. I have to believe that we can do better than the current state of affairs, because otherwise the stereotypes really must be true – we must be a bunch of shut-ins and losers, cliquey sods who want nothing to do with the outside world. And we aren’t, are we?