At the Gathering – Communities and You

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Friday, March 19th – Today, I want to tackle a subject broader than just Magic: the Gathering. I want to discuss Gamer Communities at large. As such, this article, while useful for Magic players, is also aimed at other genres of gamers. As such, it assumes no prior knowledge of any specific game of the reader.

Today, I want to tackle a subject broader than just Magic: the Gathering. I want to discuss Gamer Communities at large. As such, this article, while useful for Magic players, is also aimed at other genres of gamers. As such, it assumes no prior knowledge of any specific game of the reader. There is a portion where I discuss CCG’s, and while I would wager that everyone reading this website is well-versed in CCG’s, the article takes the stance that the reader might not. Therefore, I am not trying to insult your intelligence by explaining CCG’s, but instead laboring to make it readable to a larger audience.

Communities are founded, and more importantly maintained, on underlying principles of shared commonality. Creating and subsequently growing and nurturing a gaming community is a multi-faceted project. When creating and maintaining a community, therefore, it is vital that you find a common ground for your community to base itself off of. This shared commonality must be cohesive enough that the members are also willing to overlook their differences to not only stay within the community, but continue to contribute to the growth of the community. Once you have a shared interest, you must find members for you community. We’ll examine how to do so in further detail, but needless to say, there are a variety of ways. Once you have your community members and focus, the hard work begins. The community itself will go through a number of permutations and changes, many of which will be part of the natural process, but may take you in directions you did not expect. We’ll go over the four stages of community growth, and what they may mean for our community. But first, let’s analyze our potential community members.

Let’s start out with a few definitions. This will allow us to work from a common understanding of our terms.

Gamers: This term is used to describe anyone who plays physical, real-world games as a primary Hobby. Video Games are not included here, nor are any form of digital entertainment. Our gamers participate in one or more of the following subtypes of games: Board Games, Role-Playing Games, Card Games, (both collectible and stand-alone) and Miniature Combat Games.

Board Games: Games which are played on a board. While Monopoly is a good mainstream example, our typical gamer plays games similar to Axis and Allies, Settlers of Cataan, and Formula De’.

Role-Playing Games: Games in which the player takes on and plays a specific character. Typically, Dungeons and Dragons would be the most recognizable and commonly played game of this variety.

Card Games: Games played primarily with cards of a non-poker deck variety, unique to the game itself. These are typically broken down into two varieties, Collectible and Stand-Alone. Collectible Cards Games, or CCG’s, typically feature randomized packs for purchase, with the goal being to collect cards through purchase and trading, i.e. collecting. There are typically varying levels of card rarity built in to the product. Magic: the Gathering is the most popular and recognizable CCG. Stand Alone card games have a full set in the box, with no randomization or need to trade. While there may be more expansions, they too are sold in their entirety. Uno or Phase 10 would be mainstream examples, although our demographic is more likely to play more fantasy and sci-fi based games such as Munchkin and Illuminati.

Miniature Combat Games: Games in which combats are fought using miniature figurines and variable terrain. They originated from war simulations on sand tables at West Point Academy. Typically popular games would be Warhammer 40K and Star Wars Minis.

Now that we’ve defined the types of games we’ll see, let’s define the players themselves. The easiest method of doing so is to define the players by their psychographic profiles. These terms and definitions are courtesy of Mark Rosewater and Wizards of the Coast.

Timmy: Timmy is what we in R&D call the “power gamer.” Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive, and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells.

Johnny: Johnny is the creative gamer to whom Magic is a form of self-expression. Johnny likes to win, but he wants to win with style. It’s very important to Johnny that he wins on his own terms. As such, it’s important to Johnny that he’s using his own deck.

Spike: Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill… is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory.

So, we see a nice, varied demographic, each with their own motivations. Now, it’s also important to note that very rarely will people fall strictly into one of these categories. More often than not, they are a hybrid, with a dominant main trait and an influencing secondary trait.

Now that our definitions are out of the way, let’s look at some additional traits of our community demographic.

By their nature, Gamers tend to be both shy and averse to social interaction. Most of them have been considered outsiders for the majority of their lives, as children, adolescents, and adults. Furthermore, gamers tend to be more intelligent than the average human being. The direction of causality is unclear, though. Are gamers more intelligent because they game? Does their choice of an intellectually stimulating game as a hobby cause them to be more intelligent, on average? Or, are thy already more intelligent, and therefore choose more intellectually stimulating past-times? I believe a case can be made in both directions.

Gamers are typically wary of direct marketing, and normal methods of marketing and advertising rarely affect them. They have moved beyond cool, flashy, or hip, and are rarely swayed by that line of reasoning. They tend to abhor pop-culture, rather than embrace it, instead striving to be unique and different. Thus, you will rarely be able to “sell” to a gamer based on those tactics. However, it is still surprisingly easy to reach them. Their intelligence tends to allow an easier appeal to logic. You can more easily sway them with a pure numbers-based argument. To paraphrase Sergeant Friday, of Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Therefore, unlike most marketing and advertising, we are able to use more information without worrying as much about information overload. While the typical Human being glazes over and shuts down at this level of information influx, the Gamer has a much higher yield, and in fact typically will actively desire this information.

Now that we’ve analyzed our demographic, how do we go about reaching our potential community members? First and foremost is to have a gathering place. Typically, this will be your local gaming store. This acts as a sort of community home, allowing the community to have a semi-neutral place to gather and interact. However, this may also be a player’s house, a public place such as a library or university, or even a bookstore or other non-gaming centered establishment. However, any of these places are excellent examples of places to find other potential community members. Another potential tool to utilize is the internet. Many players are active on various message boards and other online sites, but may not be aware of their local communities. You can also find players by looking where the games are sold. You may find avid board-gamers at your local mall, because they purchase their games there.

But the best way to find new players is by word of mouth. This is a two-fold method. The first is personal advertisement. Be proud that you are a gamer. Advertise the fact in some method, from a D&D bumper sticker to a Magic: the Gathering hat. You may have passed by plenty of other gamers looking for other gamers too, and neither of you knew the other one was a gamer. However, this is almost antithetical to the gamer subculture. As mentioned before, they tend towards shyness, and thus advertising is not as easy as it seems. Try to push beyond these boundaries, though, as it could pay large dividends. The second part of the word of mouth method is through non-gaming intermediaries. Let us use an anecdote for best reference. At a former workplace, I was playing Magic with a coworker at my desk. Another coworker of mine happened to walk by and notice.

“Hey, is that Magic?” she inquired?

“Yes,” I responded, “Do you play?”

“No,” she replied, “But my cousin does. Do you guys play locally? You should give him a call.”

And just like that, I had found not just that one player, but then the three other players he played with as well. Because his cousin knew he played, and then she learned that I played, she worked as an intermediary for us. Gaming is unique enough that when even non-gamers encounter it, they remember it, and when they see it again, they often mention others they’ve met who also game in one form or another. Thus, even non-gamers can be helpful in our communitarian efforts.

Now that we’ve analyzed our demographic, and founded our community, what will the development of that community look like? For that, we’ll turn to Political Science and it’s theories on Community. Specifically, we’re going to utilize Scott Peck’s book “The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace.” Peck describes the four stages of community development that each community typically goes through as follows:

1. Pseudo-Community
2. Chaos
3. Emptiness
4. True Community

Let’s analyze each of these stages. Pseudo-Community is the stage where each member shows a reserved side of themselves, typically only displaying their best attributes. They are feeling out the community, and trying to decide if they like the interactions and members. Think of it as the first few dates. You’re trying to see if you like it, if there’s any chemistry, if you want to interact more. Meanwhile, you’re displaying your best attributes, trying to get them to desire more interaction with you, to be liked. Everyone tries to play nice; however, the community is somewhat superficial.

From there, we move onto Chaos. Chaos is when people start to reveal their entire selves. You start to see the flaws in others, and also revealing most of your own self. This is the stage where the community really defines itself, and roles start to appear within the community. Leadership and organization start to form, as well as “cliques” or sub-groups. These cliques can form around almost anything. The key in this stage is to ensure that the community itself does not fracture, and that even though sub-groups form, they maintain existence within the main group, instead of removing themselves from it. Much like the U.S. is made up of multiple states, so must your community be made up of sub-groups. The key is in maintaining identification with the main community.

After Chaos, we move into Emptiness. Emptiness is the stage where people will recognize their own deficiencies. Frequently, this is where individuals will leave the community, based on either their own evaluation of their self-perceived insufficiency, or perception of others belief in their insufficiency. That is, after they have revealed themselves beyond the superficial, they either believe themselves unworthy of membership in the community, or they believe that others view them as unworthy of membership. This can be compounded by others mocking or deriding them for their revealed traits, or even by not being actively accepted. Many potential members view silence as being shunned, when in fact it is merely silence, or even shyness on the part of others. During the emptiness stage, be as uplifting and supportive as possible. Attempt to find a place for each potential member. Positive encouragement and reinforcement can do a lot to help maintain and grow your community. Remember, gamers are used to being outsiders, and as such, they are not averse to leaving a community if they feel unwelcome or out of place. You will need to work harder to ensure they feel like they belong.

Finally, we come to True Community. At this stage, the community is formed, and members exist in their true revealed state. They are not afraid of being cast out for minor quibbles, and feel a sense of ownership within the community. Furthermore, they will often recruit members to the community at this stage.

One more key point to remember is that this process is continual as new members enter your community. Though many members will be at stage four, each new member will go through this process on their own, testing out the community, revealing their full self, struggling with that revealing, and then hopefully becoming a full-fledged member of the community. Thus it is important to remember that even after full community engagement, new members will need support and encouragement during their journey, just as each member did during their own journey through these stages.

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser choice.