Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
Today I wanted to talk a little bit about something called Gatekeeping. This is something that happens everywhere, whether it be at work, in your community, or even among friends, it can happen. To make sure we are all on the same page and are discussing the same meaning of the word I pulled the definition from two places. One a random dictionary and the other from the online Urban Dictionary.
Random Dictionary – The activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.
Urban Dictionary – When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.
Having defined the term gatekeeping we can now move on to the discussion about it. Looking at the word and the definitions presented, gatekeeping basically amounts to acting as a guard or “limiting access” to the table top gaming community. The first gatekeeper that comes to mind is one that I dealt with as a kid growing up into adulthood. That would be the negative social stigma that was associated with table top gaming. If you played RPGs, miniature games, and board games as a teenager or older you were considered outside of the societal norms and in many social circles looked down on. Some of you may be saying that this isn’t really gatekeeping and you might be right but I think it is just from society at large as opposed to one specific person. Luckily, these days, much of this has gone away and while it still exists in some communities, “gaming” in general no longer automatically labels you a social outcast.
Moving on with a more prevalent form of gatekeeping is the thought that you have to like or enjoy a certain type or set of game in order to be a true board gamer. Yep, I am going to bring up the tried and true Monopoly and Risk games. I will be honest here, I have on the occasion fallen victim to telling people that Monopoly wasn’t a real board game. I’ve also have had people tell me that Risk isn’t a real board game or doesn’t count. While most of the time I don’t have a desire to play Risk or get it out, I do on occasion play it and I still enjoy it. Some of that is a nostalgia factor and some of that is just that I like to throw some dice on the table and see what happens. I enjoy that on occasion and some do not and that is understandable but we shouldn’t dismiss another person’s enjoyment of a game. I know people who love to play Monopoly, have played it for years, and will continue to play it for years. It has sold who knows how many copies. It is a board game. It is a board game that many people play and enjoy. It will continue to be so. Who am I to say that their enjoyment and identification as a gamer is invalid if they only choose to play that single game? Is this any different than only playing Catan or Ticket to Ride? Only playing games by a specific designer, or game mechanic exclusively? I don’t think so. No one should have to like or dislike a particular game or genre of game to be considered a gamer. I would also say that we should be welcoming and receptive to people who we share common interests with. We may not agree on everything, or even most things, but I have good friends with who I disagree with on many things but we definitely still get along and enjoy each other’s company. Table top gaming shouldn’t be exclusive but welcoming.
The last thing I wanted to mention was the sometimes rivalry between table top gaming genres, and by this I mean the rivalry between miniature players, RPGers, and board gamers. Personally I enjoy a good old fashioned rivalry as long as it maintains a good natured vibe and all parties involved are enjoying it. I have had many discussions and have spent some time at FLGS where there are groups who are all enjoying the space but there are friendly jabs and comments back and forth. You can see that everyone is having a good time and no comment is made seriously or with malicious intent. I have also been in a couple situations where that has not been the case and it is an extremely unpleasant position to be in a store where there is palpable discontent and mean spiritedness in the air. What else can I say here except – don’t be mean and be nice to each other.
The same goes for when someone new walks into a game store. Whenever I walk into a new game store you can tell the difference when people are friendly and the staff are friendly. I hate walking into a new game store and being stared at and watched. Gatekeeping includes standing by and doing nothing when someone new walks in. You are creating a barrier by putting all of the onus or responsibility of getting information in their court. I have been going into game stores for a couple of decades now and I still hate walking into a new game store and being stared at by staff and/or customers who just stare at you. It is unpleasant. We should as fellow gamers be friendly, say hi, and if someone news walks in, it’s because they are looking for games, a place to play games, new friends to play games with, or they may have just wanted to see what was in the store. In all of these cases a new friend and devotee to the hobby can be made.
Sam “King of the Hilltop”
My brother covered the issues with gatekeeping very well. I just want to re-iterate that in a hobby and industry that is about bringing joy, excitement, challenges, and socialization, we need to make sure our actions follow suit. We need to invite people to the table. We need to remember that not everyone gets into the hobby the same way. Some people are going to do it, no matter the consequences or fears that they may have. They love board games and there is no stopping them. However, there are many out there who joined or will join because someone takes the time to invite them. They wouldn’t have started playing but a friend or a stranger invited them in and they found a sanctuary and safe haven. These are the treasured moments we should be trying to help other people find. Other people to join in on the fun.
One of the true joys I feel as a game designer is when my game design helps create joy and memories for people. That is when I feel the absolute best about my designs. That is when I know I have done my job well.
I started in the hobby because my older brothers played a lot of games and those were some great times. It was one of the ways we could find common ground and connection.
How did you start in the hobby? What experience brought you here?
3 thoughts on “Gatekeeping and Table Top Gaming”
I feel like you have misunderstood the cultural context for the arguments gamers make against Monopoly.
Gamers are a subculture, and Monopoly is part of the main culture. The hatred for Monopoly comes from gamers defending their subculture against the majority culture that disapproves of and devalues us.
This is very different from devaluing Magic, Chess, Catan, D&D or Warhammer players- which is what most people are doing when they’re bringing up Monopoly (in a mostly ignorant micro-aggression kind of way).
That said, I’ve never heard “Monopoly isn’t even a game.” I’ve heard “Playing Monopoly is a miserable experience- and that was the point of the original design.”
Well, I am glad that you have never heard that. I have. It was kind of sad because I know people who enjoy monopoly and also enjoy lighter Euro style games.
Im just not sure or convinced we have to defend gaming subculture. In a way it is living and breathing. It grows, it shrinks, and it changes. I think there are many instances were main stream culture shouldn’t do or reject the things it does and that should be called out but culture by its nature changes and evolves. This is a good thing and allows more people to experience something they could potentially love.
FWIW — I’ve been enjoying RPGs and wargames since the 1970’s; basically, since I first encountered each of them.
I’ve been enjoying “mainstream” boardgames (such as Monopoly) for even longer. I still own & regularly play the whole gamut, and add new games as I find ones I enjoy.
I’ve seen (and been variously amused, annoyed, or dismayed by) all the bad behaviors mentioned above.