You are here: Home / Blog / Anecdotal Experiences of Stigma as a tabletop role-playing Gamer

Anecdotal Experiences of Stigma as a tabletop role-playing Gamer

by Hawke Robinson published Jun 07, 2012 12:05 AM, last modified Jun 02, 2016 03:13 PM
This is a copy of the posting I made on the rpg.net forum back around June 2012, regarding role-playing gamer stigma. It is a very long post. What have your experiences been with role-playing gaming, gamers, and any social stigma?


Quote Originally Posted by Wil View Post I'd argue that there's no social stigma at all, and only stigma originating from individuals. To whit, society doesn't give a crap whether anyone plays rpgs or not and admitting to doing so does not negatively impact someone's ability to function in society, nor are rpg detractors capable of swaying public opinion. I'd be much more concerned about other actions taken by various groups related to the televangelist/Dominionist movement than them screaming about rpgs being Satanic.

Alas that it were true that no one cared about folks' hobbies, and would leave well enough alone so that one can enjoy favored recreational activities without harassment or ban, that is not the world we live in generally.

There is a fair amount of research already published showing that at least across much of the USA, and a few other countries such as Israel, ignorance and utter misconceptions about role-playing gaming, especially D&D, have had a significant impact on people trying to enjoy this activity.

Much of this is covered on the RPG Research website and in the essays. The CAR-PGa (Committee for the Advancement of Role-playing Games)organization covers these issues in even more detail. The RPG Research project is concentrating more on the psychological, educational, and therapeutic aspects, while the CAR-PGa folks focus on the advocacy. But I do what I can as an advocate for the potential benefits of role-playing gaming.

Personally I am proud to have as a portion of my multifaceted identification "a gamer". I think it is a wonderfully rewarding and beneficial activity that too many people are missing out from enjoying because of many misconceptions spread by a terribly misinformed media, and by proxy the general public. But my support of RPGs has not stopped others from being able to have an impact on my life, or others, due to their energized ignorance.

I was first introduced to role-playing gaming in 1979 by a visiting cousin using AD&D. It was a new and fascinating recreational activity. From about 1979 to about 1982 I did not run into anyone (as far as I knew) who had any issues with role-playing gaming or gamers. Those that knew anything about it generally enjoyed it, and there weren't any preconceived notions or assumptions about it being only for "geeks", "nerds", or the later even more negative "anti-social", "outcasts", "misfits", "occultists", etc.

Then around '83 to '85 or so, I started to see TV shows, news reports, and newspaper articles going on about the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons specifically and role-playing gaming, and gamers, in general. This was before the occult accusations gained traction, and more about claims that D&D/RPGs promoted antisocial behavior, suicide, etc. The occultism came later in the 80's. I cover this in detail in the articles I listed at the beginning of this thread.

Many of the girls, and a few of the guys in the school I was attending, "Realms of Inquiry - A school for gifted & talented children" (about 8th-10th grade time period - though I ran into similar issues later at public schools as well) began mocking us during gaming sessions we had during lunch or other break periods. I thought they were ridiculous and just misinformed, generally didn't really care what they thought (though a little annoyed at their interruptions). I offered to show them the game (they of course refused). Later though, as the media became worse, the initially light mockery became more serious. Accusations began being made about "spells", "witchcraft", and "demon worship", etc. I became disgusted with their ignorance and wrote an 8 page essay on the topic for my AP English course. The teacher then had me read this to the entire school since the issue was getting especially heated in various communities. After that, some of the girls and boys that had been mocking before, took me up on the offer to let them watch or try the games. Some became casual or even avid gamers, others did not, but as as I know, most no longer harass those who game.

Later (either that year or the following, I forget which), as this was a small private school, we were temporarily without a theater class instructor, so the school converted the time slot to a study period until they could find a replacement drama instructor. I had the "crazy" idea to make that a role-playing gaming period that could fill the slot, especially since I saw a reasonable relationship to the theater period and role-playing gaming. I wrote up a formal proposal and met with the Headmaster, proposing to run a course on role-playing gaming during that time for anyone that wished to attend, until they had a new teacher. He tentatively agreed.

I was allowed to use the biology classroom (since it had the most large tables instead of just student desks, or floor space as the theater room only had), and setup several tables with different genres of games and systems. If I remember correctly they were:

  • ICE MERP (Iron Crown Enterprises - Middle-earth Role-playing) - Tolkien-based fantasy
  • Boot Hill - "Cowboy western".
  • AD&D 1st Edition - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons fantasy (I believe the Greyhawk setting was used)
  • Twilight 2000 (had just come out) - Post apocalyptic military RPG.
  • FASA Star Trek - Science fiction
  • Call of Cthulhu - 1920's horror based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft (I'd forgotten this in the earlier original post)


We only had about 44 students from 9th through 12th grade (more in the lower grades), and during that month almost all of them joined us in the "class". I was overwhelmed by the response at first, and so had to learn to delegate to those that already knew how to RPG, to help run the other tables.

Everyone took turns as players and GM's (Game Masters), while I went around providing pointers, guidance, and demonstrations. It was such a blast! It was a shame when they hired the new instructor and I had to end it after only a month. As far as I know, no one in the school had anything negative to say about role-playing gaming afterward.

Meanwhile, in many of the neighborhoods, at various churches and community meetings, efforts were underway to attempt a ban on role-playing gaming in their neighborhoods. Some met with support and success, others fizzled out. In talking with friends in other states it was happening around the country. I was living in Utah at the time. Several of the libraries, that my friends and I had been using for years of weekly sessions, were suddenly forbidden scheduling of the private group rooms for role-playing gaming. We had been meeting there for years, but when asked, the librarians stated the rooms were never supposed to be for gaming use, they claimed it fit the rules of restrictions against games, specifically listed disallowing poker and such.

Several of the local gaming/hobby stores that carried large selections of RPG books and figurines were pressured by neighborhood families to discontinue carrying at first just specific genres such as D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and others. Several of the stores completely stopped carrying RPG's of any genre, stating it just wasn't worth the harassment they were receiving. There were a few other stores that were stalwart bastions, but most of the smaller stores caved.

Several of the public (elementary and high schools) made it "against the rules" to have any role-playing gaming, especially D&D books or dice on the campus. I'm not aware of this ever being put into written rules, but teachers, and staff began enforcing it as a verbal rule due to demands by parents and PTA members. Many of my gaming friends (at my peak gaming during the summer season, I had more than 20 weekly gamers (3 different groups I GM'd), and about 50 I knew intermittently) had their gaming materials taken away, some never returned, and others were threatened with suspension if they "offended" again.

All of this seemed to peak about the mid-80's, when TV shows like Donahue, 60 minutes, 20/20, and others were full-tilt with their D&D specific, and role-playing gaming in general, bashing.

Many friends and fellow gamers reported their church leaders were giving sermons on the evil's of D&D and role-playing gaming, and their parents were being told to remove any RPG materials from their homes. Several friends' parents took all their gaming materials, and forbade them to go to any friends that role-played. Also forcing them to meet with their local priest, pastor, bishop, etc. regarding "saving them" from the supposed evils of gaming.

The years passed. I moved to other places. Occasionally gaming when I could, and occasionally running into people who were aghast about role-playing gaming, especially when they associated it with D&D. This diminished somewhat during the 90's. To the point where I figured it was a thing of the past. 

Then we moved to Washington. My youngest son made friends with a boy from school. Initially his friend and my son would take turns playing at our house or their house, or having sleep-overs. Then suddenly they wouldn't let him come over to our house anymore. It was awhile before it was obvious, and they were evasive, but eventually they admitted that they were not allowing their son to come to our house because we had role-playing gaming books in the house. They are "Christians" (unsure what denomination, they just introduce themselves by that title). Their issue was not because of actual gaming taking place in the house while their son was around (which hadn't been happening, it was simply our just our having the books in the house. Their church had been having a few sermons each year, apparently periodically bringing up the "evils" of D&D (sounded like the Chick Tracts from 1984). This was back in 2005. It is now 2012. They still allow my son to come to their house to play and sleep over, but refuse to let their son come to our home. I have tried to encourage my son to make other friends (and he has, including some new ones he is introducing to RPGing), but this friend is still his "best friend", so the issue continues, and is a significant wedge. 

It should be noted, these people apparently attend a large mainstream Christian church (at Whitworth University) that supposedly has encouraged book burning of Harry Potter novels and the like, it a a large church associated with the large private university here in Spokane, Washington.

I even had a recurrence of the library issue from the 80's. Around 2006 I had a begun a regular weekly gaming group on Sundays at the local library. We would always book it 2 months in advance (the maximum we were allowed). After about a year there, they began to book a "Christian Study Group" in our slot, someone actually erasing our reservations, and they booked it 3-4 months in advance (the library rules stated you couldn't go more than 2 months). I politely confronted them about this, and the library worker stated, "well they are friends of the community that have been here for many more years than your group has, and besides, our rules state you're not supposed to be playing games in our rooms." I was initially speechless at this. I appealed to her superior, and had the schedule for the next two months that was originally reserved for our group restored, but they would not let me continue to reserve it beyond then, stating that the other groups had higher priority over ours. I had other things going on in my life, so didn't have the time or energy to focus on fighting the situation further, so we just moved the group elsewhere.

These are the most notable experiences that I've experienced personally and those of friends I know. I have heard hundreds more similar anecdotes from others over the decades in conversations and from research.

Overall I am glad that the negativity in general towards role-playing games and gamers has greatly subsided, but that seems more due to the much small minority of tabletop role-playing gamers, and the increase in collectible card games, video games, and the efforts against those changing the focus away from attacks against RPGs.

Have others had experiences of mild social stigma (or worse) as a tabletop role-playing gamer in interaction with other social circles?

What has happened, how have you reacted internally and externally to these interactions?

"Keep those dice rollin'"

-W.A. Hawke Robinson

RPG Research Project Founder.

Role-playing Gamer since 1979
Retired computer scientist
Recreation Therapist, Music Therapist, & Research Psychologist in training.
RPG Research, "Studies on the causal psychological and educational aspects of role-playing gaming."
http://www.rpgresearch.com
Hawke Robinson says:
Oct 27, 2012 02:56 PM
This is not limited to the United States however. As recently as 2005 here is an article about the stigma associated with players of Dungeons & Dragons in Israel: http://rpgr.org/blog/idf-anti-dnd
Drechuin
06-07-2012, 05:51 AM
This poll is meant to be global. It is just that my papers mostly covered the USA. I am very interested to know how it is in other countries. My understanding is that Israel is currently going through a different but similar issue with D&D as the USA did in the 80's, because of the military:
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3052074,00.html
A new twist to the argument against D&Ders.
In France, the RPG Scare was more during the 90's (around 1995 IIRC), with a suicide blamed on the RPG in some TV shows (example in french : [FR]http://christophe.jdr.chez-alice.fr/index.html), with some negative consequences for RPG associations.
However, since I played only with friends, I don't have more accurate informations.
Personnaly, I've never had any stigma.
The only thing is that one day, my grand-mother told me to be careful with RPG, it could be harmful. Well, don't you know I've been playing RPG for five years ? But I wouldn't call it an embarrassment, since nobody suffered from the situation.