Politics of Gaming – Barrier to Entry

A little while ago a friend of mine linked me to an article about the issues that many new players face when trying to get into gaming. The focus was on specifically roleplaying and how we don’t see many people playing pen and paper RPGs because mechanics tend to get in the way of the experience for new players. It can often be overwhelming to sit down at a table with a group of people that intimately know an entire book’s worth of rules and the subtle nuances of how those rules fit together. While this is true, there are often a myriad of different reasons that a potential player could be turned off from joining in on the world of gaming.

The biggest thing to take into consideration when figuring out why anyone hasn’t decided to become a roleplayer is to figure out what exactly they want to get out of a game. While strict rules about dice rolls or when and how a player can interact with the game might turn someone off if they were coming to it looking for an epic fantasy story; another player that loves to play with game mechanics could see that and fall in love with it. In my experience, most potential players get turned off by playing if their first exposure to gaming is in some way contradictory to the way that they have fun. All that aside, there are a few things that can be a barrier to entry for any given player that someone looking to pique interest should be aware of.

Even for a player that likes playing with mechanics, new rules can often be a large barrier to get over in order to start playing. Usually it comes down to the person explaining those rules and if they can do so correctly and in such a way that you don’t have the person lose interest. This is one of the hardest things to do since most of us aren’t professional teachers and it’s always easy to forget explaining some rule since it might seem completely self-evident to someone that’s been playing a long time. One of the best things you can do to foster good will and make someone want to come back is to lay out the most basic rules and then layer from there and always, always, always let a new player have some leeway when it comes to playing the first few times. Just throwing someone into the deep end is rarely the best way to make someone’s first gaming experience a pleasant one.

The pool represents gaming and the floaties represent you helping a new player. Symbolism, my man.

The pool represents gaming and the floaties represent you helping a new player. Symbolism, my man.

Everyone wants to feel like they are actually bringing something worthwhile to the table when they sit down to play. There can be a temptation to give a new player a support class or a character that doesn’t really have much in the way of complexity or options. While this might be the player is able to interact without as much complication, it can also lead to the player looking around the table feeling useless. Jim is over there casting spells that wreak havoc on the battlefield while Dave is sneaking through the shadows, assassinating key enemies and you are standing around giving them +1 to hit while getting punched by an orc. Try to make sure that whatever they have in mind to do as a character is something they will actually be able to do.

This also applies to the actual role playing in the game. Many players want to be able to impact a story with more than their sword but this can be incredibly intimidating. One of the number one fears people have is public speaking. While many of us roleplayers were drama geeks and love the spot light, many others are just nerds that like a good story and fantasize what it would be like to be a part of one. Making sure that a new player has the opportunity to speak up without being forced to is key. If you have some really good actors in the group, it might also be a good idea to let them have a scene away from those players so they don’t feel like they are being upstaged and outshined by them.

Make sure all your players get a moment in the spotlight.

Make sure all your players get a moment in the spotlight.

For a lot of games, there also exists the idea that you have to “earn your fun” when you play. You start out as a low level character and gradually have to gain levels until you reach a point where you can actually start doing impressive things instead of just being a dirt farmer trying to kill a goblin with a pitchfork. If a new player comes in with grand ideas of being Hercules or Merlin only to discover that their options are more like Strongish Guy and Hedge Wizard, the fantasy loses a lot of its appeal. While definitely not true of all games, most classic games based on character levels don’t let you have any really interesting tricks for quite a while. While you can’t really get around this except by starting at higher level or playing a different game, it is often a constraint that potential players will run into and can get soured on.

Of course, one of the more annoying barriers to entry for new players is cost. This is especially true if you are looking at a player that is trying to start getting into it themselves instead of someone dragging them into it. If you think maybe you want to get into RPGs and start looking into what you need, it can seem pretty expensive. You’ll need the core rulebook, of course, and depending on the system you might want to pick up a monster compendium and since you’re new you’ll probably be eyeing that GM guide so you know what to do when you run a game. We’re already at about $100-120 dollars and then you’ll want dice and miniatures and maybe a playmat and all of these things are for a game that you don’t even know if you’ll be able to or want to play. Most nerd hobbies end up being fairly expensive but they usually don’t also come with having to rely on a large group of other people in order to enjoy it. This can be alleviated by finding a group to play with that will let you borrow things but if you were wanting to start a game with your buddies, that doesn’t really help.

The money you could have if you weren't such a goddamn nerd.

The money you could have if you weren’t such a goddamn nerd.

I left for last what is probably the biggest reason for why we don’t see a lot of new players which is the stigma that gaming in general and roleplaying in particular has in society. Most people when they think of RPGs just have an image of awkward nerds in the basement playing D&D. Even someone that is already inclined toward being a huge nerd will look at roleplaying as somehow “too geeky”. There is, unfortunately, no good fix to get around that other than having people be more open about the hobby and showing others that it isn’t some weird hobby for outcasts. If we can talk about the hobby less as some shameful secret thing we do in the shadows and more as a fun game with friends, maybe people will be less likely to think of it as being strange.

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