Sunday, July 6, 2008

I play games with other people

Reading (and posting to) one of the latest "Do ratings matter?" threads on BGG it occurred to me that there's a subtext here that bugs me. The argument usually starts as a generic "why would you care what other people think?" kind of thing but the subtext is that the enjoyment of other people (eg, your opponents) doesn't matter, and therefore other people's opinions don't matter.

Other people's opinions matter, because I play games with other people. If one has a limited circle of people you game with, they may be the only ones you care about, but I, and most people I game with play with lots of different people, and are constantly introducing new people to the hobby and playing with more casual gamers. Even this year, which has been a really slow year, nearly half the people I've played with have been "new people". So, to that end what a "random gamer" thinks matters, in that I play with a "random gamer" on average more than once a week.

In detail, over the past eight and a half years, I've played with two new people a week, on average. My wife, who I've played the most games with only has played in 25% of the games I've played. The next most frequent gamer barely breaks 10%. Over 50% of the people I play with, I only have ever played a few games with, so knowing what games a "random gamer" is more likely to like is useful. Of course I use my own judgment, but I can't always predict what's going to succeed and fail with other gamers. For example, I personally never would have realized the extremely broad appeal of super-hits like Ticket To Ride or Carcassonne, or realized how universally I should be careful about inflicting something like Vabanque on other people.

Of course, to repeat a comment from the above thread ratings are meaningful but not oracular. For a shared activity like games, other people's opinions matter to me, and ratings are one way to get some insight into the opinions of all those gamers who I'm going to play with who I haven't met yet.


  1. I apologise if this is a duplicate -- I had problems with the OpenID check.

    I am one of those calling out that subtext and stating it plainly. My rate of playing with new people is similar to yours and I do not have a particularly limited number of people I play games with. A recent survey of one of the larger groups I play with placed me among the more promiscuous players there -- I'll happily play with nearly anyone. I'm also responsible for introduciing almost half of the people who now attend that game night to the group. However I tailor the people I play with to the games I want to play. Each game pre-selects the audience of players. At the individual human level I care about the other player's preferences as I'm not about to foist a game on them that they'll be miserable playing, but at a slightly higher altitude I don't care about them either individually or en-masse. They may be perfectly fine and wonderful people, good and close friends even, but they either are or aren't the right people to play game XYZ with, and if they're not then I'll find someone else who is.

    The result is that I pay a lot of attention to the individual players around me. I know their preferences, their play styles, where then can be counted on and perhaps more importantly, where they can be correctly abandoned and replaced with someone better. The patterns they make are simple binary ones: Are they suitable to play game XYZ or not?

    Much more simply it is (compared to your above text) an inversion of priorities. I select the game and then go find the people rather than the other way around. The result is that I select and tailor only to individuals and not the aggregative patterns.

  2. The inversion of priorities is key. I'll choose the gamers over the games any day. Of course, I'm lucky to know a great many gamers who I like who also like the same kinds of games I do, and within that large population, there's some "choose the game, find the people", but relatively little.

    Among people I game with a lot, I of course know their preferences. But given how many new players I like to play with, I like knowing a lot about the games and how other people may or may not like them, and when a game can be abandoned and replaced with a better game, rather than applying that to the people.

  3. I accomplish a similar end by building my own abstractions from what I know about players individually; bottom up (narrative, human-context, subjective experience, perceived drama, challenge, social context or posture etc). Thus my first question when confronting gamers new to me is, "What games do you like? Tell me a little about why you like them please." Their choice of language in relation to the games they select often reveals their preference structure and thus keys what games I'll recommend for them or will elect to play with them (I often end up in the position of recommending games to new players). However every one is a special case treated individually.

    Sometimes of course it just doesn't work. The right people aren't there and those present are not at battery so I'll tailor the game to the available people. This is fairly simple: my game-selection list for each of them individually, plus my own preference list, and pulling out the intersections. Occasionally this is absurdly hard as there isn't common ground. This is usually a sign of a player that I should generally avoid (too much impedeace). Sometimes, more promisingly, it is sign of a player to haunt and learn from. The base pattern of building up from individuals doesn't change however.