The amount of money being spent on various forms of entertainment these days is growing, but for some reason, the RPG market remains in its limited scope. Why is this? Considering that one of the biggest trends in entertainment has been the so-called interactive experience, I find it surprising that RPGs haven’t been touted loudly. The core of RPGs is interaction and the sharing of fun with other people. However, I realize that these games have had a controversial existence marked with swathes of provocative misinformation and purposeful misunderstandings hounding those who play them.
Perceptions of what these games are and those who play them are the biggest culprit. Not long ago, some umbrage with the images and themes used in the biggest of games, Dungeons and Dragons. Grabbing the headlines, blame for all sorts of horrid and completely imaginary events was unjustly laid at the feet of a mere game. If you look in the right places you can still find this going on today. One of the saddest of these demonetizations came from Jack Chick and his ignorant pamphlets. In it, he unsubtly proclaims that playing D&D leads directly to devil worship, and does so in the most serious of terms. If it wasn’t so sad, all of this would be hilarious. However, since many took them seriously much damage was done to the reputation of RPGs.
To counter these perceptions we must be proactive in advocacy. And to do that we must be honest with ourselves about what we are doing.
Role Playing Games are make believe. Dressed up with esoteric rules and polyhedral dice, we project ourselves into worlds of fantastic designs, supernatural powers, and heroic paragons. But at the very core of this experience is a game of make believe. Couched in these terms RPGs don’t seem very dangerous. Practically childish, in fact. This is a good thing. It takes a sprained mind to twist such a simple idea. However, there is someone else to consider in terming it this way. Us. It will probably take some time for gamers to become comfortable with these terms, nonetheless, this must happen before progress can be made.
Once the idea of “make believe” has been accepted by everyone, we can build on it to show that it’s not a childish escape. There is intellectual, cultural, and artistic merit to the things we do. In taking on these alternative personas, we get a chance to experience life from a different perspective. Questions of a philosophical nature are given life in new and exciting ways not easily experienced in everyday life. This acceptance even gives us a chance to explain the iconography in proper context, finally pushing our hobby out of the metaphorical dungeon it has been languishing in.
There is a second perception which needs to be addressed. The perception of ourselves.
I have been to GenCon twice now and have to say that I could not have met and had fun with nicer people. Strangers and friends alike, everyone found themselves enjoying the fun. Everything else was ignored as unimportant. Gender, identity, ethnicity, and the lines which generally divide humanity were all tossed away. It’s hard to explain to those who have never experienced anything like it, but for all too briefly the only important matter was laughter and fun.
So why do we accept the picture of a basement dwelling, misogynistic, agoraphobe drenched in sour smelling stains of sweat as the public face for this particular facet of our lives? Why do gamers, RPG players in particular, allow this stereotype to continue unchallenged?
The vast majority of us aren’t represented by this view. For some unknown reason, we tolerate it, and it keeps people away. I’m beginning to think that deep inside we are all elitist assholes. That we don’t want other people to play if it’s not someone already approved. I hope this isn’t the case because it couldn’t be further from how I feel. I like including more people, new people, in my sessions. I like new faces because it means we get new views on the story. There will always be a few outliers that do live in their parent’s basement, eschewing greater social contact for the insulating glow of 20 watt bulbs and the screen of their computers, but that does not mean we accept it as the face the rest of the world judges us by. It by no means is me, my wife, or my friends.
A few years back Wil Wheaton gave the keynote at PAX. In it, he goes through why he continues his gaming and why he exposed his kids to it. In the end he give some sage advice to those who want to spread the word. Don’t be a dick. I cannot think of a singular, simpler way to express what must be done to get more people to join in the fun.
Play. Have fun. Include strangers. And don’t be a dick.