Many times, if I say I like board games, the response is, "Oh, like Risk or Monopoly?" Depending on my mood and how much I care for the person, my response can be anywhere on the spectrum between a full description of the merits of German board game designers to simply, "Yeah, pretty much." And sure, I have a standard "elevator pitch" answer, too.
But what I've been thinking about lately is what other hobbies playing games is similar to. Of course, it doesn't have to be similar to anything; each hobby can stand alone on its own merits. But just for comparison and as a nice experiment, I thought about how I would compare it to some of my own other interests. I've picked some things I think are similar and different about them, but they are by no means exclusive; they are just the ones I chose to focus on for this post.
Is it like reading?Many people read (sadly, not everyone), so this is something most people can understand. Reading can be educational or purely entertaining. It can take you to an infinite different times and places with ease. It's pretty cerebral, but it also encourages creativity.
How they are similar: Aside from what I mentioned above, I think another strong similarity is the idea of personalities. For books, it's authors; for games, it's designers. Just as some readers will buy the next Tom Clancy or Jackie Collins or Dan Brown book to hit the shelves, many gamers are just as dedicated to Reiner Knizia, Martin Wallace, and Klaus Teuber.
How they are different: Books are inherently solitary; games are not. Sure, there are readings and book clubs and discussions, but when it comes down to it, to experience a book requires only you and a book (and some time). Games are the opposite. Though there are "solitaire" games, I think the vast majority of us would define a game as a contest between two or more people. This is good in the sense that it makes gaming a more social hobby.
What games need that reading has: Libraries. Game libraries do exist on a small scale at conventions and game get togethers, but how fantastic would it be if you could check out games at your local library? And what about discount book stores? The value of a good book is not diminished by having been read. Why aren't there more outlets for second-hand games? Of course, thrifters like myself know that there is if you're willing to spend the time looking.
Is it like watching movies?I've always believed that seeing a movie is a solitary experience that masquerades as a group experience. Sure, you see them in big groups (at theaters), but your interaction with the film itself is entirely internal. With the exception of talking patrons and cell phones, your experience at a movie is only dependent on what's going on within you.
How they are similar: Multiple people have a similar experience, filtered through their own personal biases. Also, people enjoy watching movies multiple times (especially with home video), just as many have favorite games they revisit often.
How they are different: Movies are passive; games are active. People often get excited by films that "challenge" them, either through interesting new ideas or radical perspectives or ethical dilemmas. But in the end, nothing the viewer can do will change the outcome of the movie. Games don't have as much impact, but they *require* participation. You are more or less in control of how the game ends the entire time.
What games need that movies have: I could say movie rental houses (which are dying out) or public theaters to spread to the masses, but I don't really think those apply. What I would like to see for games is more criticism. Film is studied. Whether it's a simple "thumbs up/thumbs down" or a dissection of the mis en scene, there are all levels of film criticism. Do games merit the same level of scrutiny? I don't know, but I would love to see it anyway.
Is it like collecting?Many hobbies revolve around collecting sets or examples of a particular thing, whether it be penguins or stamps or comic books or autographs. This sort of hobby focuses more on acquiring, but for the collector there is equal enjoyment in each of the objects themselves.
How they are similar: As many in the board gaming hobby can attest, it isn't long before your measuring your collection not by what games you have, but by how many. Like books and movies, new ones come out every year, all year long. Could you get every baseball card? No. Could you get every Chicago Cubs card? Possibly. Could you get every card for this season? Definitely. The difficulty here is in distinguishing between owning something you enjoy and enjoying something you own.
How they are different: Despite the ease of growing a collection, it really isn't about owning games you never intend to play. Sure, some feel the need to have all the Alea numbered big box games, but most of us value quality over quantity.
What games need that collecting has: A price guide? No, definitely not. But I wouldn't mind seeing a few more trade shows now and then. Even if not for trading, then at least for public display. How neat would it be to see some rare games out for display, or better yet, for play?
Is it like sports?I don't really like adding this one because to me, sports are games. How can you compare two of the same thing? But, there it is.
How they are similar: Competition, pure and simple. Everyone understands the thrill of victory in sports. It is just as fulfilling in a hard fought board game.
How they are different: Cultural ubiquity. Sport exists at some level in every part of the world, at every level of society. Whether you play or just watch or paint your face to watch the local match, everyone understands sports.
What games need that sports have: Acceptance. No one bats an eye if you tell them you spent all day Sunday watching football. Planted on the couch in front of the TV is fine. But if you said you were inside playing D&D all day, wow, what a different reaction. Living vicariously through sports stars is okay, but acting out fantasy in your living room is not. What I find most amusing about this is the huge rise in "Fantasy Football" over the last decade. Watching wasn't enough-- they had to make a game out of it!
I thought I had a few more hobbies to compare to, but they've all escaped me at the moment. Besides, I think my analysis is running thin by now anyway. I'll just wrap it up here. What do you think? What hobby would you compare it to? How do you try to get people to understand it?