Why Are Role-Playing Gamers Such Social Losers

in the eyes of many? Ask  an average person to describe a role-playing gamer and words like “basement dwelling fast-food worker,” “socially inept,” and “poor personal hygiene” quickly spew forth.

Sadly, as much as I might hope otherwise, this stereotypical gamer exists. He (or she) usually makes it on the evening news when the local TV station shows up at an RPG convention. Simply because wierd people generate more interest and better ratings than boring people. By “boring” I mean average people with a spouse, two kids, knowledge of how to shower, a mortgage and no significant social impediments. I know that most gamers are the latter and only a few outliers the former. It is this disconnect between the hobby I know and its reputation among non-gamers that drives me to post. I have a theory; I think  many of the stereotypes arise because role-playing games are one of the most egalitarian hobbies in existence.

Most social groups self select; take golf as an example. Golf requires significant initial outlays of cash and a large time investment. This almost guarantees that most golfers are reasonably functional within society and have a certain level of income and free time. There are socially inept, smelly  golfers out there, just as in the RPG hobby, but I suspect the numbers are lower than the RPG community. The hobby’s requirements filter them out.

Apply the same lens to the role-playing hobby and you see that there are few, if any, barriers to entry. A  handful of dice, a couple of moderately priced  books and some time get the job done. In many cases the only requirement is to show up at a game! This fact, combined with a remarkable tolerance in gaming circles for odd, eccentric and highly creative people creates a perfect storm for stereotyping.

I do not have any easy solutions to this problem. People will see what they want to see and only regular exposure to the D&D playing bank manager down the street will ever change this perception.

Then again, if the fact gamers are tolerant of differences contributes to these negative stereotypes, what does that say about the rest of the world’s acceptance of those that do not fit the norm?

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

12 thoughts on “Why Are Role-Playing Gamers Such Social Losers

  • February 3, 2010 at 6:26 am
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    [quote]I do not have any easy solutions to this problem.[/quote]

    I do.

    Stop considering it a problem.

    🙂

    • February 3, 2010 at 6:40 am
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      Nice idea, and I considered that. However, the next generation is just that much harder to recruit because of these stereotypes. We ignore them at the peril of the hobby’s future.

      Trask

      • February 3, 2010 at 8:29 am
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        I think you are overreacting when you are saying not solving this ‘problem’ is risking the future of the hobby.

        Could reduce the growth of the hobby, sure, that could be the case. But that is a business problem for companies and not something that bothers me as a RPG player. I am not that interested in mainstreaming RPG’s anyway.

        (and yes, I do shower daily!)

  • February 3, 2010 at 7:13 am
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    Come out of the proverbial gamer closet? People won’t know that there “normal” people who game if they never see them.

  • February 3, 2010 at 7:31 am
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    It irritates me that videogames are seen as more socially acceptable than tabletop RPGs. To play a tabletop RPG, you need FRIENDS.

  • February 3, 2010 at 9:43 am
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    Trask,

    I know what you mean. There was another blogger who wrote something funny about D&D players in how back in the 80’s a kid who tells his mom that he plays D&D will have his mom worried about him selling his soul to the devil. Nowadays, if a kid tells his mom he plays D&D, she worries that he’ll never move out of the house and get a real job.

    I have my own anecdotal example when I went to a convention. Unfortunately, every year, I have to deal with “gamer funk”. It can get really bad at times, but I know that when the media comes in, they are honed in all the fat dorks who have food stains on their clothing dressed in a Star Trek outfit two sizes too small for them.

    I also cannot say that my gaming group is a good representation either. I got one guy who can’t keep a job, another guy laid off and had to retire, because he’s shot in terms of working again, another guy in the food service industry because that’s the best he’s got in life, and another guy who typifies the “gamer problem” you described in your post above. I can say I gamed with even worse people.

  • February 3, 2010 at 10:35 am
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    In my experience, the stereotypes are mostly true, and for good reason.

    The various games I have played have all required 4+ people to make a long term commitment to the game; we need to know that they will be there every week at the same time. “Normal” people, when confronted with a conflict between a game and work/family/social networking/etc will choose the latter over the former. The more menial the job, the less family, and the smaller your social circle is, the easier it is to manage this conflict.

    In the event that you are a “normal” person and manage to coordinate all this, chances are your gaming group will not be as heroic as you. Its hard to want to prioritize your time for “such people” when you have so many other more important things to juggle. (By “such people” I mean either people in the same stage of life as you who simply aren’t pulling their weight, or people who are still mucking about in a stage of life you’ve moved past.)

    When I first started gaming, I was in college; I had a menial (but well paying job), no spouse, and my similarly single friends and I formed our own gaming group spontaneously. It was a blast! Over time, as we’ve gotten married, moved into management, etc etc, our thrice weekly sessions dropped to once monthly to not at all. We tried recruiting more people to keep it up, but (to be frank) our local gaming scene did not have the caliber of people we wanted to commit our time to. Now, we get together about once a month for dinner, or if the spouses don’t come, maybe some Halo 3. (How the mighty have fallen).

    The best digital analog I can think of to compare this to is belonging to a raiding guild in the worlds most popular MMO. Same issues, different forum. Times must be aligned, character- and gear- levels must be kept equivalent for balance purposes, player skill must be nearly equal to avoid mismatches, etc etc. Its a nightmare to deal with, which is why I have had to give that up as well.

    I still love gaming, and I am always trying to find ways to get back into it. Despite all the above mentioned issues, I would still make the time for it if I could find like-minded people to do it with. Until then, I’ll continue to troll (for the most part silently). 😉

    PS. There are exceptions; some gaming groups are amazing. I have no doubt that everyone here is a member of such a group.

  • February 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm
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    Everyone in my game group is 35+, married (or long-time girlfriend), steady job, good social skills, not overweight, etc.

    I don’t invite TV crews over to my house though. 🙂

  • February 4, 2010 at 9:00 am
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    It is a problem of perception, and many times perception becomes reality.

    The time commitment is exactly why I have never played RPGs. With miniatures and, even more so, CMGs the time commitment is not at structured. If I don’t show up, the game goes on. Well, unless I’m running the event. Then I make it a higher priority to get there.

    I attend science fiction conventions. A lot of them and the vast majority of the attendees are successful individuals. They are tradespeople and professionals. Sure there are the awkward and stereotypical too.

    How do we combat the stereotype? By speaking up. Letting people around you know you like games. Or science fiction. Or fantasy. Whatever.

    In the West Wing, candidate Santos said “So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.”

    I’m a gamer. I play with army men. I’d rather play a game than watch other people play sports. I like sports. I’ll watch them. I hold down a job. I own my own condo. I have had many girlfriends. So if you don’t like the stereotype, fight it by denying it. Be a counterpoint.

  • February 16, 2010 at 4:04 pm
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    Ok, you said:
    “Then again, if the fact gamers are tolerant of differences contributes to these negative stereotypes, what does that say about the rest of the world’s acceptance of those that do not fit the norm?”

    And ten years ago, I would have agreed with you 100%. Now I have a mortgage, a career, a fiancee, and little time to spend. I have to be frugal with how I spend my time, and putting up with people with poor hygiene and social skills does not make the cut.

    I recognize that it’s less compassionate, but my patience is gone with the cat-piss guy in the foodstained too-small shirt who stands too close and follows me around when I walk off and wants to tell me in a lispy voice about his werewolf starfleet officer character.

    I feel bad for this guy, I do, but not bad enough to want to spend ANY time with him. The old me would say ‘well, spending time with these guys help socialize them’ but the truth is that socializing them is not my concern, not my responsibility, and not my problem.

    Ostracism is a great way to get people to conform. It’s why banishment and excommunication used to work so well. Toe the line or we’ll have nothing to do with you.

    Conformity, when it means forcing people to believe the same things, or liking the same things, or holding the same political outlooks, is not a good thing. When it means bathing regularly and understanding basic social cues, then it is a good thing.

    I admit I have a problem with the ‘accept everyone’ attitude that geek culture embraces so thoroughly. On one level, it’s great! Being excluded sucks, and we’ve all been there to some degree or another. But at the same time, where does it end?

    I’m a bad guy for wanting my gaming circle to have a similar level of socialization and hygiene, game commitment, and maturity to my own. I’m a good guy for letting munchkiny smelly awkward unreliable people ruin my hobby and waste my precious time. It’s ridiculous.

  • May 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm
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    Maybe because the normal ones embrace the idea that they are the odd ones and avoid attention because they don’t want their nongamer friends to know.

    I unfortunately live in an area where I never had any gamer friends. So I roleplay online in the play by post variety.

  • November 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm
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    I miss tabletop games, but the gaming scene here is bad. They’re either the “stereotypical loser” that you wouldn’t want to hang out with, or the elitist gamers that don’t want you in their club. 🙁

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