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Subject: Golden Age of Board Games vs. Declining Readership rss

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Tim Deagan
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It is an axiom in my house that if no one has said anything for more than a minute or so I am likely to say, apropos of nothing, "I like Board Games." Usually the family has the good sense to ignore me, but occassionally my son will forget and respond with something like, "We KNOW! Why do you always keep saying that?"

I interpret this response as a request for an extemporaneous commentary by me on why I consider this the Golden Age of Board Gaming. This patented rant consists of a paean to mechanics, themes, decisions and bits. Blockbusters like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne get profiled in perspective to historical greats like Acquire and Strat-O-Matic. Nothing about this rant would be even marginally novel to any regular reader of the Geek.

Last night my kid says, "So if this is the golden age, how come none of my friends at school have ever heard of any of these games?"

"They don't sell them at Wal*Mart or Toys*R*Us."

"How come?"

I realized I really wanted to know this answer, so I thought for a moment. "Well, basically board games are really just a set of rules with some cardboard and wood or plastic. I guess that most people who bought a game at Wal*Mart and got it home to discover a 4-5 page rule book would be pissed off."

My son is puzzled, "4-5 pages? That's nothing. A lot of your games have rule books with lots more pages than that. Why would they be pissed off?"

Here is where I have some sobering news for my kid. "Most adults in the United States don't like to read." My kid is looking at me like I'm crazy. "I'm serious," I say, "most adults in this country don't read more than a book or two a year, if that." My child is shocked.

I realized that I was quoting some statistic that I'd heard somewhere years ago so I decided to try and find more definitive data. The National Endowment for the Arts' report: "Reading At Risk:A Survey of Literary Reading in America" states that a 2002 study showed only 24% of adults in the United States reading 8 or more books a year. (http://www.nea.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf) This is books of any kind, not just literary works. Not quite half of Americans read literary works in 2002. And it's getting worse year by year. (These numbers would place us in the bottom third of European nations.)

The study goes on to demonstrate strong correlations between reading literary works (plays, stories, poetry, etc.) and participating in other cultural and liesure activities. People who don't read as much watch more TV.

Monopoly, Scrabble and the other 'classic' board games used to print the rules on the inside lid of the box. Maybe that's the rule of thumb for rules-length for the average American. Since the majority of Americans don't equate reading and leisure, having a learning curve for a game involving reading and logical thought is a killer for most folks. It's easy for me to imagine irate customers returning Puerto Rico or Citadels and screaming at the helpless Wal*Mart worker.

I gave my son a $.05 analysis of why Americans don't, as a rule, enjoy reading much (based on frustrating experiences in school while learning to read in a factory-model education system.) But I don't think he really believed me. How could anyone not love reading? It just didn't make sense to him. (I sigh in deep relief.)

So I still believe we're in a Golden Age of Board Gaming. Will the knowledge and joy of gaming spread faster than the decline in reading? Will post-literate computer gamers find happiness with hex and chits? I hope so. Like many of you, I am an evangelist for the cause.
 
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revtim wrote:
"Reading At Risk:A Survey of Literary Reading in America" states that a 2002 study showed only 24% of adults in the United States reading 8 or more books a year. [...] This is books of any kind, not just literary works. Not quite half of Americans read literary works in 2002.

And most of the ones that do read are reading Dan Brown books or the neverending blockbuster fantasy series du jour. A dire outlook for your eagle-infested land.
 
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Mario Lanza
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Additionally, I think people just don't like to exert the energy to try to understand them. Heck, on occasion when I try explaining even simple game like "Geschenkt" ("No Thanks!" in English) to non-gamers, I'll often hear nearby non-participants (or even the participants) say, I don't know how you can understand those games.

They're confused!

People in our American culture have programmed A.D.D. I guess the real dividing line separates people who find pleasure in thinking & problem solving as compared to those who consider it work.

I largely agree with:
http://anyeone.livejournal.com/70033.html
 
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Mike Giro
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We have to be in the golden age of board gaming. I'm into it now and I am a trendsetter, the rest of the world will soon follow.
 
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Paul Kidd
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sbszine wrote:
And most of the ones that do read are reading Dan Brown books or the neverending blockbuster fantasy series du jour. A dire outlook for your eagle-infested land.

Whereas in Australia everyone's reading biographies of disabled community workers and esoteric poetry anthologies.

Seriously, I don't know about the details of the numbers, but I doubt the U.S. is very different from other countries.

Also, it is interesting to note that there are more books sold per year now than ever before. I really don't think that literacy is declining at all. When we compare our societies now to one hundred years ago, we tend to compare the whole community to the 40% or whatever back then who had a chance for a good education and then didn't have to work 70 hour weeks in manual labour. Things are not as bad as they seem.

In terms of board games - they're meant to be fun and if most people don't find them fun, then that's OK. People who collect model trains or do embroidery or family research or rock climbing don't mind if everyone else likes it or not. They just do it.
 
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Dave Riedy
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Quote:
Also, it is interesting to note that there are more books sold per year now than ever before.


Except that there are fewer different books being sold. We're living in the time of the blockbuster book -- Harry Potter, DaVinci Code, Million Little Pieces, Devil Wears Prada, etc. Nowadays consumers buy books the way they see movies: "What's selling best? I'll read that." I don't doubt that this isn't very different than it was in the past, but with the ascendancy of Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, et. al. (and you honestly can't underestimate the influence these chains have on what people read), plus the internet, the book publishing business has a marketing machine like never before.

I don't know if this different in other countries (although I believe the UK has a similar model) -- I can't imagine that the publishing industry won't conform, when they see the profits that can be made.

(Sorry for the derail. Book cover designer whose been in a lot of marketing meetings.)
 
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Mark Crane
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mlanza wrote:


People in our American culture have programmed A.D.D. I guess the real dividing line separates people who find pleasure in thinking & problem solving as compared to those who consider it work.

I largely agree with:
http://anyeone.livejournal.com/70033.html


Gaming is another form of literacy, and can be acquired. I am strategically less-literate, I discovered, after my first game of Railroad Tycoon. I did a little better at Power Grid.

As someone with diagnosed ADD (and I mean *really* diagnosed) I can assure you that I read like crazy and play a lot of games.
 
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Tim Deagan
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OzGamer,

I was fascinated by the statistics that more books are sold each year at the same time that reading is declining. The NEA study focused primarily on literary reading, though it talked about books as a whole as well.

The study compared our society (and while I wasn't trying to do a US vs. rest of world thing I also didn't want to make observations beyond the data,) in 10 year intervals of 1982, 1992 and 2002(not back a hundred years.)

Here's an interesting piece from the executive summary:
Quote:
10. The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.
■ Literature now competes with an enormous array of electronic media. While no single activity is responsible for the decline of reading, the cumulative presence and availability of these alternatives have increasingly drawn Americans away from reading.
■ Non-readers watch more television than do readers.
■ In 1990, book buying constituted 5.7 percent of total recreation spending, while spending on audio, video, computers, and software was 6 percent. By 2002, electronic spending had soared to 24 percent, while spending on books declined slightly to 5.6 percent


The study did make some international comparisons:
Quote:

The most comparable U.S. figure (57 percent) is quite high compared to the overall European average, and is similar to the reading rate in a number of European countries (Luxembourg 56 percent, Denmark 55 percent, and the Netherlands 53 percent). The highest European reading rates are in Sweden (72 percent), Finland (66 percent), and the
United Kingdom (63 percent), and the lowest rates are in Belgium (23 percent) and Portugal (15 percent).


I totally agree with you that there is no reason why people should like or play board games. And I'm not dissing the US, just contemplating the relationship between board gaming, my kid's questions and the world around me
 
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Yah, I'm sure it's much the same in Australia and the UK. But I suspect literacy (in terms of vocabulary, parsing etc) is on the decline. People who can't position an apostrophe correctly probably aren't reading anything complex.
 
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Steven Weisner
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Traditionaly wargamers were a well read bunch to begin with. Most people playing in the 70's were students of military history to some degree and the thought of reading 8 or 16 pages of rules was just considered another education on the topic. However, it still must be a good read.

In my opinion, a lot of newer rules are overly verbose and sometimes seem to be written for people not used to reading instructions. There was almost an understanding between the game designer and game player on the concept back then. On the other hand, my attention span isn't what it used to be either.
 
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revtim wrote:

Last night my kid says, "So if this is the golden age, how come none of my friends at school have ever heard of any of these games?"

"They don't sell them at Wal*Mart or Toys*R*Us."

"How come?"


The same reason it is unlikely that you have a Jaguar(*) dealership in your town.

(*) or other random high-end car.
 
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Tim Deagan
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Well, actually I'm in Austin and we do have a Jaguar dealership

But it's not just price. Wal*Mart and Toys*R*Us sell lots of games in the $15-$30 (USD) range. That's a range that covers a lot of euro and Geek-favored games (Carcassone, Lost Cities, Battle Line, etc.)

The issue may have a lot to do with distribution capabilities/relationships of Fantasy Flight, Rio Grande and other game companies. That's something I'd be interested to hear about from game companies.
 
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Guy Riessen
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Hmmm, I'd like to know where you found the statistic that fewer different books are being sold, and what years are actually being compared. Basically, I dont think that's true, although I'd be happy to change my mind (I'm always happy to sneer down my nose at Joe Sixpack). There are more books being sold, because the internet has opened distribution channels around the world which simply could not exist 20 years ago. I would think that this would also translate into more titles as well as more units being sold.

 
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Michael Campbell
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revtim wrote:
The issue may have a lot to do with distribution capabilities/relationships of Fantasy Flight, Rio Grande and other game companies. That's something I'd be interested to hear about from game companies.


Barnes and Noble just recently piloted the sale of Fantasy Flight Games in selected stores. During the last couple of weeks, they have been clearing them out at 50% off. While a great deal for us geeks, this is not a good sign with regard to the mass market appeal of our hobby.

I was standing at the display watching a little boy hungrily scanning the back of a Twilight Imperium box when his mother impatiently told him they had to go. She looked up at me and said, "I've never heard of any of these games..."

It got me to thinking how "brand-aware" and franchise-conscious we all are. Games like DOOM and War of the Ring have a leg up, but games like Twilight Imperium and Citadels have no traction in the minds of consumers. Franchises like Monopoly and Risk continue to grind out various permutations and the public keeps buying like pre-programmed zombies.

I find myself in a quandry though. While I would love to have more people enjoy and understand my hobby, I wonder if it would lose its luster if it became massively popular. Kind of like having a rock band that you "discovered" before a #1 hit album explodes them onto the world stage (Yeah, I saw U2 play in a pub in Dublin...that sort of thing).

Would it be boring to discuss the "Puerto Rico Corn Strategy" at the water cooler? Would it be a drag to see Chris Rock hosting the Spiel De Jahres? Would it bring me any joy to see Reiner Knizia's mug on a Wheaties box?

We will probably never know.
 
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Mark Crane
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MrSkeletor wrote:
If reading is on the decline, then could someone tell me what people are doing all day on the internet? And why have blogs become so popular?


Excellent point. Check out the Pew internet study for some good research on who is reading and writing the internet, and who isn't.
 
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Paul Sauberer
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Major Sholto wrote:
Barnes and Noble just recently piloted the sale of Fantasy Flight Games in selected stores. During the last couple of weeks, they have been clearing them out at 50% off. While a great deal for us geeks, this is not a good sign with regard to the mass market appeal of our hobby.


B&N has sold Fantasy Flight games at Christmastime and then clearanced the leftovers for at least the last 3 years.

I believe that is a good sign.
 
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MrSkeletor wrote:
If reading is on the decline, then could someone tell me what people are doing all day on the internet? And why have blogs become so popular?

ROTFLMAO (well especially the second part)
 
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Joe Geerkin
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I've got to take exception to the title of the study "Reading at Risk".

According, to table 2 on page five, a greater percentage of adults read literature in 2002 than a lot of fairly popular activities. Less adults watch 3 or more hours of TV a day, do home improvements, go to amusement parks, go to sporting events, play sports, hike, camp and visit historic places.

If you saw a study,"Sporting Events at risk," you'd laugh.

I think more people would play the board games we like, if more people knew about them. Until I own stock in a game company or get paid to develop a marketing strategy for one, I'm not going to worry about how popular games are. I enjoy them and that all that really matter to me.
 
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I just want to try to dispel a common myth about this hobby that has been alluded to several times in this thread...

Myth: Getting the mainstream public interested in board games is necessary for this hobby to thrive

For us serious geeks, board games are a hobby. For others they are a mild diversion, at best. And for everyone else, they simply can't be bothered. Like other hobbyists, we are really into what we do, and sometimes we can't understand why other people aren't as enthused as we are. Especially when our hobby ostensibly revoles around a form of entertainment. But the fact of the matter is most people - and here's the shocking part - don't find games interesting nor entertaining. Period. Especially strategy games.

So if you want games to appeal to a wider audience, what do you have to do? You have to minimize the strategic elements and increase the social elements of a game. Because for 90% of the public, they don't find placing wooden cubes on a map board to gain more points than their opponents in the next scoring round fun nor interesting. For most people, fun is less about thinking and more about being socially engaged with other people. Nothing wrong with that. But that's why you get games that have 1 page of rules outselling the most elegant Euros.

This is a good thing. Remember, what we do is a hobby, not a national pasttime. I want Fantasy Flight, Kosmos, Eagle, Alea, etc... to continue to be squarely focused on us hobbyists, because once they start trying to chase the mass market and the almighty dollar, our hobby loses out.

I don't need everyone on my block to play Euro games for me to continue to enjoy gaming. This hobby is doing just fine without their participation, thank you very much. Besides, you can't change people. There will always be a certain percentage of folks who are attracted to board games, and there will alwasy be many more people who think they're nothing but a waste of time. That's perfectly okay.

Unfortunately, I'm already seeing the negative effects of the popularization of this hobby starting to happen now. It comes in the form of too many games flooding the market, and too many games rushed to production without adequate attention being paid to design, components, and playtesting, as game publishers try to cash in on the growth of this hobby and feed an insatiable appetite for more games.

This is the inevitable path of anything that starts to gain momentum and popularity. It will eventually be crushed under its own weight, or become watered down to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The best thing we can do is to continue enjoying the hobby and hope that the current uptick in popularity doesn't corrupt the quality of the games we love so much.

"Once a gamer, always a gamer!"
 
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Major Sholto wrote:
I was standing at the display watching a little boy hungrily scanning the back of a Twilight Imperium box when his mother impatiently told him they had to go. She looked up at me and said, "I've never heard of any of these games..."

It got me to thinking how "brand-aware" and franchise-conscious we all are. Games like DOOM and War of the Ring have a leg up, but games like Twilight Imperium and Citadels have no traction in the minds of consumers. Franchises like Monopoly and Risk continue to grind out various permutations and the public keeps buying like pre-programmed zombies.


I have a different take on this. Lately, when we travel, I want to check out the FLGSs. My husband, who has greatly appreciated the infusion of new games into our lives, gladly takes me, but is baffled by the appeal of the in-person game-shopping experience. "Basically," he says, "you get to see a bunch of boxes. And anyone who wandered in here without having done loads of research in advance and who didn't know what particular games are like, which are good, which are hard to find, etc., would have virtually no intelligent basis for making choices in the store."

And he's right -- buying a game is a very "black box" experience unless you've played it or seen it played before or had someone you trust (and who knows you) recommend it to you. Books, you can skim in the store --and, increasingly, you can sample new music as well. You've seen reviews (and probably even snippets) of books, music, and movies in other media before you go into the store and certain authors/artists/actors are known quantities to you. Most Americans don't have any of these kinds of clues to help them choose among Eurogames. If my kid brought me a box in a store and wanted me to spend more than $5 on something that she was clearly choosing based solely on cover art and a publisher-authored blurb, I, too, would say, no if I had never heard of the item she was requesting. And I'm the sort who would be more likely to say no if the box in question had commercial characters on it, so I don't think that the "no" to Twighlight Imperium implies a "yes" to Simpsons' Monopoly.
 
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Philip Thomas
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Yeah the part in the study where they say Electronic media usage has climbed by 20% (of total leisure time) at the same momet as reading has declined by .1% is fairly interesting: its clear that, in general, people haven't switched from reading to Electronic media.

Here in the UK more people are going to University than ever before. There is more skills training available throughout life. Reading will survive.

Hobby games don't need mass particpation? Maybe, but I thought German board games do actually sell to a wide audience in Germany, so the euro games you like were already designed, if not for the lowest common denominator, at least for the middle class gaming family.

 
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MrSkeletor wrote:
If reading is on the decline, then could someone tell me what people are doing all day on the internet?

Quite a few are doing nothing more than staring at naked people engaged in animal rutting and typing with one hand.

MrSkeletor wrote:
And why have blogs become so popular?

Most blogs are vanity projects that are written so poorly that my third grader could do a better job of it. Even supposedly educated folks are so lazy about it that they let common typos just slip by and resort to a purely ridiculous array of acronyms instead of typing out exactly what they mean to say. IANAL and YMMV, but YKWIM and just may be ROFL or just LOL. Don't even get me started on that asinine abomination known as "leet speak". Pure rubbish.

Equating internet usage and literacy is definitely NOT "apples to apples".
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Peter Vrabel
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Quote..

MrSkeletor wrote:
And why have blogs become so popular?

Most blogs are vanity projects that are written so poorly that my third grader could do a better job of it. Even supposedly educated folks are so lazy about it that they let common typos just slip by and resort to a purely ridiculous array of acronyms instead of typing out exactly what they mean to say. IANAL and YMMV, but YKWIM and just may be ROFL or just LOL. Don't even get me started on that asinine abomination known as "leet speak". Pure rubbish.

Equating internet usage and literacy is definitely NOT "apples to apples".[/q]

End quote...

You must read different blogs from me.

And about small typos and abbreviations...damn those people for thinking that the ideas expressed are more important than adhereing to arbitary grammatical and lexical traditions!

(However, "leet speak" is Satan's spawn. Not that I've ever actually heard (seen?) anyone use it. Ever.)
 
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Philip Thomas
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What is so interesting about naked farmers* typing with one hand?

*That is why they are involved in animal rutting, right?
 
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Tim Deagan
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Well,
this started out as a general musing on a question my kid asked about why board games aren't more popular. And while I didn't intend to create a polemic about demanding that people play boardgames or that civilzation was at risk due to declining readership, I confess to being even more surprised that we have moved so quickly into the endlessly interesting topic of animal rutting on the internet sheepgulp

I wonder if this relates to my older theory that all conversations will turn to motorcycle wrecks if given long enough
 
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