In defense of the sporadic gamer

The definition of a casual gamer, in my mind, is not a regular board gamer. He or she participates in a game night every so often with a group of like-minded friends. Games are usually light, highly social and interactive and likely fall in the party games category. In the cabinet of the casual gamer, you might find a copy of Monopoly or Scrabble supplemented by Cards for Humanity. You may also occasionally find a copy of Ticket to Ride, likely gifted from a close friend trying to hook the casual gamer into the hobby. The casual gamer is everywhere and likely represents the majority of the population.

So what about the gamer that games casually? Someone who truly loves mid-heavy weights but cannot spare the time or energy to play games. He or she may be passionate about board games, but due to constraints, physical or temporal, cannot game as regularly as they want. More than likely, these gamers have additional responsibilities in life, perhaps a young infant or an aging parent. Perhaps this is a gamer that is holding down two or three jobs and cannot afford to sit around a table with friends for half a day playing games. While they want to game 3 times a week, perhaps at most, they can afford is to game once a month. These gamers certainly fall into a different category from the casual gamer as defined above. Let’s call them the sporadic gamer

Why bring up this group of individuals? Well, recent interactions on the web have left me wondering about game design and the importance of first impressions when playing a game. For the sporadic gamer, does the initial impression of a game matter more? If you get to play one game a month, you would want to maximize that enjoyment and avoid playing games that make you feel frustrated or stick to known games that you enjoy? Clearly legacy games are out unless your gaming buddies are willing to hunker down and wait for you.

For me at least, I would want to play as many different games as possible, but that also means first impressions will count a whole lot more. I would not want to revisit games where the first experience is a stinker. In fact, the game would have to be perfect for me to revisit it. Any game that is relatively unbalanced or require “additional plays to appreciate the intricacies” may lose out. This is particularly problematic for games where I have to “warn” players ahead of time not to ignore certain elements of the game, or to instruct players to watch out for certain triggers in the game which will lead to a lopsided victory. I am not sure as a sporadic gamer, I have time to indulge in these these quirks.

I suppose there are so many games out there now that it’s an embarrassment of riches. We get to pick and choose what we want to play. Not everyone has the time or ability to game as often as they like, and so the gaming industry seem to be moving at a fast pace to make these generic games that are eye catching but ultimately, forgettable experience. How does a sporadic gamer decide? Do you go for the hype knowing that the masses can not possibly be wrong or do you go for a particular genre that you already love? Tough choices indeed.

What I do know is that there are plenty of sporadic gamers out there, perhaps amplified by the pandemic and economic situation. Not everyone is that lucky. Game designers are also under the gun to make games work after the first session or two. First impressions count.

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