Chapter 13: Horrible People

More than once in this book, I have danced around an issue that vexes many enthusiasts like me: if our beloved immersive, challenging games (like Dead of Winter for example) are so great, why are so many people so viscerally repulsed by the idea of even trying them? I am not exaggerating the revulsion. It is real and I see it all the time. Faces and body language speak louder than words. Actions speak louder still, and when I see people rejecting the kinds of games I love best in favor of a game famous for jokes about ethnic cleansing and date rape, I cannot help wanting to understand why…On rare occasions, when my interaction with a group of players at the café feels especially warm and well-established, I ask them somewhat directly. The most common reason they give is "we don't want to have to think," or "we just don't want anything that's like strategy." People say this even when they have asked for a copy of Connect Four, a game that consists entirely of strategy and nothing else where the player who thinks harder almost always wins-so I find those answers suspect.

I believe it is not that they do not want to think but that they do not want to be seen to fail.

That is only my guess, of course, but I believe this is true of most people who enjoy Cards Against Humanity while eschewing more demanding games: they do not believe that the magic circle, that barrier between the play space and the real world, will protect them when they make a mistake, and all too often they are right…It is easy for me to tell people that it will be okay if they make dumb moves, that it will be fun to learn by trial and error. After all, none of the dumb moves I have ever made in a game have been taken as representative of the capabilities of my entire ethnic group. Someone with a different life experience might have something else to say about that. People are taught different things about the consequences of failure.
You might have seen that TED Talk on YouTube where Reshma Saujani speaks of an experiment conducted in the 1980s in which young boys and girls were tested with mathematical problems well above their grade level. The kids in this experiment were gifted students, the best in their classes. The boys found these problems challenging and invigorating, so they dug in. They did not necessarily succeed, but they tried. The girls, on the other hand, were more likely to give up, and the higher their grades were, the more likely they were to give up. Saujani also speaks of a study of job applicants. Men will apply for a job if they meet about 60 percent of the qualifications; women will not apply unless they meet almost 100 percent.
If you take a moment to think about it, the reasons behind their reluctance become clear. When boys try something and screw it up, they are often praised for their bravery and encouraged to try again. Girls? They are often criticized and made to feel like they are intruding where they do not belong. Under conditions like that, who wants to stick their neck out into a world of little wooden cubes and victory points representing the intellectual equivalent of a bloodsport?
[Kris: This idea has been echoed by one of my educational heros — founder of Berkeley Chess School, Elizabeth Shaughnessy]. If you have been trained to expect to be given a hard time for trying something you are not guaranteed to succeed at, it only makes sense to shy away from such challenges.]