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The Contract

Geekdom, Gayness and Ecstasy

by J.S. Majer
Sep 16,2002


Geekdom, Gayness and Ecstasy

Gaming has a lot in common with homosexuality. Think about it.

Both have a stealth factor to them, a "skin privilege" where it is hard to discern a gamer from a non-gamer, or a homosexual from a non-homosexual. The "them" looks outwardly like "us," and we make the most of it. People from all ranks of life fill in our numbers. Certainly there are stereotypical backgrounds but both groups understand that anyone might be a member. To the other angle, both groups have developed flags and signs to communicate preferences without words, be it an inflected tone or a sarcastic t-shirt. Both groups have their well-developed lingo, varying from code words to jargon. Both groups are mercilessly persecuted in High School and beyond. For both groups, the most strident persecution comes from people attempting to deny their actual inclinations or experiences.

Right wing Protestant Christianity likes neither group. Both have had vast, yet quiet, affects on popular culture. Both groups have their ins and their outs, their closeted members and their flamers. Both groups have members they can't quite place, by which I mean places where even their own self-definitions get soggy. I've heard both bisexuals and LARP-only types be told to their respective faces that they were not real gamers or homosexuals. Both groups protect their own, but are most critical of their own.

The gamer Stonewall isn't likely to happen anytime soon (who knows, maybe the Gen Con move will provide something). I have never heard anyone argue that gamers are genetically defined, although I have heard the theory that we are half-step genetically defined, that it takes the kid with the physical and or social deficit to want to get into gaming in the first place, which brings us to our topic.

The second most commonly stated reason for getting involved in gaming is the escapism. The first is "my X got me doing it," X being larger sibling, cousin, friend, teacher et cetera. Escapism is powerful. It is the forge of gaming, the pure bit of acting like someone who you are not by placing yourself somewhere you are not. Whether you are a dice-and-dirty munchkin or a Gitane-smoking high art gamer, the game is about the escapism. Even the purist of "realism" is escapism. How to define realism in terms of a role playing game is debatable, but the simplest one is the un-fantastical. A realist game is a game that eschews dragons and high adventure for tax returns and personal interaction. (1) Assailing the minuet of someone else's life with fanatic vigor is escapist. It is removing you from where you are now, putting yourself into a whole other life conception. That person is worse off than you are? Wouldn't it be nice to know that you were worse off, as opposed to having the vague paranoia of the middle-class?

Escapism, definitional and conceptually, is a pejorative. There is not a "meliorative" concept of the word. (2) It does not matter what you are escaping to, as long as you are, and it is of course that "escape" that gives the concept a bad name. It does not matter what you are escaping to, as long as you are escaping, and it is of course that "escape" that gives the concept a bad name. Gaming is one of many escapist endeavors, yet its brand of escapism seems to stink stronger than some of the others, perhaps only shying down next to video games. Come on, how many other brands of fantasy have been used to explain suicide and murder?

Possibly, we can even chalk up another sort of similarity between gaming and homosexuality, for some do view homosexuality as an avoidance of proper responsibility, the tantamount of sexual escapism, and count it wrong for that reason. It's the cheater's way of taking out the risk of children, so dulling the blade of responsibility that comes with the pleasure.

Now, I am not here to win you over to the idea...either homosexuality or gaming. If you are reading this you have already come to grips with your own escapism, (and I let your sexual orientation play itself out on its own terms). Maybe you are even one of the class of people who cite the escapist power of role playing games as something that improved or even saved your life. No, amongst the choir there is no need for preaching, and I would do a poor job of it. Escapism has never had that strong a role within my life, other than my love of its pursuit. I would never cite anything in specific that it saved me from. But in concerning myself with the above analogy, I gained a newfound respect for why people dislike escapism, especially in the form of gaming.

We must admit that the dark side of escapism is easy enough to see. It is a form of denial. The basic paradigm of escapism is probably alcohol, in its guise as our most popular "running away" drug. (3) The point of it is there is some better place than where you are now (someplace where there's two of everything) and it is only a matter of drinking to get there. As important is the better place to be found is, so is the escape. There is something that is being escaped from. Your life turns into a blues song, so grab a stiff drink and forget, or at least not mind remembering.

But just what is being escaped from? Many alcoholics end up, paradoxically, only practicing escapism in alcohol to avoid facing the fact that they are alcoholic. What were they escaping in the first place, if nothing at all?

There is an important distinction in any escapist endeavor. There is escapism that is pure to the term, true to form. I hate the way that I look, so I want to play someone who is beautiful. I will not change or will not accept fact X about my own life, so I will surround myself in fantasy in order to effect my denial. As long as I'm thinking about Traveller, I don't have to worry about not having a job or money to make rent. The thing about this sort of escapism is that it has no uniqueness to gaming. Money, power, sex, art, and work all leap to mind as possible refuges. Now, there is a "denial is the first stage" aspect to these sorts of things, in that some escapism is considered normal. Bomb shelters do have a way of becoming tombs, after all.

There is, however, another sort of escapism, one that is far more vague and disturbing. This escapism is the escapism of discontent. This is the escapism of the alcoholic for the sheer sake of the liquor. There is nothing in specific being ran from, no ugly truth being hidden from, excepting reality in its totality.

Life has a bad habit of being dull, or rather being unpredictably exciting, which equates to dullness. I've written on this topic before. This other brand of escapism exists to push a little verve into the trite existences that we lead. By pretending to be involved somewhere where something is happening, it livens up our day. It is a foray into another universe where things do run around us and our entertainment.

People hate this. Remember that one of the similarities between homosexuality and gaming is being picked on by those in denial. You will never hear harsher words spoken about gaming than by an ex-gamer trying to impress himself and others. The secret truth of this concept extends much further than to repressed members. On face value both homosexuality and gaming seem a choice of what to do on a Saturday night. (4) They both seem rather plain choices. Escapism and sex, even escapist sex or sexual escapism is all fairly straightforward ways to spend time. But not to everyone. What most disturbs the area man and woman about both groups is fluidity with a concept they are frightened of.

Homosexuality takes a degree of sexual awareness and comfortably that most people don't have. Gaming takes a degree of escapist imagination and comfortably that most people don't have. The truth is that no one makes it through this world without a good dose of escapism but people do not want to admit it. (5) Upon seeing someone who possesses that comfort, it is hard to imagine them not despising her. Gamers get it so easily. Other people have to scrimp and save to get to the Gulf for a week, where gamers take a vacation from themselves every weekend.

Of course, the argument is that the person taking the vacation isn't you, and an RPG doesn't match up to a real trip to somewhere warm and beautiful. First, there is the personal narrative factory concept (going on a trip doesn't mean it will be fun), but the more important criteria is that if people were more in touch with their escapism; they would not need the vacation. It would not be the only way they could understand to "get away." If people became comfortable with their Nora Roberts as gamers are with their dice, then the escapism would not be like a squirreled nut, ate as only a last resort, but something that was a real and important part of their lives, something normal and acceptable. The people left vacationing would be the people who honestly wanted that sort of escape, not people desperate for any sort of escape.

This profound change in human thought is not coming any time soon. It would take people, suddenly and en mass, becoming comfortable. Still, it is good service to remind yourself that the next time Bully sneers at your Magic cards, it's because he can't play with his fantasies. Most people, untrained in the ways of escapism, are not versatile in it. They need it, but they can't admit to themselves their need. So they resent us for it.

Now, when Fellow Gamer sneers at your Magic cards, that's another story entirely. Likewise, I do not feel happy about painting such an "us and them" picture of the world. It is only us and them to the extent that there is a them out there, somewhere, who refuses to recognize the inherent us-ness of themselves. They started it. Of course that leaves it up to us to finish it, and to stop caring that some people cannot come to grips with their innermost desires and designs.

1 - For the record, I think this definition is flawed at best, but use it as such for current argument

2 - Well, you can and I have been arguing about this with people. There are a lot of possible candidates. In fact, you could even argue that I'm writing about some other concept entirely. In my judgment all the words proffered on those counts seem to be re-definitions or etymological definitions as opposed to an actual current usage of a word.

3 - Sorry about the "paradigm" bit but there's really no other word that works here. I try to use it as little as possible because everyone else mauls it like a honey-soaked sponge in a bear den. Actually, that brings up another point: When did things get so Post-Modern around here? When did RPG.net become the place for news, reviews, and semiotic critique? I mean, I'm not complaining, but it's plain strange.

4 - Of course, now we can get into the argument of, since both groups have such massive cultures built up around them, whether it is right to speak the connection so plain (escapism=gaming, sex=homosexuality) for which instinct speaks no to but logic says yes, but let it drop this time, will you?

5 - I could spin theories for the why, as to how it is a post-industrial or cultural thing, something that falls strongly from the "Big Three" of world religions, or was strongly Anglo-American in outlook, but there isn't much practicality in blame.

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What do you think?

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