It’s Okay to Be a Role-player

When I interview people, one topic that often comes up is what interests are “too geeky” even for the self-identified geeks. Usually, it’s some form of role-playing game—massively multiplayer RPGs for some people, pen-and-paper/tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons for some of those who are comfortable with MMOs, and live action role-playing for most of those who will admit to having played D&D. As one of my interviewees said, “I have to be wary about what I admit to people I play.” I’ve often wondered what it will take to make the role-players feel like it’s okay to admit to what they do, or for other gamers and geeks (and heck, non-geeks too) to feel comfortable role-playing.

I see some signs that make me wonder whether this change is underway. The New York Times Magazine has a slideshow up of people with their online avatars, though I suppose it’s as easy to read it as “see, these are people too” as it is to read it as “weirdos are fascinating.” Also, a couple weeks ago, I noticed that the Newbury Comics CD/comics/kitsch store in Harvard Square was selling Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts. And I’m not just talking logo shirts here, though they had those—they had a shirt with the art from the cover of the Dragonlance rulebook, which features a half-elven man with a sword and some demon thingie behind him. I’m not sure, however, if these are being sold/worn mostly as a retro/ironic thing or if the pervasiveness of games like World of Warcraft is finally making D&D seem more socially acceptable.

(And yes, I know enough about Dragonlance to tell you where the art came from and that one of the guys pictured in it is half-elven, but apparently not enough to tell you what the demon thingie is actually supposed to be called. I’m doing my best here, though.)

5 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Be a Role-player

  1. I think there are two main factors in this change, and they may or may not be separable:

    1) Alot of the material behind role-playing games has become more mainstream lately. WoW is probably a factor (as you mentioned), as is the Lord of the Rings series. It would be interesting to see how public perceptions of, say, Star Trek fans changed after Star Wars came out.

    2) It seems to me that society in general has made a push for people being who they are despite what anyone thinks about it. Education and psychology are always telling us to be true to ourselves despite what our peers think. Maybe I’m just getting this vibe because I’m growing up, but I think there has been a fundamental shift in how willing people are to identify with less popular passtimes (be they D+D or else).

  2. As if you needed more proof that I’m a nerd…

    The demon-thingy in the background is Takhisis, dark queen of Krynn (i.e. the main evil god in the DL universe). As for the dead dude lying under Tanis’ feet, I forget his name, but am pretty sure that he is/was Takhisis’ main general, the dragon highlord (or whatever) of the red dragon army. (A quick wiki search shows his name to be Ariakas).

    On a more academic note, in line with your blog, I have to say that, in my personal experience, it has been easier in recent years to be more open about roleplaying or whatnot than it had been. Now whether this is because of changing times, changing me (more comfortable with myself or whatever psyche-mumbo jumbo you want) or simply changing environment (moving from relatively cloistered – i.e. high school to more open – college – to huge – the real world), I don’t know.

  3. Oh, that’s Takhisis? I recognize the name, but I’m bad with faces. Lloth I would have recognized, though—we go way back.

    (Coincidentally, I was just chatting with an old friend the other night for the first time in many months, and her screen name is a play on the name Takhisis.)

    Your comment reveals something of a flaw in my study that I hadn’t thought about much: I’m only interviewing adults. This was more out of concerns about an acceptably narrow scope (for such a massive topic) and avoiding the ordeal of getting approval to work with kids. The unfortunate effect of this, I think, will be that I may get a lot of people saying “times are changing” who are likely influenced by their own lives changing. This makes it all the more important to get interviewees who reached adulthood before the dot-com era, who have been less willing to be interviewed so far…

  4. One thing that is changing is that my generation (35 years old) played role-playing games non-stop growing up and never quit. We may have moved from table top to PC to console, but we have stayed true to the nerd in us. The generation before mine didn’t play much D&D and stopped playing video games at about 11 or 12 years old.

    When I was younger, I remember asking a friend of mine if he had bought the latest Space Lego set one time and he said he had sold them and reminded me that he was now 7 years old and too mature for toys. Weird thinking in my book. I still have Lord of the Rings toys still in the box displayed proudly on my computer desk.

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