05 July 2006

Ashamed of the Game

I read a post today on RPG.net, and it got me to thinking. Am I ashamed of the fact that I'm a gamer?

The short answer: no, I am not.

I've never been particularly shy about letting people know that I'm a gamer. At the most, I'm no more shy about telling folks that I play D&D than I am about telling them that I do this, that, or the other thing. What's to hide? If it comes up in a conversation -- if someone is really interested enough to ask me -- I'll tell them flat out: I play RPGs and I write RPGs.

Now, in my experience, when it does come up in casual conversation with non-gamers, they do one of two things: they nod, smile, and move the conversation on; or, if they have an interest, they'll ask for details.

In either case, I've opened up a virtual Pandora's Box for them. It's rare that anyone will care to ask more than a couple of questions, and if they do, that's fine. I'll try to make sure I don't get too in-depth; let's face it, some of the minute details of gaming can be pretty damn boring, even to gamers.

I've only ever managed to cultivate a couple of new players in this fashion, and these were people who'd gamed earlier in their lives, but had since lost touch with the hobby and wanted to try their hand at it again. Recruiting new players from the ranks of non-gamers seems to be a rare occurance. Why? Beats me; maybe the stereotype of "gamer = geek/nerd" is ingrained in their consciousness, and God forbid that anyone do something that is considered geeky by the rank and file.

Is gaming geeky? You might as well ask yourself if Chess, Checkers, Monopoly, Clue, The Game of Life, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Jenga, Twister, or any one of a number of common family board games are geeky. What makes these games socially acceptable/mainstream, while role-playing or wargames are "fringe"? Is it because the latter are more visibly keyed to "make believe," and "make believe" is a childish pasttime?

I think that some gamers feel persecuted. There's this racial memory (or something) stemming from the days of Pat Pulling and BADD. It constantly crops up on message boards, and the argument that RPGs are somehow evil or Satanic or involve real magic has been debunked so many times by so many qualified individuals that it seems like an exercise in self-validation to continually bring it up in public forums.

When was the last time that gaming was portrayed in the mainstream media in a negative light? I'm not talking about the occasional 700 Club expose on evil role-players or the Vampire card game; I'm talking about Dan Rather telling the American people that Satan is amongst us in the form of dice-wielding nerds. I can't recall anything recent; which isn't to say that there hasn't been something, but I'm sure it would've been transmitted through the grapevine by now.

So why the bum rap, both within the hobby and without? Is the bum rap from without merely our own self-persecution or "gamer pride" coming to the fore, uninvited and unprovoked? Or is there really some threat from beyond?

Concerning my own habit of speaking plainly about my gaming hobby, there are folks in my workplace who know about it. A couple of them will occasionally tease me, and this is easy enough to shrug off. They mean it in a good-natured kind of way (at least, I hope they do), so it's easy to ignore or laugh at.

Being involved in a hobby -- any hobby -- can lead to extremist attitudes. Someone who rides his bike religiously, participates in marathons or races, and who has a life-sized sculpture of Lance Armstrong in their den might be perceived as strange, too. Still, biking (or skiing, or surfing, etc.) are physical activities that are accepted enough to see prime time on television. Poker, as well, is something that you can tune into, though I wouldn't necessarily peg it as my kind of spectator sport.

When was the last time someone televised a D&D game? I'd like to see that, even though I'll be the first to admit that it'd probably be really boring unless the production values were through the roof. Like Poker, I don't see D&D as a spectator sport, either.

As far as inducting non-gamers into the hobby, I can't say I haven't tried. I'd never ask someone I'd just met if they'd want to play in my group, whether they were a gamer or not. I need to know what sort of person they are, what their likes and dislikes are, before I even begin to consider adding them to the roster. Even then, they'd have to express an interest for me to broach the subject.

Once more, I'm off on a rant. Heh. Enough grandstanding. My lunch hour is just about up, though, so maybe I'll touch on this more later on.

1 comment:

Bricriu Nemthenga said...

Any movement or subculture based on stepping into the Matrix of some other world, from gamers to Trekkies to religious organizations, is going to have its share of people who prefer that Matrix to the real world, and their freak flags, flying higher than all others in their subcultures, will become the flags of the subcultures themselves.

And so even if the majority of gamers are perfectly normal, rational people, those that are not -- people who wear tails because they think they're part dragon, or file their teeth into points because they're day-walking vampires, or who simply spend a disturbing amount of time drawing portraits of their hentai-esque characters -- will not only always be a part of the gaming community, but will be its off-putting face.

Like non-terrorist Muslims living in the West who have to either keep their religion discreet or spend their time assuring one and all that their shoes don't have fuses, gamers will probably always have to be selective regarding who they announce their hobby to.