RPGs, geekdom and social validation

edited March 2006 in Story Games
After being involved with several RPG communities, I've come to notice that each has its own style of perceiving and communicating things relevant to them. These styles include not only the content of these communities, but also their ways of perceiving things and expressing themselves. In practice, this often means that certain ideas, dialogues, and persons are validated while others are invalidated. The reasons for this are many and are likely due to the assumptions people bring to discussions rooted in culture, language, gender, ethncity, and even sexuality. My questions are as follows (answer whichever ones you feel up to):

1. To what extent is the assumption of geekdom prevalent in various RPG communities?
2. What affect does this assumption have on the tone and direction of any given discussion in an RPG community?
3. To what extent does it enhance or inhibit dialogues between people who may not share geek identify?
4. In what ways can RPG communities expand and enrich their ability to relate to people as people and not just gamers?

I do not have a clearly forumlated hypothesis or anything, but my intuition indicates the following:

1. Validating modes of thinking and communicating besides "either-or" types of discussions. In layman's terms, using tools besides debate to have an engaging discussion.
2. Encourage building bridges in addition to digging tunnels.
3. Abandon machismo.

Like I said, these are not well thought-out plans of action, just hunches. There may be something to it, there may not be. I'll need at least a few days to think about it. In the meantime, I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Comments

  • I sort of remember that type of association. I guess I thought it was a college thing.

    These days I don't have any sense that the people I game with are more geeky than anyone else. Yeah, they know about science fiction and fantasy but these days who doesn't? Mostly when they talk about their hobbies outside of gaming they're talking about things like tennis, or knitting, or martial arts, or novel-writing or cooking, or cinema history, or stuff like that.

    I dunno ... I suppose I don't know a lot of gamers in my area with an intense interest in football, nascar and deer hunting. But I don't know a lot of people in my area with those interests. I think it's more an East-Coast urban center thing than a gamer thing. Mostly gamers are ... y'know ... people who game. Take any random person on the street and convince them to play an RPG and you've got a gamer.

  • Tony,

    Sure, sure. But how many folks on this forum, for example, wouldn't know what you were talking about if you said "Neil Gamien did excellent work for the Sandman" or even "River isn't like the other characters on Firefly."

    And how often do we make those kinds of references, and the assumptions that come from being overly familiar with the forms, in every thread on every forum we post to?

    And to put it yet a different way, I recently had someone say to me that Spiderman wasn't geeky. When I asked about it he said he loved the movies, and when I asked "what about the comics" he asked me (no shit) "Do they really still publish those?"

    Do you live in his world, or mine?
  • Oh, I totally know all that stuff. But I know lots of stuff.

    Is being a geek about knowing where Spiderman got the black costume that later became the independently mobile supervillain Venom? Or is it not knowing anything much outside of that capacious storehouse of geek information?

    Serious question: Do we define a geek by what they are or by what they are not?

  • Tony,

    A little of both, I think.

    Also depends on if you're using the word positivly or negativly. And who you are when you're saying it.

    OTOH, this brings up the question of why it is not okay to know about Spiderman and Venom, but is okay to know the Joe Montana's passing stats for every season he played.
  • edited March 2006

    Sure. It's got both meanings. But when Green is asking things like ...

    2. What affect does this assumption have on the tone and direction of any given discussion in an RPG community?
    3. To what extent does it enhance or inhibit dialogues between people who may not share geek identify?

    I do feel like he's fishing a little bit for the issue of using geek knowledge as a crutch in place of other life skills. Like, I like Monty Python as much as the next person, but since college I do not use a Monty Python quote when an actual joke is what's called for.

    Likewise, I know all this geek-lore, and the vast majority of my conversations with gaming friends don't touch on it at all. I would have much the same conversations with ... well ... anyone.

  • edited March 2006
    Tony,

    Possibly, but his questions are more specific than that as well.

    Consider this thread on the Forge: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19142.0

    Or this one at RPG.net: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=252666

    Or this one on my own blog: http://yudhishthirasdice.blogspot.com/2005/06/geek-tropes-suck.html

    And tell me that geek tropes, geekiness, the perception of being a geek or being in a community of geeks does not inform, inhibit, don't skew those discusions.

    While we might be able to be normal and fully functional people (I'd hope we can!) when we get together one of the things we have in common is our geekiness -- and so our communities tend to center around it in one way or another. Not out RL communities maybe (mine are half and half, probably) -- but can you honestly tell me that the geek factor of RPG.net, the Forge, and here do not shape our discussions and would not act in an exclusionary manner to those who weren't geeks?
  • Sure. But is that an RPG thing, or an internet thing?

    I hear that crochet groups online are pretty insanely exclusionary as well, for instance.

  • edited March 2006
    Oh yea. I'd say that any specific interest group online is going to be pretty specific to those interested.

    .
    .
    .

    You knew I was going to have a counterpoint didn't you? Because I'm just that fucking annoying? Yea....

    Is this (or the Forge, or RPG.net, or my blog) a site for games or a site for geeks?

    To join the crochet group and participate as a full member and get the jokes, do you have to read Shelley and Keats?
  • Good question. Maybe RPG.Net is a site for geeks, the Forge is a site for game designers and Story Games is a site for gamers.

    Or maybe Story Games is defined by its "rock out with your cock out" mentality, and gaming is just a coincidental common interest. I dunno.

  • Thing is, Tony, all of em have a high geek meter. Though maybe the Forge is changing.

    And we don't rock with our cock out here. WE GET OUR STOOPIED ON!
  • edited March 2006
    Quote from Tony LB:

    Ido feel like he's fishing a little bit for the issue of using geek knowledge as a crutch in place of other life skills. Like, I like Monty Python as much as the next person, but since college I do not use a Monty Python quote when an actual joke is what's called for.

    I'm doing nothing of the sort. If you need clarification on my intent, I would prefer that you ask me.

    And I am a she.
  • edited March 2006
    Green,

    Let's not argue about this. I think Tony's points were very valid. He was questioning the assumptions behind your questions, which I think is an interesting thing to do.

    To go back to your questions:

    1. To what extent is the assumption of geekdom prevalent in various RPG communities?

    It depends on the community, but I'd agree that there's often an assumption of various things that you might call geeky.

    For example, I was involved in a Vampire LARP for a while and I think it was tacitly assumed that people a. checked their email every day, b. used IM a great deal, c. Kept up-to-date with vampire books and d. Were prepared to study the ruleset in some depth. Not being involved in these things wouldn't preclude someone joining, but they'd find it less easy to get involved. I wasn't into vampire or fantasty novels, for example, and I often found that a barrier.

    Not all gamers are like that, though. If the group of friends I'm playing with tonight started talking about Anne Rice, I'd kick them out of the house.

    2. What affect does this assumption have on the tone and direction of any given discussion in an RPG community?

    I think that cultural references can be used which less "geeky" people might not get.

    3. To what extent does it enhance or inhibit dialogues between people who may not share geek identify?

    As above, the cultural references.

    But I think it works this way: less geeky people look at more geeky discussions and decide not to get involved. (And, again, I'm not talking about all communities related to RPGs, but some).

    4. In what ways can RPG communities expand and enrich their ability to relate to people as people and not just gamers?

    Well...this is where I'd question the underlying assumption. If we're discussing RPGs, then of course we want to relate to people as gamers.

    I think the question is: how can we enhance our ability to relate to a wider community and not just appeal to geeks? I'm not entirely sure of the answer, but I think that many of the games written by people here - which don't require keeping up-to-date with newly published books, for example, and many of which don't use a fantasy setting - are moving in that direction.

    Graham

    [Edited to get the BB code right]
  • edited March 2006
    To join the crochet group and participate as a full member and get the jokes, do you have to read Shelley and Keats?

    Nope. I am part of what's called a Stitch N Bitch. It's a group that meets quite regularly and we knit, crochet, emroider, (really any needlecraft) and bitch. But no, something like that isn't neccessary. Now I know, maybe you were being snarky. But that's the perception that most people have of Stitch N Bitch groups.

    Like people have the perception that Gamers are geeks. I think it's because of the assumptions we make when we are talking to our gamer friends. We assume, they are -just- like us. Maybe that's why I have such a wide and weird circle of friends. No one is like me because I am just that odd. (thhptt!)

    I'm female. I like to hunt and fish. I'm married. I game. I'm a knit-a-holic. I have a regular subscription at my local comic shop and I like watching anime. I like movies of just about any stripe. I like going to titty bars. I like making money and until recently have always made more money than my husband. I like high heel boots. I like hard liquor. I'm a bon fire jumping heathen. I like games that involve big robot combat and strategy. I can throw down on some Armored Core on the PS2.

    If you want to appeal to more people, if you want to be able to relate to non-gamer geeks... then get out there and do other things.

    Lisa P
  • edited March 2006
    Lisa,

    The entire point of the line you quoted was that the answer was no, but that on RPG threads the answer (if you change Keats and Shelley to Gamien and Lee) is yes.

    In a Stich and Bitch you go there to talk about what you are there to talk about. Same deal in the various mythology, history, culture studies, and whatever else boards, forums, and email lists I've been on. All you have to know/do in order to fit in and get full value from the community is the thing the community is about. No one on my radio-tracking list is going to care if I say that Shelly wrote to C.W. Dilke on 21 September 1818.

    But most game communities do not have that. To be in a lot of game communities as a full member, to "get all the jokes," you have to also speek geek. It isn't enough to play games, or to want to play games, you also have to be able to compare your game to Spiderman 2 -- and possibly be ready to back up your knowledge of how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created or if Ellis did better in Transmetropolitan or Watchmen.

    Now, as you and Tony have pointed out, this is a little odd because many of us do other things in our real life. I work for lawyers, do martial arts, travel, study a million different things, go to clubs, go to theatre (not movies), work in theatre (again, not movies), and a bajillion other things. Many many of us do many, many non-geek things.

    And yet, here that is how we relate. It is the common denominator, yes, and that's a good reason to have some reference to it. But it also goes farther than that. It is assumed by many gamers at a very deep level that "geek things" and "games" are the same issue. Games are about things like superheroes, and not about things like paychecks and paperclips.

    Which, of course, is bunk. It's also bunk that we're starting to explode. Breaking the Ice, for example, is not one bit geek - unless you make it so. Many "normal" people could love Breaking the Ice, play Breaking the Ice, have interesting things to say about Breaking the Ice... and because they aren't geeks they would be unlikely to say them on most RPG forums (where you must speak geek to get the jokes). This, of course, forms a vicious cycle -- only geeks post, so non-geeks don't post, so only geeks post....

    This is enough of an issue that I know at least three seperate people who are working on new RPGs that do something different with game that do not post their games to places like here, the Forge, or RPG.net because they want to move sharply away from the geek dominance. They are making games about things that people other than geeks will like, and in fact, are often making games that most geeks will not like because they go directly against geek tropes.

    It isn't enough just to have non-geek hobbies in your real life. That's just a first step. If you want the communities to be more than just geek holes (which you may not, every social group needs a hole) then you have to change the assumptions of the community, and the way they talk, and the way they form group identity, and the way they include and exclude others outside the "tribe."

    Really, much as he does it more harshly than neccisary and with a distinct lack of grace, there are reasons that Ron goes onto rants about geeks and their tropes and the problems they cause in such a confrontational manner.

    ...

    Green, I know I didn't do a point by point on your questions, but at this point have I given you some idea of where I stand and what I think about the issues?

    (Oh, and what's your name? Calling you Green feels funny.)




    Note: Yes, I know that Ellis didn't write Watchmen. It was Keats that wrote to Dilke, but who was going to correct that one?
  • edited March 2006
    To be in a lot of game communities as a full member, to "get all the jokes," you have to also speek geek.

    Here's the thing... do we have to be 'full members' and 'get all the jokes' to be considered part of the community? For example, I am considered (at least I believe so) to be part of the gamer community but I have never once played GURPS or Rifts. Never even cracked either book. (Yes, I know... I should be whipped in the streets) so I don't get all the jokes about those games, yet I enjoy hearing people discuss them and I am still considered part of the community.

    There have been many times at other groups, for example, my Stitch N Bitch, that we discuss gaming, and some of the other members have no idea what we are talking about, yet they are part of the community. Or when they discuss raising their children. I've got no clue there as all I have are two cats, but I am still considered part of the community.

    Do you see what I am trying to say?

    Also, Green, yes what is your name?

    Lisa P
  • edited March 2006
    Lisa,

    Yes, I get your point. That's going to be true in any community that is to type rather than to point -- which is to say any community in which you deal with "games" rather than "this game." Or any list where people talk about their lives or things like that.

    However, I think the difference comes around how much of the core issues of the community you are able to participate in. In your Stich N Bitch (love the term, btw) you're still able to talk about the stichin with full confidence, even if you don't have kids. But on many RPG lists your ability to talk about game will be limited if you don't have geek references.

    So by "full member" I don't mean "can talk equally about every single thing that might be talked about" but I do mean "can feel comfortable in being part of the discussions of the core issues of the community."

    Make sense?

    Edit: P.S. In terms of not having played GURPS or RIFTS, it's probably just as well. Rifts hurt me.
  • Brand_Robins wrote:
    It is assumed by many gamers at a very deep level that "geek things" and "games" are the same issue. Games are about things like superheroes, and not about things like paychecks and paperclips.

    Which, of course, is bunk. It's also bunk that we're starting to explode. Breaking the Ice, for example, is not one bit geek - unless you make it so. Many "normal" people could love Breaking the Ice, play Breaking the Ice, have interesting things to say about Breaking the Ice...
    OK, I'm going to put on my old fogey hat again a moment here. We've been "starting to explode" this one for ages. There's always been a token non-geek game or two that people will point to: from "Dallas the Roleplaying Game" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle" to "Theatrix" and "Soap".

    However, in practice the hobby has expanded previously by crossover properties and games which have both mainstream and geek appeal, like Vampire and Buffy. The closest that we have gotten to mainstream is Vampire larping -- I would cite the cover story of Swing magazine being about Vampire as the "new singles scene of the nineties". In Scandanavia, the larper community has come much closer to being considered mainstream. I think a key part of this is involving physical activity and rewarding physical prowess.

    The Forge has made many good game designs, but they're still geeky. Promoting games is focused on traditional role-playing conventions (i.e. you can see the spike in Dogs sales from GenCon, say). And the content remains geek-focused. For example, Ron Edwards' published games are "Sorcerer", "Trollbabe", and "Elfs".

    Green wrote:
    1. To what extent is the assumption of geekdom prevalent in various RPG communities?
    2. What affect does this assumption have on the tone and direction of any given discussion in an RPG community?
    3. To what extent does it enhance or inhibit dialogues between people who may not share geek identify?
    4. In what ways can RPG communities expand and enrich their ability to relate to people as people and not just gamers?
    1. I'd say the assumption of some degree of geekdom is common.

    2. It affects the typical subject matter of the RPG community, such as the typical chat about what books you have most recently read or movies watched. There are some varied social/political interests, such as intellectual property and technology. There is a degree of machismo, as you state, but machismo is common in social circles anyway.

    3. Obviously it inhibits dialogue with those who don't share the same cultural identity. Having a common set of references eases social connection.

    4. I'm not sure I follow the question. Presumably RPG communities should promote people relating through their games and about their games. Is that relating as gamers? I would tend to say that having expanded subject matter for games is a good way to improve personal relations.

    There are some social consequences to game structure. Large larps tend to promote more intermingling of people socially. Tabletop games or single-room larps tend to encourage a more close-knit group. Longer games increase closeness, while shorter games encourage more player rotation.
  • edited March 2006
    John,

    Could be your right. Ron's games to date have certainly been geek games, and most of the Forge games have as well. Thus the reason I didn't excuse the Forge from the geek-circle issues. (I said it was better than RPG.net, but you know, that's like comparing the blackness of space to that of a blackhole.)

    However, the thing that I think may make this different*is that we're starting to look at the fundemental structure of play differently now. Rocky and Bullwinkle, Theatrix, and Soap all made a lot of "game trope" assumptions about what playing an RPG was that put their structure at odds with what they were trying to do in breaking out of the geek realm. (Though one must ask about R&B and geeks....) Games like Breaking the Ice do a much better job of chaning what play is about, and (so far as I can tell) without being so overly concious about it.

    Also, as a note: I don't think that getting out of geek will make games vastly popular in the mainstream. I don't think that shall happen until we get immersive VR or something similar. I do, however, think that there are other tiny little niches that we could get into in addition to the tiny little niche we're already bunkered down in.


    *Yes, I also know that every time someone thinks they're doing something different they say this. And most of the time it isn't true.
  • Hmm, I was active in SF fandom for a while before I got back into gaming, and that's more-of-the-same, lots of people with a common interest who spend a lot of time doing and talking about their other interests.

    There are certain threads in common -- a love of talk and food, a tacit agreement that I'll accept your obsessions if you accept mine, a shared feeling of superiority over the *real* geeks who are on the other side of the room...

    For that matter, my Amazon title is "neuroscience geek.". And, come to think of it, I've been active in other communities, of doctors and of political junkies, and a lot of the same tendencies show up -- a feeling of togetherness, in-jokes, a designated Other we like to make fun of...

    How much of "geek" culture is just our lovable monkey nature showing through, magnified by the acute self-consciousness that is a part of geek culture?
    To address your original points, Green, I would be itnerested to hear more about your conclusions about geek culture and RPG's. I certainly haven't seen any lack of machismo -- only that the pissing contests tend to revolve around who can best collate and display information in support of their arguement.

    It's like the two monkeys in the movie "Madagascar":
    Monkey 1: "Look, Tom Wolfe is speaking tonight, let's go!
    Monkey 2: (sign language)
    Monkey 1: "Well, OF COURSE we're going to fling poo at him!"
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