23 February 2019

Hype in the Board Games Industry

It's late in February, and I still haven't done a 'Best of 2018' article. I did that last year for the best of 2017, but I chose not to do one this year for several reasons. Perhaps the main reason is because I was so focused on doing the 10×10 challenge in 2018 that I didn't have as much chance to play many of the new games that came out that year.

But another big part of the reason is because most of the games that came out that year didn't look interesting to me.

I tend to be hype-averse. If something gets really hyped, I'm likely to avoid it. I don't even always realise that I'm doing it; it just happens. As one example, I'll tell you about my experience with The Hunger Games. A good friend of mine recommended the series to me back in 2011. She told me a quick overview of what it was about, and it sounded like something I'd find interesting. I was waiting for a time to be able to pick up a copy and read it.

But before I had a chance, the release date for the first Hunger Games film was announced. All of a sudden, the internet was abuzz with people who were dying of anticipation. The vast majority of people were talking about how they couldn't wait to see the film! And the next thing I knew, I had lost all interest in reading the book or seeing the film.

A tortured relationship with popularity

I remember that, even as a young child, I found anything popular to be distasteful. I'm not sure if it's a result of my awkward childhood leading me to think, for many years during my early adolescence, that anything popular was evil which cemented the averse reaction to highly-prized music, movies, clothing, etc... or if that aversion was a part of my inherent personality which fed into the association with evil.

Either way, I found myself enjoying things that were not considered well-loved. I enjoyed reading the Hardy Boys novels, as well as The Hobbit and Star Trek. I would often, for fun, grab a random encyclopedia off the shelf and open to a random article and just start reading. But despite growing up in the 80s, I was not a fan of any of the pop music that existed then. I didn't understand people's obsession with films like The Goonies. I did not wear any clothing that was considered to be 'in style.'

Perhaps I was bitter. Why didn't the awesome things that I loved get as much attention as the stupid, vacuous fluff that all my classmates were losing their minds over?

It's entirely possible that I have a similar relationship with hype and popularity today. Scythe, for example, is currently at #7 on the Board Game Geek Top 100 list. It is frequently mentioned in the Facebook Board Game Group (often in response to 'what is the best game out there?' type of questions). Yet I have played that game twice now, and did not enjoy it either time.

Whilst other games of which I am not a fan (either because I tried it and didn't like it or because I haven't tried it because I'm pretty sure I won't like it; Gloomhaven is an example of this type, as I'm not generally a fan of dungeon-crawl style games) get rave reviews and constant exposure, games that I do adore go practically unnoticed (Clans and Fae are chief on that list, but other examples include Dominant Species, Tell Me a Story, Hanabi, and Harbour).

Why do I care?

I know I talk a lot about how different people like different things, and that's a good thing. But humans, being social creatures, also crave community and acceptance. Especially for someone like me, who has struggled all his life with being excluded, it can be somewhat upsetting to me to see the things that I love get ignored, or worse: outright derided.

But at even a more basic level, there's the fact that it makes it harder for me to enjoy the things I love. I often read a really good installment of The Order of the Stick, and want to talk to someone about it, but I can't, because there are few, if any, people who also read it and are able to have a meaningful discussion with me about what's happening in the story. As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons I love games is because it lends some level of structure to social interactions, allowing me to spend time with people in a less uncomfortable setting. But if I have to sacrifice playing the games I love in favour of games that I don't like as well in order to get that interaction, it can be disappointing and, at times, even upsetting.

So what's my point?

I'm not suggesting that there be no hype in the board games industry. Obviously, that is totally unrealistic.

Instead, I wish people would be drawn to things (whether they be games, films, books, music, clothing, or anything else) based on the merits of the thing itself.

And perhaps even more importantly, I wish people would make an effort to seek out things that aren't as well-known. When I went to Gen Con two and a half years ago, I saw lots of vendor spaces that were huge, brightly decorated, flashy, and attention-grabbing. There were tons of people in these booths. But there were lots of smaller booths that had equally enjoyable offerings. Yet very few people were looking at these booths.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: don't feel like you have to stop enjoying the huge successful games. If you enjoy them, then by all means, play them! Love them! Share your love with others! But don't ignore the smaller offerings, either. Make a point to seek out the smaller companies at conventions. Browse through the less popular areas of your Friendly Local Game Store. Try out that game from a small independent company.

You never know what amazing gems you might find.

I hope you found this interesting to read, at the very least. And even if you didn't, I hope you'll come back next week to read something else new and different. Until then, don't forget to

Game on!

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