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Fear of a Gaming Planet


Unity, discord. Panic, dancing in the streets. Kindly doves and ruthless sharks. The gaming hobby is a fascinating place, and the metagame of surviving in it fits accurately the apocraphal Chinese curse of "interesting times"[1].

The game hobby is a ghetto, isolated from the fearful masses. They know we exist, but do not understand our arcane ways and specialized lingo. Meanwhile, within the walls, we have our own bonding, our own petty bickering, and our own inflated egos[2].

Mind you, the so-called "mundanes" do roleplay, they just don't realize it. Many roleplay being coaches, strikers or quarterbacks while they watch their favorite sport on television, screaming at the screen in their new-found role as team Cassandras[3]. It's not that far a leap to imagine them in a situation where their advice was actually heeded, and the outcome suddenly dependent on it. Many would leap at the chance, but, for some reason, they just don't game.

Meanwhile, in the business world, job interviewees are run through "practice situations", while classrooms do "educational simulations". "Roleplaying gaming", despite the efforts of GAMA's Gaming and Education group and companies like Steve Jackson Games, Global Games, Raven Star Game Design, Strunk Games Chaosium, Inc., Avalon Hill, and Mayfair Games. Gaming is seen as unprofessional and inappropriate, while simulations are businesslike and acceptable. But really, they are the same thing.

We almost dare not get into "live action roleplaying", which often bears the closest resemblance to the above. Yet they too are either vilified by the media as potential psychos, or at worst, portrayed from that haughty "aren't these people strange" manner that so many journalists can muster so easily (as Washington Post article on the ILF showed.)

So we remain locked in our ghetto walls, our methods and goals appropriated by the outside, but our own presence banned. And yet, within our walls, there isn't unity. Tabletoppers sneer at larpers. HERO fans rail against the sins of GURPS. Every net pundit picks on Palladium. Everyone hates CCGers. People have heated, emotional debates about games, about what the "proper" method to have fun is!

When "T$R"[sic] was top of the heap, everyone ragged on them. Suddenly, though, the grim spectre of WotC buys TSR, and the focus shifts to this new "evil empire". This ignores, of course, the fact that (prior to M:TG), WotC was high on the list of fan-favored underdogs for their work. Thus the cycle turns.

It's not just company-level that such fickleness is evident. When TSR had a restrictive online policy, their netrep was cursed and flamed. Yet Sean Reynolds helped inform the TSR folks and worked with them to put a better policy into place. Upon rollout of the new policy, suddenly TSR's praises are again being sung, and nary a credit to Sean's efforts given. In a way, it's like the Japanese saying, "Success brings honor to your family, failure is yours alone" [4].

Thus so much of our energy is taken up with infighting. As put aptly on the GPA list recently, "the gaming industry produces only 2 things: games and lawsuits."[5]. So instead of thrusting out into new markets, achieving great demographic penetration, and spawning legions of new gamers, we kvetch. And the world passes us by.

Yet, at the same time as all of this internal politicking and bickering, we show surprising unity in the face of adversity. First and foremost, we game despite the social stigma against it. Go into a gaming shop and the message board is littered with eager people seeking same. Try an online registry, and their electronic kin are doing likewise. Free, volunteer web pages abound for every game. Dozens of 'zines thrive in a myriad selection of niches. For every game, there's a home, and a community.

Under adversity, we're strong. When our favorite products are cancelled, we find new ones. We'll play new games, classic games, most any games. Our hobby is intrinsically social, forcing us to get together and interact instead of passively watching TV or vegetating. Many of us have grown up with gaming (as Lise Mendel puts it), and it frequently is the major social interaction in our lives.

Not to get maudlin or such, but we are gamers, and many of us are proud to be so. "Geek chic" reigns. Gaming has its own culture, its own subcultures. If we are a ghetto, we're a lively bustling one. Perhaps our hopes and dreams were best put by Justin Achilli, in his recent "leaving White Wolf" note.

Despite professional differences and matters of opinion, we're all gamers at heart. Let's not lose sight of that and work to bring ourselves out of the Gaming Ghetto.

And maybe someday we'll break down the walls, and bringing gaming to the world. They could use some fun.

Until next time,


[1] "May you live in interesting times" has long been quoted as an "authentic Chinese curse", but no specific reference (or translation) is commonly known. One scholar points out that this is a bit succinct for a Chinese proverb, which tend to run more like:

"We can say we live in a civilized world when a naked virgin can ride a pair of horses laden with gold across the provinces of China unmolested."
A tad more verbose, really. So, we remain skeptical. Of course, this probably means we're damned to live interesting lives, but so be it.

[2] Some of us to the point where we write columns each month. Really, though, we're looking for a cartoonist to email us and ask for her/his own page...

[3] Virgil's "The Aeneid", 19 BC, tells of Cassandra. She was gifted with the ability of prophecy, but cursed such that no one would believe her.

[4] I don't have a citation for this, but I read it while living in Japan, ergo, it's a firsthand quotation.

[5] Dave Logan of Storm Press is to credit for this keen insight.

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