Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Become A Gaming Ambassador

Every time we gather to play games we’re ambassadors for the hobby. We hope our enthusiasm for the game and our contribution to an engaging game experience keeps everyone coming back for more, whether it’s multiple sessions of a favorite game or trying out a new game for the first time. Naturally gaming fans want to share their hobby with others, primarily to gain new players, but also to expand the hobby and draw more people into an entertaining pastime. Aside from benefitting the industry by drawing more customers into the hobby, it helps create a local gaming community with more players and thus more varied play experiences.

Stepping out into the public, even on such a limited basis, isn’t always easy or successful for members of a sub-culture who are commonly stereotyped as awkward in social situations. As a gamer for almost 30 years and one who’s appeared as a public advocate of games in a variety of venues, I’ve seen gamers of many different personalities try sharing their hobby with fellow gamers and the uninitiated with varying degrees of success; the former are often forgiving, tolerant, or even unaware of social foibles, while the latter rarely put up with them for long.

There’s a huge difference between running games in your living room or kitchen for a few friends and presenting games for public events with a variety of participants, many of whom are strangers to both you and the gaming hobby. You’re transitioning from the role of a casual gamer excited about the hobby to a public advocate of games, the face of gaming to those who’ve never dabbled in the hobby (or even heard about it).

Some gamers have the touch of a marketing and sales professional, deftly shifting the focus from themselves and their favored game to the players and their interests. Many, however, can’t seem to move past gamer mode to the role of gaming advocate, instead floundering around talking about themselves and their past games instead of creating an exceptional game experience in the present.

I’ve learned much from many years running roleplaying games at conventions, from small local gatherings to GenCon, from all-gaming cons to media conventions featuring a broad sampling of fandom. Whether presenting a quick game demo or running a full-length scenario, it’s important to prepare, tailor your presentation to the specific audience, and present a welcoming, encouraging, and positive demeanor.

Here are a few suggestions for any event focused on sharing games in a public setting -- classroom demonstrations, library game events, gaming store demos or game days, and convention games -- anywhere potential players might wander about, casually checking out game offerings and possibly sitting down to play. Use them for inspiration on how to better serve as a gaming ambassador; please take the time to evaluate them within the intended context to make sure they’d work with your particular event:

Promotion: Good public relations not only promotes the event to potential players but raises awareness of the hobby within the community and brings some note to the organizers’ volunteer efforts. Use social media by posting event details on personal websites and blogs, forums on relevant sites (such as the local gaming store’s website), and possibly even contacting local media outlets with press releases and event listings. Get approval to promote the event through posters to display at area businesses catering to potential gamers. It’s a good idea to share your ideas for promotions with event organizers so you don’t duplicate efforts or inadvertently violate the venue’s policies.

Visual Presentation: At the event make sure your game has maximum visual appeal with elements that draw people to your table and get them excited about the game you’re offering. Set up the game, making sure those interested can check out all the pieces and skim the rules. If you have multiple copies, set up one for attendees to look over while the other functions as the playable demo. Make a sign to prop up on the table so people know what you’re running; include a clear image of the game, it’s name in large type, and the game’s manufacturer so those who really enjoy it can buy a copy themselves. Of course, making a good presentation also means maintaining a good personal appearance and wearing clothes appropriate to the venue.

Handouts: Offer people something they can take away as part of the game to remind them of their experience and inspire them to keep playing…a flyer to help learn the rules, play the game, and get in the mood. The most typical of these consist of one-page rules summaries players can reference during the game, but you might use other ideas depending on the kind of game. For roleplaying games create a handout to introduce players to the game’s genre; when running a pulp game I mock up a period newspaper front page that includes stories about locations, events, or people the heroes might encounter. Both wargames and board games might use tent cards to both identify players’ real names and any factions/units they’re playing on one side, and a brief turn or rules summary on the other. Historical wargames might use short situational summaries, maps, or mock orders to put the game in context.

Welcoming Host: Strive to always be a positive, knowledgeable, and friendly host for the game. Introduce yourself and encourage participants to do the same, possibly asking them to list their favorite movie, book, or game to help break the ice. Do your homework; know the game you’re running inside and out so you’re comfortable talking about it without burying your head in the rules. Speak clearly, and encourage others to do so, to make sure everyone can be heard and understood above any noise from other games. Be a positive role model for good sportsmanship; the main objective is to share an enjoyable gaming experience.

Gaming Ambassador: In public we’re gaming ambassadors…everything about us, our appearance, speech, attitude, and conduct during the game, reflects on ourselves, fellow gamers, and the hobby. Present a positive and encouraging face to help ensure everyone has fun and returns for more.