Boxed Culture: Doctrinaphobia – Fear of Instructions


Why yes,  I did make up that word using Latin, thank you for noticing! I would like  to start off today by sharing a discussion I had with a friend of mine about the game called Fief: France 1429:

Me: “Okay, so this game is about trying to become the most powerful kingdom in France. You do this by inciting war, developing an economy, marrying into power and using back stabbing and intrigue to see your opponents fall!

Friend: “Wow, that sounds awesome! Kinda like Game of Thrones, if it were set in France. I love historical stuff.

Me: “The rules are even so comprehensive that they have these cheat sheets included in the game that tell you how everything works, Which is cool because it allows the game to be super thematic.”

Friend: “Whoa that is a lot of rules! I  would totally play this game though… If I didn’t have to learn the rules.

Now to be fair I never actually thought they would play, but this attitude toward rules is something I have seen a lot in our culture. The guys from the Secret Cabal podcast make fun of one of the members, Tony Topper, a lot for saying this. Why do people have this hesitance to learn rules? How do we make games less intimidating as a community? And most importantly, will I ever get to play Fief: France 1429?

I mean, come on, it only takes up the same space as a full Thanksgiving dinner, it isn't that bad!

I mean, come on, it only takes up the same space as a full Thanksgiving dinner, it isn’t that bad!

The friend mentioned in the anecdote went on to explain himself by saying that he prefers video games where they do not have to learn rules and they can just learn as they go. I can see why this is an attractive way to learn. It is a way where failure isn’t such a big deal when you don’t understand the rules.

For one, you can just reload a save point if you mess up. Turns out you could not take that boss, no worries just reload! The time invested in learning from a mistake is little to none; live, die, repeat if you will. In a board game, if you mess up a ruling you really cannot redeem yourself till you play the game a second time and sometimes the mess up is enough to not want to play again. Most of the time we say the learning games are ones with “asterisks”, meaning that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses in this game because everyone is learning. but the sense of wasting your time is still there.

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Don’t worry, one more quarter and no one will know that you died on level 1.

A second thing I noticed is that in a video game, one can play by themselves and learn without the fear of perceived judgement. Board games take a group of people to play and best (or worst) of all they are there watching your every move, judging your every misstep and making you feel like you have no idea what you are doing when they try to help you. Of course I don’t agree that people are doing that, but to a new player it can feel that way. The pressure of mistakes and misplays can be daunting.

This lady obviously forgot to play her Victory Point cards right in Catan.

This lady obviously forgot to play her Victory Point cards right in Catan.

So how do we deal with rule intimidation within our community? Some people put sheets together to help new players keep track of a complex game’s rules and phases. These are really helpful and can be found for any game’s BGG entry page under the “Files” heading. Also while you are at the games BGG site, another helpful resource are walk-through videos, usually found in the “Videos” heading. People like me who love to learn games (read weirdos) frequently use these resources to learn a game. However, even if we know how to play a game, explaining it can still be difficult.

If you are going to text during rules, then don't get butt hurt when everyone else beats you silly.

If you are going to text during rules, then don’t get butt hurt when everyone else beats you silly.

I personally find explaining games to be fun, but not to people who are not willing to learn. I have group of people I typically learn to play games with before I demo them at my FLGS or just bringing them to places in general. This is a really helpful way to learn what people get caught up on and how to walk them through a tough game concept. As someone who teaches games to people, I have also noticed that you build a reputation with people. If you have taught games, people feel comfortable learning games from you again. This can lead to people being more comfortable with you teaching them more complex games. But, what happens when new people come into the group? To me that is the purpose of having gateway games in your collection. These can be used to establish a teaching reputation with newer players. The reputation is two-fold.  It allows people to feel comfortable with you teaching them and it also allows people the comfort to make mistakes and understand that the group will be less harsh.

I get sad when someone is intimidated by a game, and while I may not be able to do much about it, I can try to make the more complex games seem less daunting by helping people through them. Let me know if you have any tactics for helping with intimidating rules or Doctrinaphoba! I’ll see ya next time!

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