I downloaded a new song the other day called “This Fantasy World (Dungeons and Dragons)” by the Double-Clicks. It’s mostly a fun, light-hearted song about a girl who’s attracted to someone in her D&D campaign. Some of the verses, however, reveal that the songwriter is just falling back on the same stereotypes as ever…playing D&D in the basement, D&D players having no sex, Doritos, Mountain Dew…I don’t even *like* Mountain Dew, and I’ve certainly never drunk it at a game.
After some chatting with my husband and our housemate, I found myself pondering these stereotypes. Like most stereotypes, there are some nuggets of truth, but reality and the stereotype don’t have that much in common. So let’s take a look and try to do some de-mythification.
“D&D is played in the basement.”
I can guess that the kernel of truth in this comes from when D&D first came out and the age at which a lot of people started playing. It’s a weird hobby. There, I’ve said it! And it really started getting popular in the late 70s and 80s. And a lot of people who play it started when they were in high school or earlier.
Imagine, then, the parents wanting to let their kids play, but not really wanting it in the public eye, or not wanting the kids underfoot while they do other things. So for people who had a room in the basement they could send the kids off to? Well, that was probably a blessing.
Maybe it’s just that my Mom’s basement was unfinished, but I never played D&D in my Mom’s basement. I did play it in the basement of my friend Opie’s parents’ house, but their basement was a finish, fully furnished rumpus room, and it was one of the most comfortable rooms in the house. If we played at my friend Jeff Shelley’s folks’ house, though, or at my Mom’s house, we played in the kitchen, because that’s where the big table was.
Now, we did play plenty of D&D in the basement of the townhouse I used to rent in Waltham, but, again, it was fully finished, and it was more convenient to play it there. We briefly played in the basement of my current house, because we created a room in there specifically for games. Once one of my tenants moved out, however, we quickly dedicated a room as our gaming room, and it elicits jaw-dropping from many folks I know because of our extensive collection of RPGs, board games, miniatures, props, posters, and more. It’s kind of a gaming mecca.
I realize most folks don’t have the liberty to designate a gaming room. We’re lucky in that we have the room, and that both my husband and I are gaming enthusiasts, so both of us feel the need for a game room to hold all our stuff!
“D&D games always have junk food like Doritos and Mountain Dew.”
When we were kids, we ate junk food at any social activity, so sure we ate those things at our games. Personally, I preferred Pepsi to Mountain Dew, and I preferred Fritos to Doritos, but I know friends of mine who liked those choices.
I’ve spoken in other articles about foods we’ve had at my games. At my various games, it would not be unusual to have one to three blocks of cheese, celery, braunschweiger, beer, wine, haggis, freshly-baked breads, homemade mustards…well, you get the point. It’s not all M&Ms and Funyons…although we do sometimes have M&Ms…
I suspect the difference here, again, is childhood vs. adulthood. In the Freaks & Geeks episode about Discos and Dragons, Sam Weir specifically calls out that when they play D&D, they “sit around and crack jokes and eat junk food all night while we’re fighting dragons and saving princesses and stuff.” Nowadays, our snacks tend to be a bit more adult is all.
That doesn’t stop Ryan from bringing those awesome cookies, though. Dang those things are good!
“D&D players don’t get laid.”
Alright, so think back to high school. Who was usually playing D&D? Mostly the nerds, brainiacs, geeks, etc. Let’s face it; if you were one of these folks, you weren’t getting laid whether or not you played D&D. That’s just not the high school hierarchy.
My husband also points out a sort of “elephant in the room” effect which I’m forced to agree with. We didn’t have the phrase Asperger’s Syndrome when I started playing D&D, but, looking back, there are a lot of guys I played with who would probably be diagnosed with it now. And I understand, with the social difficulties that come along with it, there might have been some barriers to any kind of romantic life.
I know little about this sort of autism, but I gather it’s possible to get very focused on a specific activity. Again, pondering on some of the folks I know, I think D&D might’ve been that activity for them. And that probably didn’t help either.
But zoom forward to now. My current D&D group consists of people who are married, sexually active, romantically active. Heck, the group I play Cthulhu with are almost all married. And again, I would point to the awkwardness of the high school years vs. these adult years as being a primary divide as to the stereotype being functional or false.
“D&D players are antisocial.”
This is the one that utterly baffles me on some levels. D&D is an inherently social activity. It promotes getting together with friends, using teamwork to overcome obstacles, group tactics…
So why this stigma? Well, again, I have a theory.
I was actually a very outgoing kid in high school; it was one of the ways I compensated for being overweight. Now, having said that, many of the kids I played D&D with were not. They could be kind of quiet, and they weren’t good with snappy comebacks. They didn’t go out of their way to try and meet girls (see above…although, of course, neither did I, but for very different reasons…and I *still* ended up with a girlfriend!) They didn’t go to proms or hold big parties and invite everyone. Again, this could be part social awkwardness, part Asperger’s syndrome, but it could also just be fear.
Let’s face it…kids in general, and high school kids in particular, raging hormones and all, are not known for their empathy and sympathy. They tend to lash out at the different and the strange, and D&D was definitely that. It gave bigger kids something to tease smaller kids about, outgoing kids something to mock in more shy kids. So big shock if D&D players didn’t try to pal around with the “popular” kids.
But it also created its own camaraderie. The group I hung out with and played D&D with in high school were my best friends of that time, and D&D wasn’t all we did. We had parties on holidays, went to the movies, went to amusement parks, went camping…we did lots of stuff together. But without D&D, we might not have gravitated towards each other. Without that common thread to start us hanging out together, we might never have created the stronger bonds that made us friends.
I’m sad to say that, as time has gone on, I don’t communicate with a lot of those friends any more. I see them now and then, or we chat on Facebook, but time and distance have taken their toll. Many of them have started families and have more limited social time…further evidence that D&D players do indeed get laid.
Putting the Stereotypes to Rest
Now that we’ve addressed the fallacy of the stereotypes, how do we put a bullet in their collective brains? Oddly enough, the answer comes from one of the other Gs in my title.
I don’t “seem gay” to a lot of people who meet me. I don’t do anything in particular to try to seem more masculine…apparently I don’t need to. But I also don’t have a lot of stereotypical gay “tells.” I have a very deep voice, I don’t have a willowy gym clone body, I have terrible fashion sense… So one way for me to change peoples’ perceptions on what it is to be gay is to just be me. This shows them that not every gay guy in the world is Jack from “Will & Grace.”
The same thing goes for being a gamer. Just being “out” as a gamer (remember my very first article here?) lets people with stereotypes about gamers start to see that the stereotypes don’t describe all gamers: I own my own home; I have a busy social life; I’m married; I’m not into heavy metal…
Did I mention the heavy metal? Some people claim that metal is the music of D&D players. Personally, I’d rather listen to the Decemberists, the Beatles, or They Might Be Giants.
So put that stereotype away.
Have you ever been negatively confronted with a gaming stereotype? Do you think I’m off base in my thoughts? Did I miss any stereotypes you find particularly grating? Let me know.