Was International TableTop Day Really Worthwhile?

International TableTop Day © Geek & Sundry
International TableTop Day © Geek & Sundry

A week ago today was the first International Tabletop Day (ITTD), organised by Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and the lovely folks over at the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Over 2,000 events were held across 50 countries and six continents making the day an incredible success for all involved. But was it really?

The slogan for ITTD was “play more games” and the organisers asked fans of TableTop – Wil Wheaton’s super successful gaming show to “go to their friendly local game store, community center, or host an event at home” and do just that. The aim of the day was rather vague but according to the event’s press release it hoped to “encourage people from around the globe to participate in the joys of board gaming” and the team behind it hoped “that the day will grow the gaming community by encouraging fans to come together and play more games.” This is where I see problems.

Firstly, ITTD in its 2013 form was always going to struggle to introduce many new fans to Tabletop gaming. The day was promoted mostly through Geek & Sundry itself and via Twitter. Now whilst Twitter has clearly moved into the realm of popular media and is accessed by millions, the users who were tweeting about ITTD leading up to the event are the sort of users followed mostly by the “hardcore” geek crowd. The same exact people who might already watch Tabletop and, even if they don’t, are almost certainly aware of the kinds of games the event was promoting – Dungeons and Dragons, Munchkin and Ticket to Ride are touchstones of geek culture these days. The organisers seemed to be preaching to the converted, and the number of events that ran is testament to this, and also leads in to the second major issue with ITTD.

Some of the Games at My House © Sophie Brown
Some of the Games in My Collection © Sophie Brown

I looked through the events taking place close to me and the majority were located at gaming and comic book stores or were regularly scheduled gaming events re-branded for the day. The chances of non-gaming members of the public happening upon one of these events were very slim. I went along to Shire Games in Stoke-on-Trent at the end of the day and asked how their ITTD had gone. It turned out that plenty of people had come along and played games, but, as the owner pointed out, that’s just a normal Saturday for them. Perhaps a few more of the regulars than usual had dropped by to see what was going on, but it was just that, the usual group of social game players coming along for a day of gaming that they might have been going along to anyway without the added branding.

If we want to bring new people into the tabletop gaming culture don’t we need to be going to them rather than waiting in our shops for them to walk through the door? Comic book and gaming stores can appear as highly intimidating places for people who have never been inside one, filled with small cliques of regulars who already know one another, as ludicrous as that might sound to us who frequent them. For ITTD to reach out to new gamers we needed to see ITTD events happening in libraries, youth clubs and mainstream stores that sell these games such as Target and Waterstones. Although the original press release called for events to happen in these public areas that turned out not to be the reality as much as we could have hoped, perhaps that’s something that should be looked at if the event is repeated next year.

As well as introducing new players to tabletop games, ITTD also wanted to grow the existing community “by encouraging fans to come together and play more games”. Thing is, existing fans who want to play games together are probably doing so already, that’s why so many gaming nights exist and why pretty much every university campus in the western world has a gaming group, even the tiny and recently established university in my home city has one.

Of course, not everyone who wants to go along and play games with a group has done so, we geeks are notoriously shy creatures after all, but will branding an event as an “International TableTop Day” event instead of a regular gaming meetup really change that and encourage those people to finally walk through the door? Maybe it did, you tell me, but social anxiety doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that can be swept away simply by stating that this isn’t any normal games session, it’s International TableTop Day! My fellow GeekMom Sarah wrote about her three year old son’s wonderful experience on ITTD and I don’t want to take anything away from his experience, but growing up the son of two regular game players I’d place a hefty wager that he would still have been gaming soon even without ITTD.

The event seemed to simply serve as a catalyst for some people, a “let’s go to the games store today” excuse to stop them putting it off for another week. That in and of itself is a great thing but shouldn’t there be more to it?

Before I wrap this up, let’s get one thing absolutely straight, I love TableTop.

My husband and I watch the shows together and really enjoy them, and my Late to The Game series here on GeekMom is a direct response to the show as prior to its beginning the geekiest game I had ever played was my Haunted Mansion edition of the Game of Life. I’m now lucky enough to have a cupboard literally overflowing with brilliant games I might never have heard of otherwise; Catan, Small World, Ticket to Ride and Munchkin are all there, and we’ve had countless nights introducing friends and family to these new games as well.

In fact, my in-laws enjoyed Zombie Dice so much we bought my father-in-law his own copy for his birthday which they subsequently took on vacation, earning them many curious stares from other patrons in their Spanish hotel as they played by the pool. But all this happened organically over nights spent at each other’s homes, pulling out a game and saying “look what we’ve brought along!” We didn’t need a special event to make it happen and the countless stories I’ve read on the As Seen on TableTop Tumblr tell similar tales. It’s not TableTop itself I’m questioning, it’s whether we need an international event to tell us “today is the day to play games and bond”, shouldn’t we just be going out and doing that any day we choose?