On the Subject of Gaming

I am a gamer, in this specific case I mean RPGs, Roleplaying Games, which have been my hobby and my primary creative outlet for almost as long as I can remember.  It is also how I met almost all my close friends.

Over the past couple of years some of my friends & I have been talking about what it means to be a gamer, how we talk about our hobby and what the pitfalls and perils of it are.

Now I am going to assume a level of knowledge and familiarity with the hobby here so if you are not a gamer and/or not interested in this kind of stuff then you may want to close your browser, I won’t be offended.

Firstly let’s talk about how we talk about gaming; there is the GNS theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNS_Theory) put forward by Ron Edwards, it basically says that games, players and GMs can be split into 3 distinct categories.  While this provides some interesting tools for identifying styles of play and types of game it is, to me anyway, far too limiting a framework for discussing a hobby a wide ranging as gaming.  I admit a reasonable part of this might be personal bias, in the past I’ve tried to discuss this and a few other topics on The Forge forums (run by Ron Edwards, although I think they may be closed now) and was met with a wall of arrogance and was told in a kind of round-about way that if I didn’t agree with them they weren’t interested in discussing anything with me.

Now, that doesn’t seem like a good approach to me, surely you can’t develop a theory if you’re only willing to listen to viewpoints that support your assumptions.

Anyway, GNS is not a great fit for me, it has some nice ideas but it seems to be trying too hard to be neutral and intellectual and just ends up coming off a bit snobby.

There is also the famous, in RPG circles anyway, gamer typing test.  This was a list of example actions and questions that did the rounds of gaming circles years ago (like in the 80’s), it split players into groups depending on the type of actions they took in a game.  Those groups were:

The Real Man – The tough macho type who walks up to the attacking dragon and orders it to leave before he gets hurt.

The Real Roleplayer – The intelligent cunning guy who tricks the constable into letting you all out of prison.

The Loonie – The guy who will do anything for a cheap laugh, including casting a fireball at ground zero.

The Munchkin – Need we say more?

Now obviously this was meant to be humours and to poke fun at the hobby and the participants.  But it does quite well at describing 4 broad groups, the problem being that 4 broad groups make for too many generalisations.

So, the question becomes how do we talk about gaming?  How do we discuss our hobby in a useful and constructive way using universally recognised language?

I think the answer to this is that we can’t.  Gaming is at its core a hobby for nerds and geeks, we form small tightly knit groups of friends and very rapidly develop our own lexicons and catch phrases and ways of talking about things.  This makes talking about the hobby at a higher level very difficult as none of us really share the same language.

Not to say that we shouldn’t talk but I think that we need to accept that the groups talk about different things in different ways and that when talking to people outside our immediate groups we should try and avoid in-references and recursive jokes that relate to our groups and players.  Treat it as an academic discussion, quote your references, don’t lose your temper when talking about games, avoid the ‘edition wars’ problem and keep in your mind this sage piece of wisdom:

“Wil says, don’t be a dick.”

Anyway, enough for now I’m going to talk more about gaming and my likes and loves in later posts but I thought I’d put down the groundwork for everyone to read, I can’t promise I won’t post in jokes or references that don’t make much sense outside of my group of friends, but I will try and explain it when I can.

3 thoughts on “On the Subject of Gaming

  1. Fozzy

    One way to consider it is to think about what the gamer is looking to get out of the game. Are they looking for a fun light way to spend time with good friends right through to existential exploration of an aspect of their own ego through the medium of rolepaly (how did that sound Steve?).

    Also gamers will change there persona depending on the game being run and their current personal circumstances. I, personally, tend toward the Loonie/Munchkin stereotypes, but that is because I like lighter more fun games, primarily because I cant spare the time to get involved in heavier games (much as I would like to).

    1. I agree mate, a huge part of the issue is what you’re looking to get out of it. My personal preference falls between the two extremes, Roleplaying is my main hobby activity, I spend a lot of time preparing for, thinking about playing and running games, but I despise the BS laden pretentious wank that gets spouted in some places. 🙂

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