Gamer Media, Parody and Negative Stereotypes

The Gamers DORKNESS RISING For at least the past year now, a close friend and gaming partner of mine has been trying to get me to watch The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. I refused because of what I initially thought was lack of time, but as she kept asking and I kept refusing I began to realize that something else was pushing me to reject it. I finally realized what it was a few months back.

It begins with the following sentence:

I have never seen a video or movie about tabletop roleplaying gamers that takes the tabletop roleplaying games hobby seriously.

I know I just lost some of you there — that word, “serious”, is like a plague to many. But those of you who have read this far, I ask you to hear me out. The reason a lot of people flinch from the concept of “serious” is that things are often portrayed on a black/white, all-one-or-all-the-other scale. It is, however, possible to be “serious” without being too serious.

Yes, we’re a bunch of people, many fully-grown adults with jobs and families, who sit around playing pretend with rules and dice (most of the time). There’s something inherently childlike (not childish, but childlike) about that, and that’s a good thing — we need that creativity, that wonder. It’s also good that we can laugh at ourselves. These are things we should never lose. But it seems to me that we, our group of people with a shared interest, can not seem to step back and examine our hobby without going for cheap yuks.

This gets me back to the sentence from above. I have never seen a video or movie about tabletop roleplaying gamers that takes the tabletop roleplaying games hobby seriously. (I don’t mean informational videos intended purely for gamers, like the wonderful Gamescience dice rant videos. I mean things like Dorkness Rising, media that reach outside our hobby either by design or through simple osmosis.) I see this as a problem for multiple reasons.

First, the comedy always seems to hit the same notes. This is because it plays on stereotypes, and while stereotypes can have cores of truth, we as a group of people with shared interests are so much more than that. These stereotypes are old, worn out and tonedeaf. Gamers have worked to move beyond the stereotypes, so why must these videos and films be stuck the old rut?

Secondly, the videos and movies are more visible to the nongamer populace than our “internal memos”. We already have a difficult enough time explaining our hobby to people who aren’t in the know. Continually presenting people outside the hobby with these kinds of depictions of ourselves isn’t helping anybody. We paint ourselves as fools, never seeing the damage we’re doing to our own efforts to get gaming to be seen as just another hobby. Every hobby is “weird” in its own way, and that’s a good thing all in all, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Finally, we’re doing this to ourselves. We’re not being “persecuted” or suffering “prejudice”. Gamers are doing this. We’re presenting this unbalanced view of ourselves and reinforcing negative stereotypes about us. Right now, I’m sure many of you are asking, “So what?” and “Why should we care what other people think?” I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am quite tired of people having a reinforced boatload of assumptions about what kind of person I am just because I mention that I play RPGs. This really happens. It’s happened since the beginning, and in some measure it will happen forever, but we’re really not helping things. (If you do not feel this is at all a problem, I probably won’t be able to convince you that my thoughts have any merit. So be it.)

I’m not calling for the abolition of comedy or parody based on gaming. Far from it: as I said above, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. I’m not crying that the sky is falling, because the world goes on every day as it has before. My problem is that we’re doing nothing to display the other side of things to people who aren’t us.

A tiny vignette: I once taught a young man how to multiply decimals. This was something his math teacher hadn’t been able to get this young man to grasp all school year. It took me ten minutes. I did it by teaching him how to calculate his experience point bonuses for high ability scores in AD&D 2nd Edition. By tying the math concepts to something he enjoyed doing, the math became something interesting, something he wanted to learn. I couldn’t have done that without the game.

I’m sure there are millions of stories like mine out there. Why, then, do we never talk about them in front of the camera? Why can’t we see a short documentary on a family who all game together, a short film that shows how “normal” it is, how it brings the family together? Why must every gamer video be thick glasses, a total lack of social skills and attacking the darkness, where a female at the table gets the male players stumbling all over themselves and every encounter is straight out of Knights of the Dinner Table? Why must it all be the same tired gaming jokes?

If you know of gamer media that display gaming in a positive, or even productive, light for consumption beyond just the gaming hobby, please let me know. I would like to help put that kind of thing forward where it can be seen alongside the comedy and parody. I’d also like to open a dialogue about creating more positive gamer media that is accessible by more than just the gaming “in crowd”, stuff that would be readily accessible by nongamers.

In my own defense, folks, I feel obligated to conclude by pointing out that I laugh until my belly hurts every time someone quotes the Dead Ale Wives. All I want is some balance, here.