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    Aug102009

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    In an interesting piece in the NY Times about APBA, a board and dice baseball game is, if not going strong, at least holding its own against video and fantasy league versions of sports games. Like all great subcultures, it's got a devoted following; a recent tournament attracted 76 players. According to the article, "Video games have become increasingly sophisticated, and fantasy sports leagues have surged in popularity, but APBA, like its rival Strat-O-Matic, has stuck to the basic format that made it successful."

    APBA, which once stood for "American Professional Baseball Association," is about as old-school as it gets: dice, cards, and dice shakers. And what's most interesting is this geeky twist on who plays--- yes, folks who self-identify as "nerds" and "geeks," lovers of statistics "in statistics-related careers like accounting, teaching math, tax law and financial advising." Nerdy sports nuts --- and as we know, sports is celebrated in our culture. Conjuring magic spells, not so much.Of course, with APBA, no dungeons or dragons are required --- just the fantasy of imagining a winning team (or playing center field for one). An acceptable fantasy for most boys, men (and girls and women, too).

    The article points to an interesting turn, too. Brian Wells, the 16 year old kid who has won the tournament a couple times, has been "begrudgingly" accepted by the men. A kid's game is co-opted by adults who then let the kid back in as a member of their tribe.

    But also this point -- can an old-school board game (or for that matter, a miniature soldier wargame) capture the imagination of kids when most are used to the spoon-fed action and eye-candy of XBox and Playstation? It's an issue I discuss in Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, specifically whether a wargame like Chainmail can entrance a 12 year old boy, or whether he's start craving Warcraft after the first hour of snail's pace action.

    In the Times article, the kid says that his friends stay home with video games. “They don’t make fun of me,” Wells said. “But they don’t want to get into it. Because some of my friends just don’t have the attention span for all of this.”

     

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