Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Promoting Adventure Gaming in November

For some reason November seems to have become the default gaming promotion month. With the return of National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon) and the ALA-sponsored International Games Day @ Your Library, November retains two high-profile gaming events that each do a great job promoting the adventure gaming hobby; but it makes one wonder whether the hobby could use a few more “game event months” spread throughout the year to better highlight adventure gaming.

On one level -- that of enthusiastic individual with a large online following -- Nathan Russell is once again spearheading National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon), which encourages people to create, play, and talk about their game during the month of November. The website serves as a central gathering place for people accepting the challenge; NaGa DeMon also maintains a presence on social media sites like Facebook and Google to broaden its visibility and community function. Several blog posts not only provide tips for participating in the challenge and talking about it, but the “Roll Call” feature helps visitors see who’s taken up the challenge and find out where they’ll be discussing developments in their games. Short of hosting a centralized, interactive forum at the NaGa DeMon site itself, Russell has done a good job of promoting and expanding participation in the challenge through the ever-growing community of online adventure gamers.

International Games Day @ Your Library comes at the other end of the spectrum, sponsored by arguably the largest national organization to promote gaming, the American Library Association (ALA). The program encourages libraries to  host gaming events (analog, digital, and combinations of both) on Saturday, November 3, 2012. The promotion helps coordinate events, register and promote participating libraries, and offer resources for running game programs.

Alas, the website seems extremely limited in its inspiration and usefulness, particularly for libraries that don’t already have some established gaming program. Of the three noted sponsors, two have donated electronic copies of games libraries can download for the event; the only analog game sponsor, Ravensburger, has donated 1,000 copies of its popular Labyrinth game, ostensibly for the first libraries to register their Games Day @ Your Library events. Regrettably the buried link to the once-useful Library Gaming Toolkit now leads to a page for a 2009 webcast on literacy. On the whole the event’s web presence seems lackluster. While I understand many public libraries still fight to maintain their already limited funding and provide a multitude of programs to serve a vast cross-section of the population, one might expect a national library organization to put its weight behind promoting an often overlooked intellectual and social activity many consider acceptable to its hallowed halls.

Last year I blogged how November seemed like a “gaming overdrive month,” including both events mentioned above, a third sadly missed this year, and a host of other game-oriented contests and challenges occurring throughout the year. Regrettably most remain only a faint blip on the radars of the average American’s consciousness. Occasionally we read the odd feature about the resurgence of board gaming or the news story about the latest earth-shattering story in the gaming industry (D&D Next comes to mind…). Adventure gaming seems so peripheral a pursuit in America that promotion seems relegated to active individuals and organizations like the American Library Association (ALA), which includes it as a relevant but fringe activity fulfilling its overall mission. Sure, one has the adventure gaming industry’s iconic conventions, GenCon and Origins, over the summer months, but few, if any, efforts exist to actively promote gaming on a national scale the rest of the year beyond November.

When the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council declares July National Hot Dog Month, the promotion has the strength of the sponsoring trade organization behind it. Adventure gaming has a few dedicated champions willing to use the channels available to them in promoting some aspect of the gaming hobby; but overall hobby-wide promotions from official organizations have limited means, especially with a group covering as many different bases as the ALA. This is certainly not meant as a criticism of the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) or other game industry trade organizations. They’ve got their hands full catering to the needs of their members in various ways, primarily as a web resource, online community, and convention promoter. They cannot approach the size and scope of a national organization like the ALA and thus do not have the promotional potential of such an exclusive, scholarly membership organization. Certainly I’d love to see more concerted efforts on GAMA’s part for “National [Insert Type of Game Here] Month,” but right now I fear it’s beyond even what many consider the industry trade organization’s abilities and means.

Gamers, publishers, developers, freelancers, trade group members and others with various roles in the adventure gaming hobby naturally seek to increase participation in our enjoyable pastime. We’re a naturally fractured group -- the positive qualities of intense dedication and creativity contribute to that -- and we’re sometimes reluctant to rally beneath someone else’s banner for the greater good. Publishers want to promote their own products. Gamers seek to advance their favorite game systems. Libraries have a host of services and clients to consider. Everyone has limited funding. No strong, centralized leader of a gaming advocacy movement has emerged; and one might argue such a champion cannot emerge.

For the time being we must seek to do our small, individual parts in promoting the adventure gaming hobby: fostering a sense of creative community in forums, blogging about our favorite pastime, supporting a Friendly Local Gaming Store (if available), supporting our favorite game companies, sharing our enjoyment of gaming with anyone who’ll listen, and participating in visible advocacy events like NaGa DeMon and International Games Day @ Your Library.