Once upon a time, gaming (In this context, I’m referring to tabletop Role-Playing Games; In The Beginning there wasn’t much more than Dungeons and Dragons but these days there are easily several hundred. A large but incomplete list is here. You could, if you were interested, find a better one. I couldn’t be bothered so I wouldn’t think less of you if you didn’t either.) was a young person’s game. I almost said “young man’s game” because, in the early days, it was an overwhelmingly male hobby. This has since changed to some extent but, while things are no longer “overwhelmingly” male, they’re still “predominantly” male. (Stupid anecdote: in the last twenty years, our gaming group has included no more than two women. One of them stopped coming because her boyfriend disapproved of us. He didn’t disapprove of RPGs in general, you understand, just us in particular. I’m not sure if I should feel insulted. Maybe it was one of the other guys.)
The whole point of that grotesque mess of brackets and asides and such is that tabletop RPGs are — or were — largely played by youngish males. Or so the stereotypes go. This stereotype has been widely embraced because there’s more than a grain of truth to it. I’m going to talk (briefly) about a few examples. Since this is not a carefully researched essay (or, indeed, researched at all), the examples are all things I happen to know.
Robot Chicken occasionally covers games and various aspects of fandom, often featuring a character called Nerd. (Male, high school age.)
In the webcomic DM of the Rings the players never actually appear onstage but they can be inferred to be male and mostly young-ish.
In Chainmail Bikini, the sort-of-but-not-really sequel to DM of the Rings, the gaming group is only about half young and is about 3/4 male (the lone female is her own brand of stereotype). It’s interesting in the current context because one of the characters (the gamemaster) is a balding, gray-haired male — presumably older.
In the webcomic Full Frontal Nerdity the gaming group is uniformly male (although one of them, Shawn, is off-camera in Alaska and appears as a webcam) and at least half young-ish.
There are tons of other examples in media; everyone has stories and there are more (for example) webcomics than you can shake a stick at.
So like I said, the stereotypes are mostly male and largely younger. This is more rambling and disjointed than usual but I’m trying to pad my word count and provide a bit of context for introducing the… individuals who were sitting around playing something. I suspect it was Burning Wheel but the exact game isn’t important. At the time of this anecdote, the group consisted of Commander Doug, Captain Jeff, the Mad Viking, Doc H and the ice-covered houseplant.
- the Mad Viking — the gamemaster at the time, the name is a tribute to a fictional mythic ‘hero.’
- Doc H — a long-time grad student who stopped being one without actually, you know, finishing his thesis; it’s been speculated that his children will probably complete theirs before he finishes his. Responds to threats with dynamite: fortunately this behavior is mostly confined to games. Mostly.
- Commander Doug — a retired naval officer who keeps cats instead of parrots. Keeps someone (one guess) from holding the not-really-coveted-at-all title of Eldest.
- Captain Jeff — an important figure if for no other reason than he was indirectly responsible for Ms. Rose, um, ‘settling.’
- the ice-covered houseplant — a hateful misanthrope.
So we were siting around, eating chips, drinking sugary caffeinated beverages and ‘exploring’ a semi-alternate history of a popular work of published fantasy with added abuse, character assassination, random violence (player characters in RPGs are almost uniformly sociopathic) and veering off on tangents.
Tangents. All games have them. They’re a meme. A trope. A stereotype, if you will. They can come out of nowhere and can derail progress within the game for an arbitrarily long period of time. Once upon a time, many of them involved Monty Python — this may have changed, or maybe I just got old. There’s a good example in Chapter 14 of DM of the Rings. Chapter 22 isn’t half bad either. In the one I’m thinking of, our players were…
Well, that’s one stereotype shot to hell.