One question that has come up with my recent post on rudeness hurting the hobby is what the benefit of role playing games being viewed as an adult hobby would be. In fact, at least one poster argued it would be a bad thing sending us to the least common denominator even in behavior, which I find hard to even consider. The most interesting fire it sparked, however, was over at D&D with Pornstars claiming the hobby is about the right size, specifically the DIY part. Zak even argues more people means more assholes. While that is a truism in the same sense that more people means more eyeballs I don’t think it would increase the ratio in general.
These are all valid points so I think it’s time to take a step back and explain some of the logic behind my “grow the hobby” posts. I’m also inspired to do that by something I found in my old game collection when I went home for the holidays. I was looking through one of my favorite issues of Strategy & Tactics. The issue is 49 from 1975. The issue game is Frederick the Great which is easily one of my top five hex and chit war games and top twenty-five games periods which is why it is one of my favorite issues.
For those not familiar with Strategy & Tactics it is a military history magazine that comes with a complete wargame in each issue (or did, you could get it sans game and it is sold that way at bookstores today). In the 1970s it included a post-paid bubble card. The last two pages of each issue had a variety of questions ranging from basic demographics to opinions on existing games to game proposals to be rated. Readers sent it in and the numbers were crunched. It was probably the only genuine long term market research in the history of the broad gaming hobby. Even if not unique I would bet real money no one has been more through. Each issue reported on prior issues feedback answers with most space being devoted to how the game proposals rated and which would be put into the production cycle.
In issue 49 there was a discussion of the demographics of the hobby. I doubt anyone today from the newest gamer to the oldest grognard would be surprised by most of it. Hex and chit wargaming at the time was overwhelmingly male and young adult to early middle aged. The gamers were mostly college educated and more urban and suburban than rural. It goes on to discuss some regional breakdowns and other issues but most striking were two numbers. They feedback lead to a conclusion that there were about 400-500 people per 1,000,000 who played SPI games with about another 200-300 who played hex and chit games but not SPI products. If we add those numbers together we 6-8 hex and chit wargamers per 10,000 of population. While hex and chit wargaming still had some growth left before it peaked in the late 70s I think this number is close to the sustainable number of hex and chit gamers. I also think it is a good first estimate of the sustainable number of role playing gamers for a variety of reasons not the least of which is how many role playing gamers in the late 70s boom came from this population. In fact, D&DD would show up in the feedback list of games to rate regularly in the late 70s and SPI would produce two rpgs in the early 80s, Dragonquest and Universe.
So, when I talk about growing the hobby I’m talking about having between 200,000 and 300,000 people in the hobby of whom about 125,000 constitute a stable core of series roleplayers. More importantly, I’m talking about that stable core being composed of a group with somewhat similar demographics to the hex and chit wargamers of the 70s. While I wouldn’t want to see us going back to being as male as we were in the day I wouldn’t mind seeing us reading as much as that group. As I have said before I believe role playing is a literary hobby and that the hobby is healthier when its primary inspiration is written as opposed to visual.
The ironic thing is we had that in our grasp thirty years ago. As I argued in the rudeness post a huge reason we lost it was the marketing of rpgs to teens and tweens exclusively. A second was TSR’s mishandling of their takeover of SPI. There were others but the only one that matters today is rudeness and kid image of the game. Thanks to the internet the core of role playing, a creative gaming hobby, has a second chance to be what it could have been. That to me is the real magic of the OSR. It can be the seed of a redo that brings those members of that eighth of a million people who are currently writing novels during NaNoWriMo or painting dragons or cross referencing the Dark Tower series who think D&D is for kids back home. When I recruit for a new game these are the people I want to attract and play with for what I think are obvious reasons. If the price of bringing them to us is telling the children of all ages to grow up and behave I think it is a trade worth making.