General Question

Hobbes's avatar

Why are role-playing games held in such distain?

Asked by Hobbes (7368points) December 10th, 2008

I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons, among other games, since I was six. Usually, when I mention this to someone, I get a reaction somewhere between confusion, amusement, and mild scorn. Occasionally, someone will be genuinely interested, but mostly they write the hobby off as a sign of irredeemable nerdiness.

So here’s the question: why? Why do people automatically assume that role-playing games are the purview of socially inept weirdos who live with their parents? Of course, not everyone does this, but a surprising majority still do. So, why is this impression so fixed in people’s minds, and (this is important) what could be done to correct it?

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32 Answers

elchoopanebre's avatar

IMO the stereotype that RPG players are nerds is a much more accurate assertion than many other common social stereotypes based on race, gender, sexuality, etc.

With that said I play RPG’s…

dynamicduo's avatar

I guess it’s just a perpetuating stereotype. Traditional D&D has been mocked and joked about many times in pop culture, I think in part simply cause it’s a geeky thing, and geeks were mocked and ridiculed much in the past.

I find letting people know that there are many genres of role playing games helps to reduce the stereotypical judgements. Such as telling people who like science fiction about Shadowrun, telling people who like super heroes about Aberrant or Heroes Unlimited, telling people who like Fallout 3 about the Fallout Pen and Paper RPG, etc. Also, recalling some of the crazy adventures we go on always sparks some interest from someone, which can lead into a discussion of the tabletop role playing game nature itself.

EmpressPixie's avatar

I think it is becoming more okay with the ever growing popularity of World of Warcraft. Now I see it more as a “move into to digital world, why are you still pen and paper???” thing than anything. Of course, I also hang with a lot of nerds, so take that as you will.

tonedef's avatar

I think that the high visibility of LARPing contributes to a widespread stereotype of RPG’ers as downright eccentric. I disagree with this notion, though I wouldn’t contest that RP’ing is a nerdy hobby. I do agree that using RPG players as the butt of jokes is obnoxious and tired.

Unrelated: There’s a documentary from the 80’s called Escaping Satan’s Web that primarily tries to explain that D&D was designed to induct people into Satanism. If you’re ever at a thrift store and see it, grab it quick.

edzacktly's avatar

I just started playing D&D for the first time at 23, and I’m really enjoying the game. However, it surprises me how much I actually have to watch who I tell the game about. It’s not first-date appropriate.

But to echo the sentiments expressed before me, things are getting better. Especially as the fourth edition of the game streamlines the process of playing, and stylizes the art a little better. Let jokes roll off your back, maybe even poke fun at yourself, and friends will typically bend with you.

There was actually an instance during this year’s election where a McCain official was removed from his position for mocking D&D gamers, as an example of the game gaining popularity. I was really amused to find out there are soldiers in Iraq with their character sheets safely nestled in their gear.

You can read an article about it here:

And if you’re an Obama supporter who plays the game, there are T-shirts:

aanuszek1's avatar

Because it’s EVIL!

EmpressPixie's avatar

@Ed: It could be first date appropriate, depending on the lady. I’m just sayin’...

EnzoX24's avatar

As it turns out, most of my friends were playing Warcraft behind each others backs. They figured it out, then got me into it. We were the stereotypical longhaired, rock kids in high school, so none of us expected it from each other. If there is one thing I learned from it, it is that World of Warcraft is a lot more socially diverse than I thought. And now I even got my girlfriend into playing it. Shes plying now as I type this.

edzacktly's avatar

@Empress: In my case it would depend on the gentleman. :D

Good point.

jessturtle23's avatar

My brother was obsessed with RPG’s from a very young age. I would throw parties at my house when my parents left and my poor brother and his friends would be in his room playing Vampire and D&D among other things. Having been around it for most of my life I can say that all of the guys I met that use to play were in fact socially inept weirdos. I actually found a bag of multi-sided dice in a drawer the other day. He still has all of his books and stuff if anyone wants to get into it :) I do think that the Lord of the Rings movies made nerdy a little less nerdy.

cwilbur's avatar

Go to a game convention, a game store, anywhere pen & paper RPGs are being played. The majority of the people you see there will actually be socially inept weirdos; some of them are also likely to live with their parents. (In fact, if you go to a game convention, you’re already introducing bias into your sampling, because you’re eliminating the ones who are too socially inept to manage to get to a convention, or those that are so unemployed they can’t afford it.) You’ll also see a number of socially adept people who are there because it’s interesting, but they’re not usually the ones that the eye (and nose) are drawn to.

The people who think that all RPG players share those traits are a bit off, but expecting the average RPG player to is not that unreasonable, given that so many do.

I suspect that a lot of this has to do with the rules-based nature of RPGs—instead of having to pick up on all the subtle, subjective, unwritten rules of actually functioning in society, the socially inept people can read cut and dried, objective, clearly delineated rules of the game. It’s also great for escapism: if you’re socially inept and living in your parents’ basement, it’s a lot of hard work to fix that, but it’s really easy to escape into fantasyland for 8 hours on the weekend.

How to fix it? Well, as one of those socially adept people who plays roleplaying games and goes to the occasional game convention, my take on it is pretty much—why do you care what other people think?

Hobbes's avatar

Mmm. Well, OK. There are a fair number of socially inept weirdos at game stores and cons. But I think the bias in your sampling goes the other way a lot of the time. The ones who don’t go to conventions are often the ones who aren’t socially inept. There are a great number of groups that regularly meet and play and if they do interact with the con or gaming store community, it’s on a very rare basis.

I think you may be on to something as far as dungeons and dragons goes. D&D is, after all, based off miniatures wargaming and is, at its heart, still a tactical battle simulator. RPGs have developed a lot since 80s D&D, though, and often focus more on character development and story than rules manipulation.

The thing I don’t get about the “escapism” argument is how it’s that much different from any other form of escapism. Sure, it’s a little more powerful than reading a book or watching a movie, but acting is equally “escapist” and enjoys far higher status.

Why do I care what people think? Right now, role-playing is a very niche hobby because of its low social status. Because of this, very little money flows into it. This in turn means that most game development is done by one of the big monopolies (Wizards of the Coast and White Wold), because they have most of the capital. If it were more widely accepted, more money would be injected into the industry, which would result in more companies and more innovation.

Knotmyday's avatar

Two words: “Leeeeroooy Jeeeeenkiiiins!”

90s_kid's avatar

my older brother is a nerd, and he playes runescape (
I used to play club penguin when i was really young ( its a babyish game

madcapper's avatar

I used to play D&D in high school too but we would drink and get high while we were playing so I don’t see what’s nerdy about that haha. We did not discuss it outside of our circle though…

Overshard's avatar

Because most of the Christian population believes that DnD is evil because it has magic in it. I am a Christian and I see that as completely stupid. I have a level 17 dwarven warrior btw. ;)

jessturtle23's avatar

I don’t think it has anything to do with religion:)

Overshard's avatar

@jessturtle23 Tell that to any preacher and see what he says. ;)

jessturtle23's avatar

So preachers think that D&D players are socially inept weirdos because of Magic? Magic the Gathering? I think Magic the Gathering players are pretty nerdy, too! Preach on, brother!

augustlan's avatar

My husband played back when he was in high school and college. He was this totally nerdy, smart guy who was also in the chess club. However, no one ever messed with him: He is a 6’2” mountain of a man who also played football and kicked many asses. Maybe you just have to look like you might kill someone if they suggest you are nerdy?

madcapper's avatar

Yeah my one buddy from high school I played with played baseball in high school, was generally regarded as the kid you didn’t fuck with, and threw most of our parties at his house. But he loved and still would like to play but he lives in Florida. Its really kinda funny when stereotypes don’t work out. I mean I am kind of nerdy in my interests, not a ton, but I loved D&D. I read the Hobbit when I was in 3rd grade and my best friend introduced me to RPGs when I was in 5th grade, we played Shadowrun and Call or Cthulhu before I ever played D&D. I just have a good imagination I guess and like acting. I also believe that if I hadn’t been introduced so early I amy not have liked them as much. I haven’t played in a long time bur I kind of miss playing those games…

madcapper's avatar

sorry for the horrible sentence structure… it’s late.

cwilbur's avatar

@Hobbes: Precisely—you go to a game convention, you see all the socially inept weirdos, and realize that these were the ones who were socially adept enough to make it to the convention in the first place.

And much of the innovation and development in the RPG hobby is being done not by the big companies but by independent gamers. Take a look at and see what people who aren’t WOTC are doing. Fortunately, research in game design doesn’t require a lot of capital or money—a game like Polaris, or Sorcerer, or Spirit of the Century can be the project of a few innovative people and self-published with POD.

(Wizards of the Coast is quite obviously being managed to maximize profit rather than game innovation; D&D4 is pretty much aimed at being a paper version of what the most lucrative segment of the market wants out of its games. And White Wolf, with a few exceptions (early Ars Magica, some of the mechanics in Exalted) was never really that innovative except in content anyway, which is why they were so attractive to an online gaming company. This is not to say that the games aren’t good, just that they’re not terribly innovative.)

Perchik's avatar

I think the answer comes in the meaning of the world RPG- Role Playing Game. Generally people who play want to live a life that’s more exciting than their real one. It allows them to play a role and escape to a world where jocks don’t pick on them, where with enough training they are the jocks, able to pick on n00bs for the hell of it.

Yes some of them can be fun, but the real world matters more. I played WoW for awhile and I’ve had close friends fail out of school b/c of WoW addictions. The point is, when your life sucks (you can’t find a job, cant afford an appartment, mom’s house is the only valid option) you have to do something to make yourself feel better. Beating imaginary demons with a battle axe bigger than your undead head can fulfill that need. What often happens after this though, is that instead of using the game as an occasional release from a stressful real world, the game because a stressful world in which the real world is an occasional release.

Hobbes's avatar

I think that may be true in some cases, but though it’s a stereotype based in truth, it’s still a stereotype. I’m a reasonably well-adjusted person, and I don’t play role-playing games because I’m unhappy with my life. I play them for the same reason I act and the same reason I read fiction – for the unique experience of stepping into another person’s shoes and the joy of imagining a place that never was.

Also, I must point out that WoW and pen and paper games are entirely different animals. D&D (and 4th Edition in particular) has many similarities, but bashing things with axes and similar power trips are by no means the norm in all games. Take Nobilis, Dogs in the Vineyard and Unknown Armies, for example.

cwilbur's avatar

Escapism is not inherently a bad thing. I have a good life and a solid career, and I’m not living in my parents’ basement, but I enjoy roleplaying games in part because of that escapism. It’s the same reason I take vacations: my job is wonderful, but getting away from it is still a good thing.

(Bashing things with axes is a great stress reliever. And bashing imaginary things with imaginary axes saves a lot of cleaning up.)

It’s when the escapism is more important to you and more valuable to you than what you’re escaping from—which is the case for a lot of the socially inept gamers, and for the people who are addicted to WoW—that it becomes a problem.

Sakata's avatar

@Perchik: “What often happens after this though, is that instead of using the game as an occasional release from a stressful real world, the game because a stressful world in which the real world is an occasional release.”
I know exactly what you mean. That’s how it was when I played WoW. Became more like a job than a game.

CMaz's avatar

Because, role-playing games are the purview of socially inept weirdos who live with their parents.

Thammuz's avatar

Because it’s mostly true. I mean, i do play D&D, and lots of friends of mine do too, and most of us work well together precitsely because we’re weird enough to like eachother, but that also means that most of the people we’ve been with all along high school didn’t like us, or saw us as weirdos. Because we are! We’re weird, we don’t give a fuck we are, we like being with other weirdos and that’s pretty much it.

The fact that we play D&D is probably related to the fact that most of us have been grown with different outlooks on fun and entertainment than most of our peers. None of us, for instance, like watching sports, some of us do practice them, none of us likes watching them. And what makes someone more socialy inept that not having fun when he’s supposed to and vice versa?

With this i’m not saying “we’re superior”, mind you, it’s a simple reality that gamers, at least in my experience, have a different conception of fun.

jerv's avatar

Personally, I have a bit of disdain for anybody who plays D&D, especially 4E.
GURPS is a far better system :P

BTW – if any of you want a laugh, here it is.

Thammuz's avatar

@jerv i seriously think that’s a PoE. And if it isn’t then an “Only in America” is due.

jerv's avatar

@Thammuz Whether it is serious or parody, it makes me laugh.

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