This week, gamers have been enjoying the syndicated comic Get Fuzzy, which featured a D&D reference -- the evil cat in the strip mocks his human "owner" for having a Dungeon Masters' Guide (excerpt at right).
The strip is pretty funny, and complaining smacks of taking yourself too seriously. But, fuddy duddy that I am, let me jump in anyway.
It's not even that strip, or any one joke in particular, that makes me pause. I love D&D humor (see my screeds on Web comics here and here). I read Foxtrot daily, and I love the D&D jokes there, too (excerpt at left). And of course, the Lone Gunmen of X-Files fame were avid D&D players: one line from that show -- "I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage!" -- still makes me laugh when I hear (or say) it!
Yeah, yeah, I know, I protest too much. Some of my best friends are D&D jokes. Enough of that, then.
The metamessage, the underlying meme of these jokes and others, is that people who play RPGs are nerds, losers, and social misfits. That's how society sees gamers. There are no positive images out there. Even the video-gaming fans look down on us.
On the other hand, ridicule is better than fear and hatred, like the brand pedaled by Chick Publications. Yes, Virginia, there are people who spread lies about gaming and gamers. It reminds me of sweet lady I met once who told me that she was going to take her kids to see a new Harry Potter movie, but her pastor told her not to go, since the movie featured black magic, deviltry, and other perfidy.
America has a wonderful tradition of tolerence: start a religion, or a nudist camp, or an organic farm, if you want. But some people are not happy living their own lives -- they want to stop you from gaming, or learning about evolution, or marrying someone who is the same sex as you are. Why can't these religious fundamentalists live their own lives, like the Amish, without wanting to control everyone else's, too?
So through the lens of society, alas, gamers are losers and geeks at best; sinners and evildoers at worst. And this attitude affects most of us gamers. When was the last time you mentioned your hobby at a party, or to an acquaintance, or on a date? Would you consider reading a D&D manual in public? Ever feel funny at the local Borders or Barnes & Noble as you were browsing the RPG section?
On the Internet, I go by "Cayzle" for several reasons -- and one of them has been anonymity. I have preferred to keep my love of gaming secret from potential employers or people who want to know about me -- because I would prefer not to be judged. Googling my real world name does not bring up any link to "Cayzle." But maybe that means I have bought into the stereotype. Well, I would prefer not to, anymore.
My name is Michael Moran Alterio. I'm a married, 41-year-old journalist, living in metro New York. Actually, I'm typing this on the train I take into Manhattan every day. So there! Take that, society! I'm a gamer, and proud of it!
Well, now that I have changed the world, I feel much better.
Link [15 Nov 2005] Bob Jingle recently blogged about this same idea. Only he had more to say, and more eloquently. Go read his post.