When I tell people I play Dungeons & Dragons or that I’m a gamer I know that the first thing that pops into their minds is not a flattering image. People still cling to some of the worst gaming stereotypes. It makes it difficult to have a serious conversation with non-gamers and it makes it a lot hard to convince new people to try our hobby.
In order for us to move beyond these stereotypes is to addresses them and fix them. We need to debunk them and create new stereotypes; positive stereotypes that encourage people to see gamers in a more positive light.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. We do our part to shine a positive light on gamers in today’s post in which the “S” is for Stereotypes, good and bad.
The Best of the Worst
So what are the worst gamer stereotypes? What are the things you’ve heard, seen or been guilty of yourself that shed a negative light on gaming and D&D? Once we identify them we can take steps to correct and debunk them.
- Fat & smelly
It’s a common misconception that all gamers are overweight and that they have issues with personal hygiene. I’ll admit that I’ve seen (and smelled) my fare share of fat, smelly gamers but in my experience this is the exception rather than the norm. I think the stereotype persists because the only place a lot of non-gamers ever see us is at conventions. During cons a lot of gamers try so hard to jam pack as much fun into the few days they’ve got they go without food, sleep, a change of clothes or a daily shower.
If you play D&D you’ll never get a girlfriend, let alone have sex. Considering how many gamers I know with kids I think we can safely debunk this myth. That’s not to say that every gamer is getting some, but in my experience the reason some gamers don’t have a significant other has nothing to do with their gaming hobby.
- Socially Awkward
I guess this goes hand in hand with the virgin stereotype above. After all, if you can’t talk to people how are you ever going to talk to girls? It’s true that a lot of shy people play D&D, but I’ve found that they do so to overcome their shyness. D&D and RPGs in general allow people who aren’t good socially to come out of their shell by playing a character.
- Basement Dwellers
If you’re a fat, smelly virgin with no social skills then you must live in your parent’s basement, right? Somewhere along the way people assumed that D&D was played in the deepest recesses of people’s basement, as if exposing a gaming table to sunlight would destroy it (or the players). The only reason I ever played in the basement was because there was more room there than at the dining room table and I could be as loud as the game deemed appropriate, even long into the night when others were sleeping.
- D&D = LARPing
For the uneducated LARP is Live Action Role Playing. It’s a whole subset of D&D-like RPGs where people dress up as their character and physically act out their character’s actions, including combat and magic. People who LARP take it very seriously. But LARPing is not D&D. We do not dress up, we do not engage physically with other players. Our game takes place in our imaginations.
- Devil Worshippers
In the 80s there was a lot of controversy around D&D being linked to Satanism and Devil worship. This was a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. Religious groups used D&D as a scapegoat for the actins of a few misguided teenagers to smear the whole RPG community. Over time the fear and misunderstanding has declined, but some still hear D&D and associate it with Satanism.
Now that we’ve identified the most common negative stereotypes let’s flip the coin. Let’s look at what gamers are really like and try to establish some new stereotypes. Hopefully we can contradict and debunk some of the negative ones listed above in the process.
Most gamers I know are very well educated. In my gaming group there are seven of us. We all have college/university educations. I have the fewest years of higher education with five in which I earned one degree and one diploma. Many of the younger gamers I play with at my FLGS are currently enrolled in college or have recently graduated. I’ve found that D&D tends to attract a certain kind of person and it’s usually someone with an aptitude for learning. I will admit that most educated gamers fall into one of two categories: the artsy-fartsies who studied the liberal arts including drama, music, and creative writing; and the herd-core scientists who studied math, computers and medicine.
D&D is a game played in your imagination. It’s not like a videogame where you just enter an existing world. Everything in D&D is the fabrication of the players’ and DM’s imaginations. They create and control everything from the characters to the colour of the sky. Just like athletes improve as they practice their game, so to do role-players. It’s a skill just like anything else and the more you do it the better you get at it. Those who lack a certain level of creativity don’t usually enjoy their experiences and stop playing; those who do keep at it and get better. I’ve never met a creative person who wasn’t a gamer.
I’m not talking Richie Rich rich, but gamers tend to have successful careers that pay well. We have to. I mean, look at all the books you need to play this game. Add on dice and a DDI subscription and you see that D&D is not a cheap hobby. Obviously newer and younger gamers don’t fall into the rich stereotype but if you go to any gaming con you’ll realize that everyone there has spent some serious coin to be there. I shudder to think of how much money I’ve sunk into my gaming over the years. If you include novels, dice, minis, modules, boxed sets, hard covers, DDI subscriptions, and con expenses I think $25,000 would be on the low side. Hey, I’ve been doing this for over 25 years.
- Good Careers
I guess if you need to have money to take up this hobby then you’d better have a good job. To do that you need a solid education (which wouldn’t you know it, most of us have). Those gamers who are not students generally have pretty good jobs. Again, looking to my gaming group we have two teachers, two writers with big corporate companies, a computer guy, a banker (currently back in school full time) and a student. I know that among the folks at my FLGS there are a few other people in the financial industry as well as some who work in communications for big businesses. The gamers I know who are students all have their heads on straight and I’m sure will have no problem landing a solid career after they graduate.
Now that we’ve addresses some of the worst gamers stereotypes and offered a few positive ones to replace them, it’s up to all of us to act the part. As gamers we have a social responsibility to ensure we don’t perpetuate any of the negative stereotypes that cause people to misjudge or mock us for playing D&D. We want non-gamers to be curious about RPGs. We want them to try the games and judge them based on their merits and not on the incorrect stereotypes they’ve heard from the uneducated masses.
The stereotypes I’ve presented here are just the tip of the iceberg. What other gamer stereotypes (good and bad) do you think should be added to the list? How can we stop the negative ones and reinforce the positive ones?
For a great article on gaming stereotypes check out Stabbifying the Stereotypes – Looking at the Stereotypes of D&D that Andy/GGG wrote at Geek’s Dream Girl.