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Getting buy-in from the self-professed non-gamer

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 7 minutes

Getting buy-in from the self-professed non-gamer

It may come as a surprise to many, but not everyone is a gamer! Yes, unfortunately, there are still some out there that haven’t (re-)discovered the joy of playing a game, or the benefits that come from using it for learning purposes, or destressing purposes.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to do a piece of how to get non-gamers to buy-in to a or your game concept. This isn’t so much about getting a non-pc-gamer to try your favorite game, but more how to get individuals who are reticent to the idea of gaming or playing for learning or business purposes to give that game a chance. Hence the title of getting buy-in, how do you present a concept of a game experience. The information and ideas can still be used to help you in general with non-gaming colleagues, friends, and families, but the latter isn’t the target in this piece necessarily.

With the more professional/academic world in mind, we’ll be exploring how you can create and/or choose situations and opportunities for bringing in the non-gamer. We’ll be focusing mostly on live-action gaming and play, such as table-top experiences and variations thereof. As well as role play experience like alternate reality games and live action simulations, like those used in higher and post-graduate education.

Being confident

As with any endeavor in life, be confident. Gaming and playful experiences are odd and strange activities, at least in how they differ from what people view as “normal” “every day” daily activities, like the traditional (perhaps outmoded) views or what work and learning should be. First; embrace that strangeness completely. You need to be convinced and confident that it’s the right choice. This shouldn’t be a difficult step, as I’m assuming you are already a gamer. (If you’re not, then go play some games and then come back to this).

When delivering a game-based experience you are the facilitator, or what I like to refer to as the Game Master, sounds more game-like and more impressive than simply a facilitator. As the Game Master, you need to be confident in your delivery and believe in your own strangeness. Deliver that strangeness as the norm, be passionate about it, but passionate within reason.

I say be passionate within reason because there can be extreme’s, don’t pull back so far within reason that the delivery becomes so mundane, believing that this will make it easier for the non-gamer to buy-in. In all likelihood, it will probably put them off because it looks and sounds too boring. Equally, do not go the other extreme of becoming the stereotype of the over-the-top-comic-book-nerd when delivering the experience of the game-based experience.

The obvious method for coming across as confident is simply to know the narrative, rules, and guidelines of the experience inside and out. Knowing everything, or at least knowing where to find it within a few seconds helps sell the experience and you as a professional. As I said it’s obvious, but you’d be surprised how many thinking that a single read-through of something is enough, and winging the rest will give an equal, if not better result. Trust me it won’t. Nothing breaks the immersion like a fumbling or angry facilitator/Game master. Just think back to any situation where you may be joined for a tabletop game and spent the first hour learning the rules because the host thought they won’t bother and you all will just wing it. An hour later, the majority of people have lost interest when you finally start muddle your way through the actual experience.

In other words: Be Prepared!


Straightforward and comprehensive

For first time players of a game-based experience, I cannot recommend enough to pick an easy, straightforward and simple narrative and game system to introduce them to the joy of gaming. Especially if it’s a one-time experience for them, as with certain learning & development workshops. It’s an absolute must, nothing is more daunting or alienating than being overwhelmed with a complex game system.

If you’re not sure about how to choose and what to avoid, then I suggest that you avoid any narrative and/or experience that has any difficult to understand or highly specific sector or industry jargon. Having to learn the specific terms for say mining equipment in a mining-crisis simulation experience will usually break the immersion for the first-time gamer. This is not to say to avoid those narrative and genre’s completely, but rather to avoid those aspects that aren’t familiar to the average person.

Naturally, there is an exception to this if your objective is to teach something specific, such as the use of those terms or concepts within either a corporate environment or school classroom environment. Or if its educational such as taking on the role of a historical figure, for augmenting a classroom teaching session. If those are the cases, then I do recommend that the material, and characters (if needed) be pre-created and that the information required by the players is limited to something that can fit onto an A6 or A7 page. Anything larger will again become intimidating, regardless of age or educational level.

With that, also pick the right narrative and genre for the group. Check with your players ahead of time and find out what their preferences. Just because you enjoy a good noir crime thriller narrative (i.e. gruesome murder mysteries), it does not mean that everyone enjoys them, unfortunately.

This is especially important when it comes to learning objectives, as within classrooms and business simulations. Since it is more effective to choose narratives and genre’s where the players can remain themselves and go into a recognized contemporary narrative world. This way they have an easier time of buying in and immersing into the experience.

Player comfort levels

As I mentioned above, it is always an extremely good idea to check-in with your players (if possible) ahead of time when preparing a game-based experience. Doing research and questioning your players will help you flag up any comfort issues that your players, such as the example of not enjoying crime thrillers. But also, it may bring the front anything else that may be difficult for them, narrative or otherwise, such accessibility issues that you need to be aware of.

This is important both academic and business environments, if you work within K-12 environments then knowing issues in advance is for the benefit of child safety. And if it is in business (schools), then you will be aware of any sensitive issues that the corporate environment may be dealing with or need to avoid due to a specific project or the like.

As a disclaimer, if there are any truly serious issues that arise when you do your preliminary research, ahead of delivering the experience, then you will need to asses their gravity. It may require you to rethink whether the chosen narrative, the experience or even the concept of the experience may need to change. You may even need to consider whether a game-based experience is even the right thing to deliver to this group?

The final thing I want to say about player comfort may be an obvious one, but it can sometimes be missed the excitement of the experience. But always make sure you incorporate restroom breaks, as well as food and drink break. And this is true for all ages and environments, this truth does not change with what you may believe is appropriate behavior for that age or station. The reality is that inside everyone there is an angry, hungry 2-year-old waiting to scream if they don’t get their scheduled break.


Player diversity

Now, this isn’t about getting player of different ethnic or gender diversity, not specifically. Naturally, it’s good to have that, as different cultures and genders round out an experience beyond what a narrative could ever hope to deliver.

What I mean specifically, in this case, is that when you do your preliminary research on your players, you determine what their levels of knowledge are, their interests and their abilities, if possible. With that information, it is best to spread the varying levels of aptitude among your players evenly in the groups that you create.

Creating an even spread is especially important with first-time players, and it is important that you as the Game Master split them into groups, so as to avoid all the skilled individuals clumping together. Doing this will organically increase the “fun” factor in the experience, as everyone will be able to work together augmenting each other’s strengths and complementing any weaknesses.


Some final thoughts are that you should always make sure your game is about your players. They are there to be challenged, learn and have an enjoyable experience, not just you.

Also avoid player-downtime as much as possible. Don’t mistake breaks as downtime, as breaks are downtime moments when everyone takes some time out. Player-downtime is a moment when certain players have nothing to engage with because other players are doing something. Always try to avoid exclusive activities when working with a group, so that certain players don’t become bored and disengage with the experience.

And finally, always, always end your experiences with a debrief and feedback session. This is key for anything that has a learning objective associated with it, but it is also important for you to find out what and how the experience can be improved upon, either for the same group or for any future players. As iterating and improvement are what makes it more likely to get even more non-gamers to buy-in the joy of gaming.


I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.



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