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Fresh Blood

by Brett Matthews

In which the author talks about the whys and hows of inducting new players to your fold


Like many hobbies, most people start gaming with a group of friends when they are in their teens, as many of the Once Upon A Time stories bare out. Alternatively, they are introduced to an existing gaming group by a friend. This is pretty standard social interaction; many people meet their partner through an introduction by a friend of a friend. So, if you're single, it means your friends are letting you down!

But groups grow and change from those early days. In particular, most groups lose players at some time. Even groups that are functioning well have players move city, lose the time or opportunity to play, lose interest (though not usually in a group that is functioning well), whatever. As this happens over time, there is a point at which your group will drop below the critical mass of players required for good gaming. By which I mean that groups need to have a sufficient number of players to have the variety of interactions which makes adventuring 3 dimensional. So, if your group is to survive, you need to be open to new members joining.

Brett has previously looked at the social dynamics of gaming groups

Incorporating new members into a group sounds simple enough. However, each gaming group has an implicit understanding of what constitutes acceptable behaviour within the group and its own unspoken understanding of what constitutes good gaming. It is very important to recognise and understand this. If your group is too shut off from the rest of the gaming community, you might get a big surprise when you attend your first convention only to discover that you're a munchkin.

When a new person enters the group there will need to be some adjustments by both parties if the union is to function effectively. Both sides have to want the union. This sounds simple, but it's not something that can just be assumed.

And everyone must give and take. It would seem reasonable that a newcomer has the greater responsibility to adapt and fit in with the behaviours of the pre-existing group, but don't forget that the reverse is also required.

Don't be surprised if the newcomer finds some of your ways strange, but likewise, be prepared to try some of the new and different ideas they bring. After all, without new ideas, your group is likely to stagnate and die a miserable death on a rocky outcrop next to a vile swamp.

So, be prepared to push the boundaries a little, encourage and even seek new ideas from both new and existing members. This is something we should all be doing anyway, regardless of changes in attendance. If your group is not recruiting right now, conventions are another great way to get new ideas and share your own.

The important thing is, when someone new joins your group, think about how you're going to introduce them. Don't just assume they will/should fit in; explain your group's style and ask questions about theirs. Don't just wait for the group to find its own natural balance - do some meta-analysis, figure out where your group is and what you need to do and then damn well bloody do it. A group unmanaged is a group that's soon to die.

We should also consider the other side, because things don't always work out. Sometimes your group gets too large for a GM to handle (because there are also upper limits for good gaming) or someone is introduced to the group that just doesn't fit in. This might be because their style of gaming is different, because their commitment to the game is different, they may be dropping out or itinerant and then wanting to rejoin, or there may just be a personality clash between members. You will need to learn how to say no, because one thing is for sure, if your gaming group is going to be an ongoing concern over a significant period of time, you will need to.

For a discussion on resolving differing gaming styles see this article from last issue

Adding new blood brings a host of complications. Your first group was probably fairly homogeneous: male teens from the same cultural background. There are obviously exceptions, but this is by far the standard. As you get older, fewer people are prepared to be associated with gaming and some of your friends move, etc. If you want to continue to game into your 30's or even in your late 20's, you're going to have to accept that you can no longer rely on your homogeneous social circle to be your gaming group. Thus you are going to have to face some of the challenges of inter-gender gaming, and even intergenerational gaming.

I maintain that, with the obvious exception of conventions and clubs, gaming is primarily an activity that pre-existing friends do together. Therefore, as people tend to associate with others like themselves, your non-gaming friends are potentially the best candidates for new members. I doubt many groups of previously unacquainted individuals form lasting cohorts, particularly for older gamers, no matter how much they love the game itself.

However, gaming is not always an easy subject to broach with friends. Even though being a gamer is now arguably more acceptable than it once was, it is still hard to work the hobby into a conversation. I know I always do it with some trepidation. You inevitably find yourself trying to explain the hobby; a dispiriting task, because it seems if you have to explain it, then the person is not going to be interested any way.

Currently, I try to explain role-playing as a way of sharing the normally solitary pleasure of reading Fantasy or Science Fiction.

There are doubtless people out there who would game again given the opportunity. For one, there are those poor souls who are the remainder of a disintegrated group and without an avenue to continue the hobby. Then there are those players who want to play, but have lost the time or drive, because of other considerations (gamer burnout is a sad but all too common syndrome in this hobby). So, how do you locate and contact these unattached gamers?

There are the obvious spots like gaming stores and comic shops. These certainly do attract the right sort of people. On a number of occasions I have come across people in comic stores who spot a d20 and say something to the effect that they used to role-play and wouldn't mind taking it up again. The question is, do you want some of these people in your homes - yes, even gamers can be weird, and these ones are complete strangers as well. The advantage of playing with friends is that you have some idea of what they are like.

Naturally, when you introduce someone new to the group, you outnumber them, so you are in a position of strength. However, if you need to attract ex-gamers who have dropped entirely out of the subculture, the best and safest option is through your like-minded friends. Luckily, through the nature of six degrees of separation, this isn't too hard; most gaming types know someone else who wants to play or used to play. So if you're group is running on empty, don't despair. With a little bit of networking, and by being prepared to adjust to the new arrivals, your group can easily be alive and kicking once more.

Remember, not only does new blood keep your group alive, it also revitalises the old members, generating new ideas and new enthusiasm for the game. Plus by keeping more people in the game, we help keep the hobby alive. So why not stick your head on the chopping block of life and get some new players.


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