Why is it that when we tell someone that we’re a gamer we get odd and often times confusing looks. it’s almost as if we have to give each person a rundown on what a gamer is and what specifically we play. Only to hear the usual responses “oh. that’s like risk, right?” or the ever popular “Do you play Monopoly?”. Then we have to continue the torturous beginnings of the conversation by saying something like “no, not all. Have you seen the boardgames recently at Barnes and Nobles? It’s that type of game we play.” or something like “I play Roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, ever hear of it?”. This is usually the point at which the light bulb comes on or burns out for the person.
As a flag waving geek gamer, I feel it is my, neigh our, responsibility to properly promote the hobby in such a way that brings us all positive responses and potentially new folks into the hobby. The problem as I see it is that there are many negative stereotypes we have to overcome as a community. Some of the stereotypes are, in theory, easy to overcome, but others may be monumental.
Games are for Kids:
While at its heart this statement is very true, people seem to forget that games taught their kids rudimentary skills such as math, reading and maybe even decision making. These same lessons can be applied to adult gamers. I have been seeing lots of commercials for cognitive thinking brain games and websites that espouse that games and active brain workouts are beneficial to cognitive brain function. Which leads to, in theory, longer life spans for those that stay actively engaged. So, with all of the recent emphasis on these types of brain games, it is surprising that some still think games are just for kids.
Overcoming this stereotype shouldn’t be all that troublesome and can actually be a selling point for our gaming groups. We should capitalize on the brain games by explaining to those that suffer from this stereotype that not only can we remain mentally sharp, there is more learnt like strategizing, conflict resolution and planning. There are other things we could say about the games depending on our particular interests within the hobby. The above is just an example.
Ah, we have all heard this one before! Let’s face it, we have all invoked this stereotype ourselves; especially when it comes to MtG and other card floppers. There is nothing like a room full of unbathed and undeodorized gamers (usually card floppers) to turn off the perspective folks interested in the gaming community. Worse yet, the parents of the younger crowd being turned off by smelling and unkept teens and adults at the local gaming store where their child wants to hang and game. While this issue and yes it is an issue, is not exclusive to card floppers, it does seem to be prevalent in this part of the hobby. It may be that they’re the only segment that most often gathers in large numbers and it is this throng of bodies, body heat and a lack of deodorant that hurts the hobby. Surprisingly, the odor level is never as high at conventions with larger amounts of gamers present. Personal hygiene should never be an issue, but it seems to always be an issue that drives the stereotype!
Overcoming this stereotype will take time and lots of soap and deodorant. How hard is it to shower daily and use deodorant? Grow up people! You are no longer that awkward 14-year-old who is learning about hormones and personal hygiene. Don’t go to the gaming store or convention without showering! Common sense should prevail here. We all live different lives and have unique living situations; do yourself a favor and encourage your friends (gaming wingmen) to be honest with you if you have a little BO or some other gross funky smell. You should be able to do the same for your wingmen without anyone taking offense. being cognizant of how we present ourselves to the public is the only way to combat this issue. Simple enough, right?
Look Honey, the Freaks!
Yes, this everyone’s favorite. You can’t thank the cosplayers for this stereotype. Whether you are for or against cosplaying, it seems to go hand in hand with gaming at conventions. How many times have you watched a hotel patron leer at or comment to whomever they are with about the freaks, weirdos, geeks etc? Being a convention director, I see it all the time at my events and at other events. Cosplaying has an odd marriage with the gaming community because there is so much crossover between the two hobbies.
I am not sure that there is a way to ever overcome this stereotype. There is just far too much crossover here, but there are things we can do to mitigate some of the negativity associated with the “look honey, the freaks!” stereotype. First, and foremost, cover your shit up! You are not a movie star, no one wants to your nearly naked body. Well, maybe some of the perverts do, but a game convention is not the place! Second, if you are a larger person for god’s sake please wear size appropriate clothing or custom pieces. You should not try to squeeze into the same custom that the size 0 girl or the guy with the 30″ waist next to you is wearing. Third, do not run around the event flaunting your sexual preference. I have never seen this in a cosplay-free event so, I can only assume it is a cosplay-centric issue. Most people could care less that you are gay, straight or bi-sexual. What you end up doing is making those that might not agree with you preferences uncomfortable. If they are uncomfortable, they complain, leave and/or ask for refunds. In the end, you could be running off future attendees and that’s bad for business but worse for the hobby. Chances are if you are reading this blog then you most likely an adult. If you are cosplayer please be respectful to those around you and for your environment.
Wow, they Let Their Kids Run Amuck!
This problem is not convention centric. it can be an issue are game club meetings in public places or private homes. This is also an internal problem that those without kids or with older children are fond of bitching about. Parents, not all, tend to get engrossed into their gaming and forget about riding herd over their children. The children then run amuck and disturb other gamers. This is especially an issue at conventions or public game days held in retail establishments like game and book stores. People outside the hobby see this and draw conclusions that all gamers are bad parents. Some indeed are not great parents and if they happen to be gamers, it can get exponentially blown out of control. Nobody wants to babysit your kids because you can’t or don’t want to be a responsible parent and keep them under control, no matter the location!
There are several things we can do to help change this from being a problem to something more positive. First, public events, whether they are conventions or game days should try to incorporate kid-friendly programming. keep in mind, I am NOT proposing a babysitting service. Second, be conscience of what is age appropriate for your child and if there is nothing at the event (public or private) that is appropriate, get a babysitter so that you and other gamers can enjoy the gaming without feeling like they need to babysit your child to keep them out of trouble. Lastly, if you’re a parent, try to connect with other parent gamers and have some private events to get your gaming fixes in. Bottom line is you need to be a responsible parent and ride herd over your children. When they run around and act all crazy they give all gamers and responsible gamer parents a bad rap!
Nerd or Geek!
Seems those outside our rather inviting hobby have this notion that being a Geek or a Nerd is a bad thing. Oh, how wrong they are! Wave your geek and nerd flags high my friends and wave them proudly.
So, how to we overcome this silliness? I am not sure that we can anytime soon. This is a really more of a cultural change. Some of the factors at play here are some of the very stereotypes mentioned above; especially the notion that games are for kids.
As with what’s already been mentioned above, be a good representative of our hobby so that those in the general public see you and our beloved hobby in nothing but a positive light. That is how we change external stereotypes over time. We won’t change anything overnight, but if we all work at putting our best foot forward, we can make some good inroads in a short amount time.
In my next installment of this topic, I will talk about internal stereotypes that affect the gaming community.