If you take a moment to research this hobby—and you have enough time to do that, right?—you’ll find a report from the Toy Industry Association saying that games and puzzles pulled in $2.4 billion during 2009. That’s a good chunk of money. I could easily cover all the material needs of my toddler and cats with that kind of cash. But just for fun you can see what the videogame industry made over the same period: $19.7 billion.
That’s a whole lot more cat toys.
And that’s a lot of people buying games.
So when you get up from your office chair to get coffee (or Red Bull, or whatever) and walk past your coworkers, look for sore thumbs and paper cuts because you’re probably passing game players. And that’s assuming that you don’t see Bejeweled (I almost wrote Bejowled, but that’s a different topic) or Farmville open on screens.
I bring all these strange topics up because we call ourselves gamers in a world of humans who are absolutely crazy about playing games. It’s not like we’ve decided—like my uncle—to build steam engines (yes, working steam engines. Little ones). Or fletch our own arrows. Or build scale-model airplanes. Those would be niche hobbies. Our own hobby is an activity pursued by pretty much everybody and by every civilization—and pre-civilization—that ever flourished on the planet. Johan Huizinga way back in 1938 called humans “homo ludens:” man the player (and let’s go ahead and include women in this definition).
Yet only a certain subset of us step up (or sit down, I guess) and admit to the fact that we like games. We’d rather play a game than fletch arrows or change the oil in our cars. Perhaps more than shower, but I’ll leave the stereotypes for later. Why is it so hard to claim this status as homo ludens? Not for this audience—I know how y’all roll—but for the rest of the cube-dwellers playing Mafia Wars on Facebook?
I can think of some easy answers. The marketing geniuses at various toy and game manufacturers sold games to kids, and kids only, during the baby boom’s early years (only 3M tried to market games to the broad swath of the boomers as they reached adulthood, and we can thank that company for inspiring young European game designers, but I digress). I can remember wave after wave of game commercials as a kid (especially leading up to the winter holidays), but I remember comparatively few games for adults outside of traditional games (card games, chess, etc). In short, games are for kids.
As a corollary to “games are for kids,” they don’t make money. They don’t leave an object for sale or admiration. And learning new rules can be difficult. It’s easy for someone who fishes to invite friends over for a fish fry, but a gaming enthusiast can find it difficult to draw friends over to play games—and it’s difficult to play boardgames alone (try a solo game of Vegas Showdown. Or Risk, for that matter.).
I know that I’m collapsing two different categories of gaming, but I think the point still holds: human beings love to play games. Always have, always will. So when someone raises an eyebrow, or looks off into the distance over your shoulder when you say that you love to play boardgames, just understand that they’re lying to themselves if they say they don’t.
And then ask how much they spend on cat toys.