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Old 03-30-2011, 10:10 AM   #1
SnowTroll
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The RP Stigma

So last night, my wife finds me upstairs playing a mud. We've been married for three years. She knows I'm into video games, especially computer games. I've never really "hid" muds or roleplaying from her. She's just not into everything I'm into, just like I'm not into everything she's into, so we've never really had a detailed discussion about any of the particular games I play, just like I have no care to discuss with her what any celebrity wore to the last gala or what happened on Jersey Shore last night. After watching me roleplay for about a minute, she makes it known that what I'm doing is "weird." Really weird and lame. She asked if I was going to dress up in medieval garb and run around in the woods on weekends. She wasn't seriously mocking me, mind you. Our marriage is great. She just thought what I was doing was funny.

That got me thinking, is it really? I'm a pretty normal guy with normal guy friends, and I have friends who can recite, from memory, the full line-up of their favorite college football team. They didn't go to this college, never played football, don't live near this collage, never did, and don't know anybody who does or ever has. But they have extremely strong feelings about this one middle linebacker -- one of those guys who never touches the football but just crashes into another guy every play -- that the team recruited out of this po-dunk high school in Mississippi and how good he is. They really wish they'd play him as a starter even though he's just a freshman becase he's so much better at crashing into people than their current starting linebacker. They spend all of their spare time using the Internet to research stats, read blogs, and stock up on various sports information. They will converse for hours about various coaches and their recruiting policies, and which teams "look good" next year, even though half of the team graduated at the end of this one, and will go on and on about what a good pair the coach and this new defensive coordinator the team hired away from some other school will make. They will watch every game, all season, even if it's not their hometown school or the school where they went or where anyone in their family went, and they will know about all of the players. Some of them will even have a fantasy team, carefully track stats, and gamble. And this is perfectly ordinary, healthy behavior. It's even considered attractive, manly behavior. After all, these guys work tough 9-5 jobs every day that they hate, so when they're home on the weekends, they like to escape into the fantasy world of athletics. Something they were never a part of and never will be, but something they like to get into.

My guy friends have wives who can tell you, from memory, which celebrities are dating who, and recite the complete list of everyone each of them used to date. They'll watch the E channel religiously, read every magazine known to man, and will have four-hour conversations on which celebrities wore what to which gathering, whose shoes didn't match what dress, and how much all of their clothes cost. They don't live in England, have never been, and will never go, but they're obsessed with the royal family. Not their political stance or their thoughts on international issues, but on who's marrying who, what they're wearing, and the menu at their next party. They have tough lives, too, just like their husbands, so they like to escape into the fantasy world of actors, actresses, and other public figures, even though they're not a part of this world. And this is normal, healthy behavior.

But what I'm into is "weird." Video games are fine. A bit nerdy, but still a normal hobby. But roleplaying games are weird. Supposedly, I should be escaping into the world of college and professional athletics, not a fantasy world where I play a character. There's always been this stigma about roleplaying, and I'm curious where it came from, and what interesting stories you mud community people can share.
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Old 03-30-2011, 01:22 PM   #2
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Re: The RP Stigma

This is a great post. I think the main issue is that most people have at least seen a football game once in their life, and most people have watched movies, television news, seen the covers of Us and People at the grocery store, etcetera.

So at a certain level anyone can relate to any of these things. But the vast majority of people have never seen a RPG. Wikipedia says 12 million people play WoW, which has 60 percent of the MMORPG market. I've heard numbers of a few million thrown around for tabletop RPGs. So if even 25 million people play MMORPGs in the world, even if they were all in the USA (which they're certainly not) that's still a small minority. Not to mention that MMORPGs are a solitary activity for the most part.
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Old 03-31-2011, 12:32 AM   #3
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Re: The RP Stigma

I think a lot more people have played video games than most people expect, but a lot of them feel like they have to hide it because they aren't aware how widespread the hobby actually is.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, this is from a recent post on my blog:

The Diverse and Growing Gaming Industry
  1. The average age of a gamer is 35.
  2. 26% of all gamers are over the age of 50.
  3. Only 25% are under the age of 18.
  4. In 2007, 40% of all US residents 2 years or older played an online game.
  5. 65% of American households play computer or video games.
  6. The gaming industry grosses more than the music and movie industries combined.

It just has to sink in to everyone's awareness that MOST people out there are gamers. It is beyond a niche hobby now. Once people realize that, they won't feel like they have to hide it.
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Old 03-31-2011, 06:06 AM   #4
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Re: The RP Stigma

The term "gamer" covers a pretty diverse group though and I bet the majority of those in that survey are people who play "games" like Farmville or Mafia Wars. That's quite a bit different from a text based role-playing game, and I think that was the OP's point.

I've certainly had my wife mock me for "wasting my time playing a stupid game" while she sat there on her laptop mindlessly clicking away at Farmville.
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Old 03-31-2011, 09:34 AM   #5
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Re: The RP Stigma

Nice opening post, SnowTroll.

The majority of human beings consider their own pastimes to be normal, and others' utterly perplexing. (I'm often guilty of the same attitude--many of the activities you listed, especially those involving sports and celebrities, put me in abject horror and shatter my belief that humanity is worthy of survival.)

That said, it's quite possible that your wife is just trying to pry you away from gaming and put you into a more productive mode.

If this happens in the first hour of a game session, you can politely compare your pastime with hers, pointing out that while neither contributes directly to the well-being of your family, they do contribute directly to your mental health as productive individuals.

If this happens in the third or fourth hour of a game session, you can always tell her she's right, and shut down the computer. I've only managed to do that a few times myself, but it works wonders!
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Old 03-31-2011, 09:38 AM   #6
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Re: The RP Stigma

Orrin gets the gist of it. Lots of people play video games. Heck, three quarters of my age 30-something guy friends bought a gaming system just so they could play the annual releases of whatever football games come out every year. Some of them got into some of the fun group party games and timewasters, like Rock Band and Halo. Even my wife and some of her friends aren't afraid of the occasional video game. I've had to pry her off of facebook games and redirect her attention toward real games once in awhile.

I even got my wife a little bit interested in the Final Fantasy series and a few different online "roleplaying" games over the years (I use the term loosely to refer to the genere of games that includes controlling characters that have various stats and abilities and using them to kill things, not actual roleplaying).

But the actual act of sitting at a computer and typing out sentences your character would say, essentially playing make-believe over the internet, is what she dubs "weird." Games are okay, but playing pretend in a fantasy world is strange to a lot of people. Unless it's a fantasy football team, in which case it's normal and manly.

I think where people get weirded out is the actual playing of the role. When people get together to arrange their fantasy football season, or talk about it online, they don't assume the role of a football coach, think about the background of this coach character they've come up with, and type things out that the coach would say or do. They're just themselves, tracking stats and playing a game with friends. There's this stigma about playing a character that's not you, i.e. playing make-believe.
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Old 03-31-2011, 10:17 AM   #7
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Re: The RP Stigma

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Originally Posted by SnowTroll View Post
When people get together to arrange their fantasy football season, or talk about it online, they don't assume the role of a football coach, think about the background of this coach character they've come up with, and type things out that the coach would say or do.
Sounds like a great idea for a game! Pro Football MUD. You read it here first.
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Old 03-31-2011, 12:41 PM   #8
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Re: The RP Stigma

You should read Ethan Gilsdorf's book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. Itdevotes a lot of text to exploring many of these same ideas.

Here's a little article he penned in salon.com that might give you some hope.
How "Dungeons & Dragons" changed my life - Gaming - Salon.com
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Old 04-02-2011, 11:43 AM   #9
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Re: The RP Stigma

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But what I'm into is "weird." Video games are fine. A bit nerdy, but still a normal hobby. But roleplaying games are weird. Supposedly, I should be escaping into the world of college and professional athletics, not a fantasy world where I play a character. There's always been this stigma about roleplaying, and I'm curious where it came from, and what interesting stories you mud community people can share.
That will never change. The group of people that are into things like fantasy books, d&d, and even acting (been an actor my whole life) are a nitch of what most people consider odd or wierd because it isn't the normal activity like playing sports etc. And frankly, most actors and d&d players are a bit odd/introverted. I say most not all. Doesn't mean you aren't normal, just your perception will be.

With the growing world of texting, most will see it as no more than a an offshoot of such.
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Old 04-02-2011, 04:07 PM   #10
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Re: The RP Stigma

I've always liked to explain it to people who really don't get it as a 'multi-player choose your own adventure novel'. Still, some people will never get it, because they don't see it as a productive outlet for creativity - you get no tangible outcome.

Personally, I've got enough junk already. I'm happy with the intangible outcomes, and I can still have a somewhat social activity.
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Old 04-03-2011, 02:07 PM   #11
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Re: The RP Stigma

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With the growing world of texting, most will see it as no more than a an offshoot of such.
I really don't think this statement is an accurate one. It's not the text transmission aspect of roleplaying that people find weird, creepy, or stupid. It's the actual act of playing make believe, whether it's done through text over the internet, by a group of geeky guys sitting around a table rolling dice, or by a group of even geekier guys dressing up in constumes, talking in fake accents, and running around in a park on the weekend.

When we send text messages, that's just an e-mail. An electronic text conversation. It's not so different from a phone call, just computerized. I, a real person, am sending you, a real person, a communication containing inforamtion I, the real person, want you, the real person, to know. Roleplaying isn't an offshoot of that, nor a natural extension we can expect to see from that. I'd buy that people would think that online chat rooms are pretty logically related to text messaging. That's just another type of communication. But the second you throw in acting like fictional characters in a fantasy world and typing as if we're them, it gets weird to people.

Even actors who play roles for a living get a break. Because a) It's a productive job they're getting paid for, and b) They're not really "getting into" it, just going through a script someone else wrote. As soon as we get to the part where rpg players are just making stuff up together and improvising without a script, not as part of an acting warm-up for a real life job, we're suddenly weird geeks with a strange hobby. The part where we really get into it and aren't just doing it because we have to to pay the bills seems to bother people, and more generally, so does the part where we're all getting together to pretend something with no real benefit (Melopene might be on to something with the intangible aspect), just for fun, like we're children playing with sticks and treehouse forts.
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Old 04-04-2011, 09:21 AM   #12
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Re: The RP Stigma

I understand that people are embarrassed, and I think that embarrassment leads to such things as applying pretentious labels like "collaborative storytelling" to RPing even though trying to play from such a perspective is usually disastrous. If I have to say anything about it, I might say that I like interacting with other people on-line through text, and that doing that while acting as a character and trying to consciously create a fictional scene is fun. It's more fun than, say, wallowing in the vomitus that is television or going to a club and yelling back and forth to others over loud, bad music or compulsively refreshing your Facebook page so that you don't miss someone saying "I just had a sandwich yum!", though it's not as good as reading a good book or going for a walk or volunteering at the humane society.

Really, though, who cares what others think? It's not like you're raping crack-addicted baby seals as a hobby, and unless you spend six or seven hours every night RPing (or playing WoW or compulsively reading and commenting on blogs - go outside, people!) it's not that big a deal. Just smiling, shrugging, and saying, "Hey, people waste time doing all sorts of trivial things. This is one I enjoy," seems good enough for me.
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Old 04-04-2011, 04:36 PM   #13
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Re: The RP Stigma

As an aside, most of the people who know much of anything about my MUD habit find it to be either really cool and interesting, or are just amazed that I can type and read so quickly because of it.
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Old 04-13-2011, 02:50 AM   #14
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Re: The RP Stigma

When I explain what a MUD is, I get "Wow, that's just like Storytelling."

Now how many that'll actually go try it, or one, that's an unknown.

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Old 04-13-2011, 03:23 AM   #15
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Re: The RP Stigma

With the growing world of texting, most will see it as no more than a an offshoot of such.
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I really don't think this statement is an accurate one. It's not the text transmission aspect of roleplaying that people find weird, creepy, or stupid.
Um...texting is weird, creepy and stupid. Just hang around groups that do it on dates, driving down the road, while they are talking to the person they are texting...weird....creepy....stupid. Compared to this, MUD'ing is high class.
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Old 04-13-2011, 10:12 AM   #16
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Re: The RP Stigma

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With the growing world of texting, most will see it as no more than a an offshoot of such.
Um...texting is weird, creepy and stupid. Just hang around groups that do it on dates, driving down the road, while they are talking to the person they are texting...weird....creepy....stupid. Compared to this, MUD'ing is high class.
*Laughs* Yeah, maybe a little. But that just shows how old we are. I'm guessing the third digit of the year you were born is a 7 or less. Early 80s tops. To be honest, my wife will be typing on her damn phone all through dinner. Sometimes, I'll take mine out and send her a text message to get her attention. But all in all, sending a text isn't so different than sending an e-mail. It's not hard for people, even old fogies, to wrap their minds around texting. It's just a modern form of communication those young wipper snappers are doing all the time. But the second you're spotted pretending you're a wizard (whether on the computer or just sitting around the table with friends) and actually talking to people as if the world your wizard lives in is real, you're recognized as one of those creepy geeks everyone avoided in high school.
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Old 04-18-2011, 06:44 PM   #17
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Re: The RP Stigma

I believe there's a stigma against role-playing because it is, in a very real sense, carrying a pastime perceived by many as being childish over into adulthood. Children very often play cops 'n' robbers, Star Wars, elves and wizards, and other such games that occur in imaginary places and feature imaginary characters; but grown men and women are expected by Western society to "put away childish things" as per the King James Bible. If you still fancy yourself an elf in a magical land when you're 30-something years old, most people will look at you askew.

(Side note: Adults who engage actively in [perceived] child-like behaviors are often considered creepy. That's where the "creepy geek" thing comes from, I believe.)

Football, celebrity-watching (gag me), and other "all-American" escapist activities have their roots firmly grounded in reality and tradition. There may be an aspect of fantasy to them (sports enthusiasts playing vicariously through professional teams, or celebrity watchers feeling included in that exclusive world in some way), but they're not fully imaginary.

Role-playing is 100% imaginary. Sadly, as you can probably tell, imagination is the key ingredient people generally consider to be weird. Artists, writers, musicians and actors make great use of their imaginations. Those professions have been around for eons and they're still considered pretty weird, on the whole.

Also, role-playing is rather selfish in that it's a hobby we engage in purely for our own pleasure. Actors create shows and plays, musicians create music, artists create art, and writers write books -- all of which outsiders can experience and enjoy. Non-role-players don't get anything out of role-playing (it's a hobby, after all), so it's much harder for them to accept this very imaginative activity as normal.

Those're my two copper pieces. Myself, I keep my role-playing hobby an absolute secret from almost everyone, because I'm a "stealth geek"... I'm a gym rat, I have a good "serious" job where I would not want the people in charge to know about my hobby, etc. I don't want people to perceive me as a geek, not because of MY shame (I have none), but because of their foolish biases. I protect me from them, in other words.

Last edited by Suicide Boy : 04-18-2011 at 06:50 PM.
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Old 04-19-2011, 12:09 PM   #18
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Re: The RP Stigma

That's probably most of it, but there seems to be something more. For example, video games are generally a childish hobby, they're isolating, and they don't generate anything except fun for the people playing them, but they're fairly understood and accepted. While they're seen as something of a nerdy hobby and a waste of time by many, there's this whole other level of creepy geekiness that's applied to roleplaying. Sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons, or even just playing a roleplay based mud goes above and beyond immaturity and non-productivity, to this special place of condemnation.

Maybe it's the "unofficial" nature of RPGs. A video game is an official product made by a big company, with defined features and goals that I can experience. Sitting around a table playing D&D with friends, we're all making it up as we go. My success isn't defined by a big company; it's just my GM telling me an NPC's response to my words or actions. Instead of winning a defined game that's been vetted through various corporate levels, it might look to others like I'm trying to impress my nerd friends, which isn't as worthwhile of a goal. Same with muds. If I'm just talking in character to someone, i'm not really playing the game, just chatting in imagination land with no defined goal or expected response, and the person on the other end is doing it back. That's somehow different than popping the Final Fantasy CD into my Playstation. I'm just fishing here, trying to put a name on that extra something that makes roleplaying "weird" in a way that every other geeky hobby can't quite touch.
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Old 04-21-2011, 05:00 PM   #19
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Re: The RP Stigma

If they say Roleplaying is a childish endevor, then how do they explain training?

In both siturations, you are building skills that you will be using. Granted, nobody nowadays goes out into the forest to slay monsters. But Roleplaying enables us to build and play out social skills that we can then use in RL, and when we undergo training for a job or assignment in RL, we already have those abilities and can react to the siturations that we may encounter out on the Job.

No, I don't see RPing as 'childish'--I see it as a learning exsperience concering one's self and others.

Even when dealing with those that cheat.

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Old 04-22-2011, 02:56 AM   #20
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Re: The RP Stigma

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If you still fancy yourself an elf in a magical land when you're 30-something years old, most people will look at you askew.
Interestingly enough, my ears are slightly pointed and I have no ear lobes. I could be, in fact, an elf. Some have said I'm magical. I hope they weren't meaning flamboyant.
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