Saturday, July 15, 2006

Cultural differences in game-playing

Origins 2006 was my third Origins in a row (I also attended way back when it was at Baltimore, just starting up). Something I try to do is observe who it is who are playing the games.

We already know that there are cultural differences in game playing. The Germans, for example, regard playing boardgames with the family as what we now call a "family value". American parents evidently don't feel that way--one of the K12 teachers said he'd be ecstatic if he could get parents to play boardgames with their kids. German manufacturers market educational games aimed to persuade parents to buy them for their kids. It may be harsh or cynical, but I'd say that Americans would tend to be suspicious of anything labelled "educational game" that they saw in Toys R Us or Wal-Mart--somehow "educational" can't be "fun" to us.

Game manufacturers would love to know if the Chinese and (Asiatic) Indians have a culture that encourages play of boardgames. That's over two billion people in opening markets.

I've written before about the graying of the wargamers, and it still seems to be the case that most of those playing board wargames--not a large number, really--tend to be middle-aged. The CCG players tend to be young. And the miniatures players (miniature armies, not HeroClix and such) also tend to be gray but with an admixture of quite young players. (A friend of mine who goes to Historicon, evidently the mecca for historical miniatures players, says they're starting to see youngsters there in some numbers.)

What's really striking, though, is the absence of black (and Hispanic) players. I live in an area that's about one third black, and that has sprouted hundreds of dual-language signs in the past 10 years or so because of immigrants from Mexico and parts south. Yet when I remember to look for black and Hispanic players, I see virtually none at game conventions, whether it's Origins, PrezCon, or WBC.

A black friend of mine says that there is no cultural difference between black and white Americans, but this doesn't appear to be true. If you're at Disney World, for example, and see a black person (there aren't many), odds are that person is not speaking American English. At Origins this year I saw two black people (at a convention that, last year, had 15,000 different individual attendees). One was a woman from Harlem, a teacher who had heard about the convention only a few days before and came because she's interested in using games to help teach. The other was someone I noticed in passing in the crowd.

Now given that I don't ordinarily notice the color of folks in a crowd, I once again did my unscientific survey, sitting in the same place I did last year (but early in the day, rather than late afternoon, unfortunately), and counted 200 people who passed by. I was mainly interested in the proportion of females (who seemed more numerous this year), but it was also easy to count blacks, as there were NONE in 200. I didn't try to count Hispanics as I can't reliabily recognize all Hispanics just from looking, but I saw few if any that were "obviously" Hispanic. There were 57 females in the 200 people.

I have managed to misplace my figures from last year (and that's hard to do when you use Info Select and Google Desktop....), but IIRC the proportion of females was somewhat less, and slightly more black.

Now does this mean black people don't play these games? Not necessarily, but it does mean they don't attend conventions for people who play these games, which may mean they don't play them much, or may mean something else.

It would be interesting to see data for ethnicity of those who play computer games. Anyone have any?

Copyright 2006 Lewis Pulsipher

1 comment:

Dani said...

I am a black female, so I guess I would have been worth two points if I had been at the convention, huh? Seriously, though, I began reading about Eurogames online a few months' ago and have been trying to introduce them to my circle of friends. Leisure activities outside of movies, concerts, and sporting events seem to be a bit strange to my working-class black friends. They are willing to try new things I introduce to them, but they wosn't seek out new activities themselves. My friends are enjoying the games, but I don't think they would ever go to a conference. Gathering with a group that isn't a church group or a fraternity is a very "white" thing to do in their minds.