[Editor's Note: I realized too late that I DID do a rant before about solo gaming. To clarify, this is more a disdain to people that outright dismiss the concept of it.]
The last time I heard this phrase uttered was in a YouTube video, in which the person discussed about a game's solo variant, but he doesn't "do solo gaming." I'm fine that the person doesn't "do solo gaming." I get it. If you can play with other players, I get that. What I don't get is the way the person said it, in an almost disgusted, detestable fashion. Okay, I exaggerate, but there was an undeniable tone of negativity as the words came out of their mouth. It was the audio equivalent of "I wouldn't be caught dead playing by myself" reaction, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
Solo Is Not the Same as Being Alone
I guess people associate playing solo to literally being alone, by yourself. It's technically true, but some people also imply that by doing so, you lead a depressing life devoid of friends or friendship. "Of course, I have friends to play games with. I have a dedicated game group that plays weekly. Why would I ever play games alone? I don't do solo gaming." That doesn't mean that people who DO play solo gaming don't have friends, can't form game groups, or never play games socially. Not at all. A small part of the reason is that we just aren't able to gather groups to play with. We have families to look after, work to do, and what little time we have left every day may just be good enough for one solo game. Sometimes, try as we might, we can't find the people or time to socially engage. So we solo game.
Other Reasons why we Solo
I'm just going to say it - if you've set up a game just to teach yourself the rules, guess what? You just solo gamed. It may not be an official variant, but you sat there, on your own, playing through a couple of rounds to get the hang of it. That's a form of solo gaming, and one that is vital. The potential of boring your group as they watch you slowly crawl through page after page of the manual for a half hour before anyone starts playing is a real thing. By running the game yourself, you familiarize with the rules, making teaching the game all the more easier. And how? By solo gaming.
Other times, we are just looking for a challenge. Like any good puzzle or mind-bender, solo gaming challenges ourselves as we look for ways to optimize and garner the best score through each session. Don't forget, we grew up on a generation where achieving high scores in games was a thing in arcades. In addition, repeated plays also unlock potential strategies that we can carry over when we DO play with others.
Out of all these reasons, the biggest one (for me, at least) is just getting the game on the table. No one buys board games merely to leave on the shelf forever; they were meant to be played, ideally with friends and family. But what if no one is around? There's no shame in pulling that game out, and setting it up yourself. While you're at it, play a few rounds of it to understand the rules. A step further, why not create your own solo variant, if none exists?
You're Not Alone
Whatever the reason, there's clearly a demand for solo play. Not only is it a great way to learn the rules quickly on your own, but it increases the chances a game will get played, no matter how many players there are. While there are some games (like Friday) that specifically market themselves to the single player, many recent releases are including their own solo variant in the box from the start. What good is a game if it can't be enjoyed by anyone?
Sure, you'll still have those that demand a group, that demand socialization with others. Games that simply cannot be played alone at all. Not all games can accommodate for solo gaming, and not all can or should. Their game mechanics simply could not allow it, and restructuring their game to fit would destroy their original design. But it would be a folly to completely dismiss it, when it's a growing trend. All over in BoardGameGeek.com, people are creating solo variants to games where there are none. There are threads like this and many more that have user-created solo variants to many games. Even I made my own solo variant for a game I owned!