Mass market games get a lot of hate in the board gaming community. (If you’re not familiar with the term “mass market game,” know that I’m referring to games like Monopoly, LIFE, Battleship, etc. that are found in Wal-Mart/Target, instead of designer or “hobby” games such as Carcassonne or Lords of Waterdeep.) Gamers love to point out that such games lack good design choices, they’re too simple, and they provide no agency or strategy. A side effect of all this “terribleness” is that gamers are often either pressured not to play these games at all, or if they do play, they must act ashamed to do so. If you’re a true gamer, you’re supposed to say, “Well, the family wanted to play Monopoly and I went along with it, but I was thinking about Through the Ages the whole time.” As if playing a mass market game is a hostage situation to be endured until your escape plan comes through. No fun can be had, and if you dare to crack even a smile, well, it’s fifty lashes with a wet noodle for you!
Well, I’m going to say it: I am unashamed to play mass market games. Sometimes, depending on the group I’m with, they may even be my (gasp) first choice. Seriously. I’m not making this up. I keep a few mass market games in my closet to pull out when the situation demands it, and I don’t even consider these games to be a “pile of shame.” They are simply games, housed with all the other games, and treated with the same dignity and respect as my beloved copies of Dungeon Petz and Railways of the World.
Why am I so unashamed to play mass market games? (Aside from the fact that I have no shame, generally. It’s very hard to embarrass me. Most of the time, I’m too busy doing stupid stuff for embarrassment to even register.) There are several reasons that I’ll explain below, but mostly it all comes down to this first one:
Playing gives me time with loved ones.
The older I get, the more I realize that life is all about time with loved ones. That realization became even more important when I fully processed that not only am I getting older, all of my loved ones are, as well. Time is ticking relentlessly, and life is unpredictable. At this point, I would much rather spend time with loved ones than not. So if all they want to play is Monopoly or LIFE, I’m going to sit down and play with them. And I’m not going to gripe about it, either.
I can choose to spend this time with them doing something that brings enjoyment, or I can moan about it, ruining the fun for everyone involved. Worse, I can refuse to join in at all and miss out on that shared time. Sure, they may not be playing my favorite game, but at the end that’s not what I’ll remember. Or even what’s important. What I’ll remember is that we were together around the table having fun and swapping trash talk. What’s important is that we spend the time together while we still have it. Regret is a thing and playing mass market games is often the path of least regret.
Moving on from there, here are four other reasons why I’m not ashamed to play mass market games.
Playing mass market fare doesn’t make me less of a gamer.
I know, I might as well hand over my gamer cred card right now for saying that playing mass market games doesn’t make me less of a gamer. “Of course it does,” some say. “If you play that garbage, you can’t possibly be a real gamer. *Insert derisive snort here.*” Here’s the thing, though. I can absolutely be a gamer and play mass market games. They are games, after all, and that’s what gamers play. Maybe I’d have to turn in my cred card if that was all I played (that’s a subject for another day), but enjoying the odd game of Yahtzee with friends and family does not take away from my enjoyment of hobby games. The two can coexist.
Would you call a Tour de France cyclist less of a biker if he went on a casual ride around the neighborhood with his parents? Of course not. And you wouldn’t call a prize-winning physicist less deserving of those accolades if she turned up at a school to conduct a basic science class in the hopes of increasing interest in STEM. It’s the same with gaming. Just because I dabble on “the other side” to accommodate various groups doesn’t make me any less of a gamer.
Mass market fare can serve as a gateway to the hobby.
We all know this is true. (Sometimes. People are weird and it doesn’t always work.) I view mass market games as a way to bring people over to hobby games. If someone is interested in playing anything at all, that’s half the battle. I mean, it’s almost impossible to get some people to even sit down for a hand of Uno. They’d rather do literally anything else than play a game. So if someone is excited to play Monopoly, my work is halfway done. All I have to do from there is innocently slip one of “my” games in there (starting with an easy one like Forbidden Island) and I can probably get them to play more often. They may never become immersed in the hobby the way I am, but their simple willingness to play a board game makes it possible to get them to try “better” games. I would never discourage someone who shows the interest and ability to sit down and play a board game, no matter what that game is.
Some mass market games are actually fun.
Oh, yeah. I just went there. How dare I speak such blasphemy! But I’ll say it again: Some mass market games are actually kind of fun. Of course, they tend to be more fun if people play by the correct rules and not some crackpot home brew rules that their brother’s girlfriend’s best friend’s sister learned from her uncle. I’ll admit to enjoying a good game of Monopoly, LIFE, Payday, Sorry, or Trivial Pursuit. Admittedly, my threshold for fun tends to be pretty low. As long as everyone is enjoying themselves, then I am too. It goes back to that whole, “spending time with other humans” thing. I can find fun in strange places as long as I’m with good people. Some mass market games are just silly, easy, nostalgic fun that take the edge off after a hard week. They’re comfortable in that most people already know the rules so there’s no stress in learning or playing. There’s nothing wrong with that, or with enjoying that time with others.
The shame is often in not playing.
I’m not ashamed to play mass market games because the alternative (not playing) often does make me feel ashamed. Why? Because I am not the arbiter of “good.” (And neither is any other gamer.) If someone wants to play a mass market game and I turn my nose up and walk away, that makes me feel like a snob, and I don’t like feeling that way. It’s not my place to say, “The things you like are crap. Only the things I like are any good.” People like what they like. Even within gaming circles some people think, for example, that Dominion is the best thing ever. Others think it’s terrible. There is no single standard of excellence that makes someone “right” and someone else “wrong.”
The only thing I can say is, “That game’s not really my taste.” Then I can choose to either play it with them and enjoy the time, not play with them at all, or play with them on the condition that we try one of my games next time. I’m never ashamed to take the first or third options. But taking the second option does make me feel ashamed. The person is asking to spend time with me and I’m going to throw it back in their face with a snobby attitude and snarky comments? Nope. Bring on the Yahtzee, please.
Of course I’d prefer that everyone love “my” games. But life doesn’t work that way. In the end it comes down to deciding which hill I want to die on. Do I want to insist that everyone play only my games or nothing, or am I willing to play whatever the group wants to play because I value the time with them more than the chosen game? For me it’s the latter and I don’t feel the least bit of shame for making that choice.
(Photo by Łukasz Niedzielski)