Friday, January 18, 2008

Gaming and Social Stigma

As I've mentioned here before, I'm a gamer. Specifcally, I play Dungeons and Dragons (though I've played other games as well, that is the primary one I still play now). This game has been grieviously misunderstood and slandered in the past. This happens much less so today, perhaps because time has proven that the claims of devil worship and other wierdness were bogus, perhaps because of the proliferation of online games that are similar. I don't pretend to know, but I do appreciate it. I'm not really going to get into that. I am going to talk about how my perception of the stigma has affected me over the years and my thoughts about it right now.

When I first started playing, I didn't think about or worry about any stigma. I was nine years old or so. Kids that age are supposed to play games and dream and also, I was already stigmatized just for being shy me, and that overshadowed everything else anyway on that front. I certainly didn't get it from my parents, who bought me the basic and expert boxed sets for Christmas when I was about ten or so. The only problem then was I really didn't have anyone to play with, save my friend next door, and being ten, I'm sure we didn't exactly play correctly by the rules anyway. But still, I had some fun with it, reading the books, marking them up in pencil with my 'extensions' and dreaming of far off adventures.

I got other RPGs as well, including the Star Trek RPG of the time, around the time I was in Junior high school. That was also when I met another friend who had some interest in that, but again, we never really played, we were more into Star Trek the shows and movies and just thought it was cool to see things from there put into statistic form in a game.

Around that time I learned of a gaming club that met at the local college campus in the student union building. I was too young to drive, so my dad would drop me off and pick me up there. That meant I could never stay all that late. First, I just watched games, but eventually after awhile, my patience paid off and I was asked by these much older folks to join a game. It was a strange combination of the James Bond RPG with psionics added on and a bit of future-tech as well (it took place in the future). I don't remember a lot of it now, but I had fun. It was just hard because of my limited hours. After that, I didn't really play any RPGs until college.

College was my awakening. I met a lot of gamers there, joined a gaming club. This was when D&D 2nd edition just came out, so I was getting those books. (I already had the 1st edition hardcover books, though I hadn't really played with them yet). I joined games of 1E, and I started one of my own for 2E, running it in the student union.

I played probably twice a week at least, sometimes more, like on spring break. Mostly it was 1E D&D, but there was also some 2E and then RuneQuest, TNMT, and probably a few others that escape me now. It was there I met two good friends who eventually married each other, and whom I still play with today. I made a few other friends as well but they have since moved far away, so I seldom see them now (though I gamed with them for years after that).

There, I didn't feel any stigma directed at me, though I knew about it - I had seen the ridiculous movie Mazes and Monsters (with Tom Hanks no less!) on TV, and laughed at it. But I hadn't experienced any first-hand stigma. Still, I was not exactly excited to talk about gaming to non-gamers and avoided talking about it in public where non-gamers would hear, in part worried about stigma. I'd always cringe when with my cousin who was also a gamer, as he would talk very loudly about gaming stuff in public around large groups of people.

After the first few years of college, I had a pretty good group of friends I played with, alternating between D&D and Shadowrun (a game I actually never played, only GMd, and haven't now for years). I actually had at one point three or four Shadowrun games going at the same time, with two different groups. I was staying at my parents house at the time and so I could use their large dining room table to play. That was very nice.

Eventually, I went back to school for a different undergrad degree and moved to a new place, where I didn't know anyone. And thus I stopped gaming. Even after I graduated, and moved again, I still wasn't gaming. Finally, a few years into my first real job, 3E came out, and that was the impetus to get me gaming again. My cousin was nearby and we got several other people from work and we played that for a while. That was fun to get into it again. I ran it. Eventually, it petered out. I connected up with my two (now married) friends from college and drove with my cousin to see them (they were an hour away) and we played intermittently. But that petered out and I started law school, leaving me with no time at all to do anything but study and go to work.

Post law school, with a fresh new baby, I had time again. I started playing with my friends an hour away, on Friday nights. That was fun. I also managed to post ads and meet some local people who, with another local friend (who also played with me and carpooled on the drives on Friday) made up a second group. So I played as much as twice a week.

And now I will get to how my wife is with this. She is not a gamer. She has no real interest in it. Her main concern has generally been what it always is - money. But obviously we both can spend our money on what interests us. The main cost with gaming sometimes is with babysitters. When I play at home, I still get one because it is impossible to play while chasing around a toddler. Also, for my wife, I only play on weeknights. During the middle of the week at home, the game is usually over and everyone is gone by the time she gets home from work. On Fridays, she also gets home late (and I get home even later) but we never did much on Fridays anyway - she'd usually get home late and just go to bed. That leaves the whole weekend free for us to do what we want. (Which lately isn't much... but she's 8 months pregnant so sitting at home in bed is rather nice).

Which brings me to stigma. I really don't talk about it with any non-gamers, still. But my wife worries about that - her friends who have heard what I do, some of them have told her they think it is weird, or childish or some such nonsense, and that bothers her and embarrasses her. She personally doesn't care, but I think she cares when she hears that from others. Of course, my attitude now is generally that anyone who is going to say such things about my gaming can go fuck themselves. But I still don't really talk about it with non gamers. The simple fact is, it is something I get great pleasure from and enjoy a great deal, it is something I look forward to, it is something I want to share with my children and hope they have fun with it as well (though I won't force it on them if they decide they don't like it). It bothers me that people would say things like that to my wife. It bothers me that she hasn't told them to go fuck themselves when she's heard it, though I suppose when it is friends or acquantances from work, that might be a bad idea.

I don't have the usual vices of men. I don't watch any sports. I don't go out to sports bars or do anything else like that. Really, as it is, gaming twice a week is my only social activity outside of spending time with my wife and daughter, except for the occasional thing. I would think that a wife would prefer me being home, or at a friends inside, playing a game to going out, getting drunk and doing who-knows-what at some bar. (And she probably does prefer that). I have scheduled it so that it barely even registers in her routine - except for late friday night, she's pretty much at work when I'm playing, which was deliberate on our part.

Now, our main babysitter, who has watched our toddler while I played on Thursday nights has expressed an interest in the game. And I am going to be taking a hiatus on the out-of-town game Fridays in a week or so because we are getting within six weeks of the due date of baby number two and my wife does not want me out of town even for a few hours a week, just in case. So I got the idea that perhaps for a few of those weeks, I could teach my babysitter and her friends how to play, if they were interested. I asked her, she asked her friends, and they are enthusiastic about it. So in a few weeks, I may be teaching the whole group of them how to play and running a short game for them. I am excited about the prospect of doing so - I think it would be great to be able to introduce more people to this game I love. Given time constraints, I could only do it a few weeks and then they'd have to do it on their own. But my wife is leery of this as well. She again is worried about what people will think about that. She's also worried about me playing a game with a bunch of teenagers. Which brings us back to the stigma. If I were teaching a bunch of kids to play soccer or football or some other sport, no one would question it or think it was strange that an adult was playing or teaching a game to teens (or younger kids). But because it isn't sports, there comes the stigma again. I find it upsetting. It feels like one more reason for me to obliquely dislike sports. Oh well.

I may have more to share later, but have other things to do... I probably will comment later.


cornucrapia said...

I'm an oldschool gamer as well, started when I was about the same age. I've pretty much gotten out of it now, although I played a bit over the last winter break. I remember when I was young one of my friends wanted to play with us but before he could my mom had to convince his mom that we weren't worshiping satan or going off into sewers to fight alligators. It was kind of surreal, fortunately I had parents who recognized the value of the game and who were able to convince her that it wasn't a tool of satan.

nicole said...

I'm not sure the sports/gaming comparison holds true...if a significantly older married man asked my teenage daughter and her friends to come over to his house so he could teach them soccer, I'd be creeped out about that, too. I live in a fairly small town, and still, there's a store that sells games and allows gaming clubs to meet in their back room. Maybe there would be less concern about it if it was done in a more public venue like this.

I have never been into role playing games myself, but I feel the same way about those games as I do about my husband playing computer games in general. If it's an occasional hobby, then it's fine. But if it starts to take over all his free time and he starts to prefer it over developing real friendships (friendships based on something in reality, not just a shared love of computer games), then I think that's something to be concerned about.

DBB said...

I don't see why there should be any difference based on what the game is. I frankly would not trust a coach on a soccer field any more (or less). Either you trust your child with that adult or you don't. Unfortunately, I've had the misfortune of dealing with criminal cases where it was coaches who did some rather bad things.

I can see some degree of worry if it is just some random person, but my babysitter has practically lived in our house already for the past two years. We almost think of her as family. Her younger sister, too, who also has babysat for us on many occasions. In other words, she has already spent countless hours in our house with sometimes just her, me, and the toddler being the only ones here for at least part of that time (like before people get here on thursdays, etc). So in that sense, it is more public to have her friends over here with her rather than her here alone as she usually is.

You are showing perhaps a bit of a bias - computer games actually exist in reality. ;) Why shouldn't a shared love of them be the basis of a friendship? One always needs balance in life - that goes for anything. RPGs are somewhat different than computer games in that you play face to face, and in some respects wtih good friends, it is half social and half game. My old friends who I play with we probably can spend as much as 1/3 of the time or more just talking - it is an excuse to get together. Of course, sometimes we are really into the game and mostly play.

My babysitter has expressed some interest in the game having seen me and my friends play it here when she's been babysitting. I think it would be cool if her friends like it and they go off and play on their own - expanding the hobby, and sharing in what I enjoy about it. I want to teach it to my children as well for fun, though they are obviously too young now - 2 and not born yet... And maybe when they are old enough my wife will join in as part of the family fun. She has said she might in that case.

My free time is generally my entire weekend, spent with my family, so my gaming is kind of squeezed in on evening weekdays, four hours on Thursday night, a bit more on Friday night.

Most of my time is generally spent chasing a toddler around (when I'm not at work). And that actually has mostly taken over my life - but I am glad that it has.

Maya's Granny said...

My now 44 year old son was a dedicated D&D player when he was in high school. The group that he played with then are still his friends, although they are scattered all over the US these days.

As a mother, I found that D&D led to many good things. Richard read all sorts of books, from history of the middle ages to mythology. He tried his hand at making chain mail, he developed his imagination.

As far as adults teaching kids things that aren't sports -- would anyone raise an eyebrow if you taught your babysitter to play chess? Or scrabble? Or bridge?