The staff did try to do something about that: specifically, they set out a large number of chess and backgammon boards on the tables. They were quite pretty, but largely ignored by the crowd: far as I could tell, the total number of games played was a lot less than the number of boards that were out. This put me in mind of the issue of how to enjoy yourself at events (given that I am arguably a Participatory Entertainment Laurel, it's something I spend a lot of time on), resulting in this pair of linked essays.
So part 1: Why weren't those games being played more?
Autocrats often come to me to put out some games at their events. Almost universally, they assure me that it won't be any work for me: all they want me to do is bring the games themselves. More often than not, I sigh and do so, knowing that few or none of those games will actually be played, the autocrat's good intentions aside. Because the fact is, if there isn't *somebody* doing a bunch of work around those games, they won't be used.
Why not? Well, the main reason is that folks aren't used to it. Some of them have been exposed to some of those games, but not enough -- they don't know the games well, and they're shy about admitting that. Frankly, they aren't sure where to *start*. And they're not in the habit of taking the bulls by the horns themselves. (More on that in the second part.)
The fact is, for pretty much any activity, teaching is somewhat necessary -- more important, *cheerleading* is necessary. If I'm just bringing games but not really pushing them because I'm busy with other things (often the case), we might get a few people playing something. By contrast, if I'm actually spending the day being the Ace of the Low Company, I'll often have 20-60 people spending anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours playing.
What's the difference? Well, some of it is teaching, but like I said -- much of it is essentially cheerleading. It's me wandering around, looking for people who seem a little aimless, and asking them if they'd be interested in learning a game. I tell them to get one or more other people to play with, and I'll teach them something. They do so; I do so. And the result is that they have something social to do, rather than just sitting around. (Note that I actively resist actually playing myself, because that's a full-time activity. I can be a lot more effective if I'm outside ten different games than inside one. So I generally don't play if I'm "on duty"; I only do so if I'm unofficially having fun myself.)
The key here is that I'm not just available to teach, I'm actively "cheerleading" -- gently encouraging folks into the activity. I don't push -- if folks aren't into it, that's fine. But simply having me make the suggestion makes a world of difference in how many people participate.
So if you're a leader of an activity, especially a participatory one like games (or, for that matter, dance), keep this in mind. Too many activity leaders are too passive about their activities. They make themselves available, and make *announcements* to that effect, but they keep it impersonal. That's not surprising, given that most of us are kinda shy. But really: the essence of leadership is getting people involved personally, one-to-one. If you ask *individuals* whether they'd like to give it a try, you'll get five times as much response as when you simply make an announcement and wait passively for folks to respond. And it can be the difference between a bunch of people sitting around the event, and them instead having fun...