I spent part of yesterday trying to watch an NFL game. Apparently once a year they hold an NFL game in London; I thought this had been a one-off a few years back, because I remember it being hyped in, I think, 2010ish, but it seems it's an annual event. Despite the Sky and Channel 4 trying to make a huge thing of stealth popularity of American football over here across the pond, I rather suspect Wembley was full of 80,000 American tourists and expats living in London rather than genuine local English fans, although I could be wrong.
In any case, out of curiosity, I watched.
Now, I'm really into sport. I love football, cricket, rugby, tennis, boxing, you name it. Generally speaking I can get into anything if it's on TV. It doesn't matter the sport or the teams. US sports have tended to pass me by, although I watched a lot of baseball in Japan. (Mainly for the atmosphere - I genuinely think baseball as a sport is actually objectively boring.)
Nonetheless, I found it really difficult to understand the point of American Football. It seemed way too stop-start and I couldn't work out why the action was stopping; every so often one of the multitude of referees would pause to explain why what was happening was happening over the PA, but he would do so in gibberish - the words seemed to be English, but arranged in a random order. Players would simply come and go on and off the pitch, apparently when they fancied a break. Each team seemed obliged to field a couple of big fat guys with beer-bellies, maybe as an anti-discrimination measure, or something. And just when things seemed to be getting interesting there would be a tea break and the action would cut to the studio where Colin Murray was being as annoying as he used to be on MOTD2 except with two Americans on the couch rather than Alan Shearer and Pat Nevin.
Anyway, I am of course prepared to accept that American football is a great sport. Enough people in the USA seem to love it and that many people can't be wrong. But without somebody there to explain what is going on, it's basically impenetrable to an outsider like me. I gave up after about 10 minutes.
The same must be true of cricket, I often think. Unless you're brought up with the sport, it must be pretty hard to understand the nuances. Many cricket fans don't even actually really understand all the ins-and-outs of what exactly is LBW, and what the difference between a leg slip and fine leg is, or what it means when the commentator says Pietersen is vulnerable to left-arm orthodox spin.
Of course, this is less true of some sports. Football is very easy to understand. As a first-time viewer you might not get what the offside rule is, but the concept is simple and the action is easy to follow. The same is true of basketball. The first time you watch it, you get the core concepts.
So some pastimes have bigger barriers to entry than others. To an extent, this seems to coincide with equipment. American football, and to a much greater extent cricket, require something of an outlay on complicated tools. Football and basketball do not.
I sometimes find myself wondering what the barriers to entry for RPGs are, and how significant. If you were to simply give a roomful of four strangers an 'average' RPG (let's say, for the sake of argument, Call of Cthulhu), what would they make of it?
To some degree, the core concept itself is problematic. While some RPG books go to considerable effort to explain what an RPG is, you can imagine that there would be a level of difficulty getting to grips with what is supposed to happen.
Then, there are the rules. People are used to games having rules, but Call of Cthulhu has a lot of rules, even though it is only, really, averagely 'crunchy'. A further barrier to entry.
Then, there is the genre. Most ordinary people have not read HP Lovecraft's fiction. Simply working out what is supposed to happen in the game, especially at the level of individual threats and problems, is not an immediately solvable task.
Some gamers fret about this, and wish for introductory games to the hobby. They worry that nowadays a kid couldn't just wander into a shop and grab a game off the shelf and play it. In part, I used to agree - I certainly think it is obscene that nobody is making a game like Red Box D&D any more - but on the other hand, I'm not so sure that this is something to worry about. The NFL is really popular. Cricket is really popular. Those pastimes thrive not because casual viewers like me turn on the TV and immediately work out what the heck those crazy Americans wearing helmets are up to. They thrive because newcomers (kids mostly, but I assume adults too) are introduced by people they know to the game, to the culture surrounding it, to the nuances, to what makes it fun and enthralling to watch. And that's okay. (The same is also true, when you think of it, of many more cerebral pastimes, like chess or poker or backgammon.) Why would you expect RPGs to be different?