Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Rise Of The Gaming Family Or '2.5 Subordinate Commanders'

I'm something of a gaming culture vulture. I'm not only interested in the games themselves, but also the people, trends and history of this fine hobby.

Anyone who takes in the various shows, will now see not only couples but in many cases large family groupings at shows. This was not always the case however...

If one, looks at photographs (remember those?) from the 1970s there will be a noticeable swathe of middle aged men and young boys (no, not like that) with just the odd female in the shot, usually looking either over-enthusiastic or in the majority of cases attentively bored.

Back then, culturally, it was more often than not the preserve of the male to go out and protect hearth and home from rampaging 25mm invading hordes, and for the 'little woman' to prepare food and raise those children who were either too young to wield dice or whom wore dresses (don't go there eh?).

Another reason for the lack of female companions in those early years, may be due to the horrendous home-knits and hair styles, which, coupled with somewhat conservative attitudes seriously reduced the chances of making any headway with the opposite sex, unless you could could snaffle a handful of tranquiliser-laced choccy drops to their guide dog.

But as if out of nowhere a new younger breed of male emerged from those nicotine yellow skied days; a generation for whom bright colours and peacock strutting held no fear, and whose musical tastes be they the Punk of the late 70s through to the poodle-permed rock of the late 80s, (via the odd unwise foray into the world of the New Romantics) made these young dice wielding bravoes appear far more appealing to those girls of an artsy bent or who themselves were the siblings of older gamers, to whom these teen Napoleons looked up to for guidance.

I clearly recall in the early 80s how one manufacturer of rather nice 25mm Napoleonics for the connoisseur improved sales at shows by having a rather attractive lady behind the stall with him, and not only that, but a lady with the requisite knowledge of the products on offer. Forget Saatchi and Saatchi, this guy really new how to sell the dream. All weekend, young gamers found a sudden interest in the Prussian Army of 1809!

And so the floodgates opened and the almost Masonic secrecy of the hobby was made a thing of the past.

Increasingly, women were seen at shows, taking sweaty pound notes from glassy eyed, drooling males. Those who were teenagers in this 'Golden Age' of gaming, bucked tradition and took girlfriend after girlfriend 'down the club' (infinitely better than getting them 'in the club' I suppose). It's not that they were in any way denimed Don Juans, nor Coke swilling Casanovas; more that the girls usually came to their senses, or (as I personally witnessed) were made to feel unwelcome by those not lucky enough to have delved into Aphrodite's dice bag. Many a gaming group was split because of these dalliances with those teenage daughters of Eve.

But, in time this all settled down and the hobby thrived as women became more and more involved, bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air (literally in some cases) to clubs and shows. The aspiring young gamer needed not only the latest game under his left arm, but an attractive lady companion in his right.

By the 90s we saw the full integration of women into the hobby, with only a few curmudgeons (a few of which exist even today) showing a resistance to change that would make a Norwegian batchelor farmer's heart swell with price.

The first offspring of the happy unions which prevailed through the upheavals of the 80s became a commonplace sight at shows, and thus we reach the present day.

Now, a few things will be noticed by the attentive observer.

Firstly, in many cases, the children of gamers in many (not all cases) appear to have been dressed courtesy of various charity shops or wear clothes which are ill-fitting. Now, whilst this is all most agreeable, because they will get the same kid of character building experience of school that their Fathers got before say the age of 15, it proves that the cost of figures has increased to such a level that a choice has to be made between the latest release from Games Workshop or other boutique manufacturers and said children being clothed in way that will not see them openly taunted by Amish kids in the streets. It is a sign of the changing face of the hobby, that whereas, my generation grew up with non-gaming parents and had to save lunch money to buy toys; our own children are swamped with toy soldiers and now save their lunch money to buy fashionable clothes.

Secondly, whilst you will often see a gamer browsing with his wife and family in tow, when it comes to making a large purchase, said family will not be in evidence, having been herded off to the bar or cafe whilst 'I just go and get those dice I said I needed, and forgot'. At times like these the ubiquitous shoulder bag or rucksack will be seen to weigh its wearer down as the day progresses.  The two day even is the friend of the gamer with family responsibilities, because in most cases the family will tolerate one day of exposure to yet another 28mm Napoleonic craze, leaving the man of the house free to return and indulge in some earnest retail therapy the following day.

And finally, you will notice that these gaming families are often huge. I would like to believe that this is because of a genetic imperative which makes gamers try to field an entire team for the World Team Championships, or to be able to re-fight Borodino without leaving home. But alas, this is not the case.

You see, contraceptives cost money and the average 30 minutes of dice-free pleasure eats into the gaming budget, and so the procreative saving throw is made with the inevitable result that every so often it fails.

And finally, you must remember that gamers. like the collectors of action figures and comics suffer from that one overriding problem...

They hate to take something they bought, out of its packet!