Stories and Hobby Games

The second largest hobby game company in the world, hands-down, is Games Workshop (the largest is Wizards of the Coast, which is backed by Hasbro). While GW has their problems, that's not what this post is about. It is about what makes their games so appealing to so many people. Simply put, Games Workshop creates an environment where the gaming enthusiasts can flex their creative muscles. They aren't the only hobby game company that does this, merely one of the most successful.

That's the biggest appeal of modern hobby games. The players become invested in the game by inventing their own stories to go along with the gaming aspect. In the case of miniature games, additional personal investment comes in the form of modeling and painting the miniatures. Little details are added to the models because, let's face it, painting the same thing over and over and over is very boring. So personal touches creep into the modeling aspect, making certain models stand out from everybody else. On the extreme end, each model is personalized, forming a group of individuals much like you might see in Dungeons and Dragons.

Even when the only kind of hobby game was historical miniature games, back in the 70's, players would become personally invested through researching units and orders of battle and other obsessive little details, then building miniature armies around that research. The personal story aspect came into being when these gamers would play out scenarios based on real-world battles... and then deviating from it and seeing what happens.

There are very few big-name generic hobby game systems in existence. The only two that come to mind that people may have heard of is GURPS (Steve Jackson Games) and the Hero System (Hero Games). Even Moon Design's generic HeroQuest system is really just the backbone for their Glorantha setting. I suspect the lack of successful generic gaming systems is because gamers are more attracted by a really interesting background setting than the game system itself. It is the stories and myths within the game that sell, not the game itself. It explains why R. Talsorian Games continues to make Cyberpunk products but allows the other brands in its catalog to languish: Cyberpunk has a very strong background setting, whereas Mekton and Teenagers from Outer Space don't.

So the reality is that hobby games are, consciously or not, designed to be launch pads for creativity. What other force would drive a person to collect, model, and paint a miniature army of dozens and dozens of little toy soldiers? For that matter, nobody sane would pick up a D&D rulebook and read it for the sheer fun of it unless planning to use it as a framework for a story.
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