Saturday, 8 October 2011

How to Breach the Gap: Introducing New People to Our Hobbies...


The task of bringing new people into a hobby is a daunting one, I’ll grant you, but it need not be as difficult as it seems. Over the years I have gotten many people interested in all of my various hobbies and I believe there are a few simple steps involved in converting someone to your niche.

Now, I want it to be plainly said up front, that this is going to be massively cross-genre. This blog is about roleplaying games, Magic: the Gathering, Warhammer, Conlanging and Games Design all at once, so I am going to be talking about how to generally bring people into a hobby. Sure, I’ll use specific examples along the way, but there is nothing stopping anyone from using those same techniques on another of the hobbies I just mentioned, or, frankly, anything else.

Further, I would like to say that this can sometimes be a long winded approach, but I guarantee you will make a nerd out of your target yet!

Step One: Attraction
First of all, you need to introduce your target to the hobby you wish to convert them to. And by ‘introduce’, I mean, ‘give them a tiny taste’. You want your target to see you enjoying this hobby. You don’t even essentially want to talk to them about it at this stage (for fear you will say too much and intimidate them). You just want them to see a glimpse of the fun that you have, which will hopefully make them think “Hey, that looks like fun”.

Then repeat. Then repeat. Do this enough times that the target asks you about the hobby. But make sure they see you doing other things as well... Nothing is more off putting to a new comer than a hobby that envelopes your life!

Step Two: Comparison
Now that you have them drawn in, you want to anchor the hobby onto something they already like. Hopefully your target will already be a nerd in some way. Do they like the Lord of the Rings? Well, Tolkein was a Conlanger! Do they like painting? Well, you get to paint cool models in Warhammer! Do they like poker? Well, MtG is like poker, but with a few extra rules to hype up the strategy!

As you can see, you don’t have to tell them the whole truth at this point. That is for later. Once they have a mental image of what the hobby will most likely be like, go to step three.

Step Three: Don’t Take it Seriously!
Again, nothing is more off putting that a hobby that takes over, and nothing is greater evidence of a take-over than a lack of humour. Be humorous about your hobby (but for the love of God, not about those who play the hobby!) and teach them in a fun and memorable way. For instance, draw a diagram of a MtG card with a silly picture on it (this is actually what I did with my girlfriend... Now she is sending waves of Blue/White Flying creatures at my Kamigawa Orochi swarms!!!). Make a few jokes about the Emperor (but make sure they won’t go over your target’s head! This is certainly not the time for jokes about the Credo Omnissiah, nor references to the Adeptus Custodes changing the Emperor’s nappy!)

You want the hobby to seem fun from the get go. You want to show your target how much fun they can have whilst not even participating in the hobby itself. Hopefully, they will start thinking “If talking about it is this much fun, how much fun will it be to participate?!”

Step Four: Confrontation
Here one must tread lightly. You are now ready to show the target the hobby. But you have to be careful. Go in to strong, and you might have sealed the casket for good. Go in to weak and they won’t see the point of going further...

This calls for some specifics:
Roleplaying Games: You want to run a small game for your target. Preferably a one-on-one, or if you are trying to bring a few people in at once, then only play with the new folk. No one more experienced should be in on this trial game! Do not use pre-generated characters for this, but walk someone through character generation. You as the GM should handle all of the maths, etc, but ask them “What do you want to do?” and then make the character that fits.
Magic: the Gathering: You should make new decks. Plain and simple. Sit down with your target and show them some cards you think are cool, and explain the basics of those cards. Tell them the basics of deck creation, and then let them assemble what they consider to be a strong deck. Try and make yours equally matched. You don’t necessarily want them to win, but you don’t want to steam-roll them. After deck creation is done, play a game and answer questions. Go easy on them, but again, don’t be afraid to beat them. They will know if you’re throwing in the towel, and they will not respect you nor the game for it.
Warhammer: You should show them a White Dwarf, or show them the Games Workshop website. Anything with perfectly painted miniatures in it to make them want to try. Then you should help them choose their first models and teach them to paint the basics. Be careful here, however. Their first paint job will likely be terrible, but do not sweat it. Let them have fun with their creative sides and they will love the hobby for it. Then, once they have a few guys painted, proxy the rest of their army and have a small game. As with the MtG advice, don’t go easy on them, but don’t crush them.
Conlanging: A very tough one. Show them a little of your language, and teach them a basic phrase, like “Hello” of some such. Then, introduce them to the concept of phonology slowly. Show them the silly stuff, like phonemes that are way outside their native language (non-plumonics are GREAT for this sort of stuff). Teach them about far out concepts in languages. If they are from a nom-acc language, then teach them erg-abs. If they have no case markings, then teach them about cases. Basically, show them what CAN be done in a language. Soon enough, they’ll be making their very own cipher of their native tongue with all the bits and pieces you’ve just told them about. This is good. They need to go through a few kitchen sinks to get to the gold. Be patient.
Games Design: Jump on a topic they LOVE to talk about and consider the possibilities of making a game about it. They love talking about climate change? Hell, talk about a climate change information game where you have to manage your resources or doom the planet and lose! (Don’t laugh, I had a very long conversation about this very game concept on a recent road trip...) Then ask them how they would do X in the game, and what about variable Y. Soon enough, you’ll have them throwing ideas around and ramping to write this stuff down. You’re almost there, my friend.

Step Five: Throw them in the Deep End!
They have the basics, now they are ready to swim with the pros. Go slowly, but steadily. Introduce them to communities of like-minded hobbyists. Pick your community correctly, however. Sure /tg/ might be great once you are a pro, but for a new comer it will seem like Mos Eisley! Nice, easy going communities are the best at this stage.

Have a few games, or discussions with other people. Make sure your new comer talks to others, but also be present to give them a safety net. If things get out of hand, diffuse the situation with a few jokes (but never at the new comers expense... At your own expense is probably the best way to go). Come up with a few stories of how terrible you were when you started. Even if the stories are exaggerated, make sure you were worse than the new comer. Subtly point out how far they’ve come.

Once they are confident enough to do things themselves, let them run wild. Stay reasonably close by. Don’t leave the store. Stay online on the IM if they need to talk. Go to the kitchen whilst they talk to your other friends. Let them explore their new world for themselves...

Congradulations, you are now the father/mother of a new nerd... Doesn’t it just feel FANTASTIC!? And trust me on this one; nothing feels as great as when RPG players you introduced to the hobby begin GMing for you. They grow up so fast! *cries*

Do you have any success stories with introducing people to your hobby? Any advice I have forgotten? Anything you would advise someone NOT to do? Leave your comments below! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe on the right side of the page.