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"Knock it off" Shows and Writers Still Perpetuating Negative RPG Gamer Stereotypes, Even in Webisodes

by Hawke Robinson published Nov 02, 2012 02:45 PM, last modified Aug 22, 2017 04:37 PM
As Mike Rugnetta, host of the PBS Idea Channel, said to the writers of Big Bang Theory, that keep perpetuating all the negative stereotypes about role-playing gamers, "Knock it off." A challenge to writers to try something different.

I have enjoyed a number of web-based (and other media) shows with humorous depictions of role-playing gamers in various circumstances as much as the next person. I have very much enjoyed the web series The Guild (MMORPG) by Felicia Day, The Gamers, and Gamers II: Dorkness Rising (and I will even have a tiny role as a pirate in the upcoming ZoeCon and Gamers III: Hands of Fate) by Dead Gentlemen Productions & Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, and the earlier years of Big Bang Theory on television.

BUT, I keep thinking as I watch, how much these shows, claimed to be written lovingly by fans of RPGs, are continuing to perpetuate the public's negative stereotypes about role-playing gamers, to the social detriment of other gamers and the RPG (especially tabletop and LARP) industry and community as a whole.

Even Mike Rugnetta, host of the PBS Idea Channel is asked a few weeks ago for the writers of Big Bang Theory to stop propagating the  "[negative] stereotypes supported by popular media", "in which case it is your fault. Knock it off."

Can Dungeons & Dragons Make You A Confident & Successful Person?

I've watched a number of mockumentaries, movies, television shows, web-based series, and other media, and have not seen (as far as I know) a single depiction of role-playing gamers as "successful", "well-adjusted", happy, healthy, contributing members of society. And yet, _most_ of those I grew up gaming with in the 70's and 80's (and still have any idea what they are up to these decades later) went on to become happy and successful people.

In an effort to further the RPG Research Project research about public representations of role-playing gaming, I have been attempting to track down all the video depictions I can find on the web, DVD, TV, and movies. I recently watched Gamer Chick and Pretty in Geek, this past week. I am always looking for more to check out, so feel free to make suggestions, I will attempt to post a complete list of what I've seen so far, with brief commentary on each, if folks are interested.

Just to be clear, I am talking about actual depictions of role-playing gaming and gamers, not necessarily gaming-related shows. For example, thoughJourney Quest is produced by the same people that made The Gamers series, or the Standard Action series, it doesn't actually depict a story about role-playing gamers, though they may include many RPG-related references, the foibles of the characters represented do not necessarily directly impact the perpetuation of the stereotypes about role-playing gamers (though it is possible there are indirect associations)

Now I realize of course, that for interesting writing and viewing, it is easier and entertaining for many to follow the usual expected stereotypes established in a culture (look how long "Blackface" was perpetuated as acceptable main stream humor) as a sure-fire method of humor and keeping an audience as wide as possible for the lowest common denominator.

Wouldn't it be refreshing, and indeed much more interesting (and challenging?), if writers depicted "normal" people in whatever setting the story was about, using the usual conflict/resolution scenarios of writing, and oh, the characters just happen to have gaming as a recreational activity they engage in once per week?

Depict snippets of gaming with the players focused on a tense moment, and the group reaction upon the resolution of that moment, depicting the shared narrative experience in the more positive light that it really is. This could still be written in ways that are engaging and interesting for the audience, without someone throwing a tantrum or other immature stereotypical behavior depicted by all the other depictions I've seen so far.

There was a brief hint of this in Stephen Spielberg's "E.T.", when early in the movie the teenagers are hanging out having an evening role-playing game session (could have easily been a poker game, monopoly, or other similar activity), and it just looks like a fun party, though it does depict typical teenager behavior, sibling rivalry, caste treatment, etc. But those come across more as just typical social interactions, rather than a focus on anything "wrong" with it being an RPG. Enjoyable little philosophical dialog too, with the question from their mother asking "So how do you win at this game anyway?" and they respond, "There's no winning, it's like life, you don't win at life..." "money helps".

 Dungeons & Dragons in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Why the aversion by so many writers to showing a more accurate, and healthy, representation of this cooperatively played, shared narrative, & recreational activity?

Is the false stereotype that all role-playing gamers are losers, freaks, geeks, immature, maladjusted, antisocial, Caucasian, youth, males, living in their parents basement with no successes in their life, now so strongly engrained into the popular culture that writers can't even begin to conceive of compelling settings involving role-playing gamers who are not like the stereotypes?

If anyone is aware of depictions to the contrary in media, please share.

If there is no such depiction, how about writers accepting the following challenge:

Pick up the gauntlet, and create a show with depictions of "otherwise normal", reasonably well-adjusted role-playing gamers, that are still interestingly engaging characters in a compelling storyline.

And if you think it silly to challenge folk to change their perpetuation of negative stereotypes, that "only" affect millions of participants, please think about the real world impact it has on people, and how out of hand it gets even recently as detailed here:

Israeli Defense Force Frowns on Dungeons & Dragons - http://www.rpgr.org/news/israeli-defense-force-frowns-on-dungeons-and-dragons

The Defamation of Role-playing Games and Gamers - http://www.rpgr.org/documents/rpg-research-documents/RPGR-A003-The-Defamation-of-Role-playing-Games-and-Gamers-Orig-20081120a-Ver2-20081206a-Ver3-20111209a.pdf/view

Personalities and Alientation of Dungeons & Dragons Game Players - http://www.rpgr.org/documents/rpg-research-documents/RPGR-A005-Personalities-and-Alienation-of-Dungeons-and-Dragons-Game-Players-long-commentary-version-Ver-2-20111209c.pdf/view

Anecdotal Experiences of Stigma as a tabletop role-playing Gamer

 

Meanwhile, if you're a role-playing gamer, spread the word about how great role-playing gaming can be, and keep those dice a'rollin'!

 

http://kim-evey.myopenid.com/ says:

Nov 02, 2012 02:44 PM
Hey guys, great article. As far as The Guild goes, at its heart it is a sit-com and in the comedy world NOBODY gets portrayed as well-adjusted, happy, healthy, contributing members of society. Anybody with those characteristics in a sitcom are usually portrayed as over-the-top caracatures as well--people who are so unrelentingly happy that everything slides off of them in a very unrealistic way (Sunny Day in Scrubs comes to mind). The characters in The Guild are based on TYPES of people that Felicia has actually gamed with. And by the myriad comments that tell us that fans either see themselves or folks they've played with in the character, I would argue that overall the show does a good job with expanding these characters beyond first-look stereotypes. 

Comedy enables us to examine character defects in a humorous way. And fictional shows in general are not about "normal" people. Whether comedy or drama, when we watch fiction, we are watching people overcome their shortcomings to meet their objective: solving a crime, curing a patient, enduring the in-laws or downing a boss. Without imperfections in character or weird characters, fiction would be pretty boring. Nurse Jackie without her addiction, Louis C.K. as a capable, confident parent and Codex without her neuroses would be...what, exactly? 

Fiction, whether a movie, TV show, web series or novel, entertains us by reflecting the human condition in a way that allows us to identify ourselves within it and, as they saying goes, nobody's perfect. People who think they ARE perfect are their own brand of character because those who know them, whether socially or intimately, understand that they have constructed this view of themselves in order to deal with their own fears and doubts which in and of itself makes them imperfect like the rest of us. 

Felicia based Codex on herself. She has a wide-ranging array of neuroses and insecurities yet I would argue that she is the most "normal" of her Guild. The point of the show as a whole is not "look you can be a gamer and still be happy, healthy and well-adjusted!" The point of the show is "look, you don't have to let your neuroses and insecurities get the best of you because there are other people out there who accept you despite the fact that (and in some cases BECAUSE) you are imperfect and with their support you can do things you never thought you were capable of doing."

The pejorative aspect of the gamer stereotype is a preference for isolation vs. interaction and a perceived inability to interface with “normal” people. To say that The Guild perpetuates negative stereotypes because nobody is well-adjusted is a round-about way of saying that being a weirdo is a bad thing. The thing I love about The Guild and all of the geeks that I personally know and love is that we have all embraced the things about ourselves that “normal” people have judged as weird and we’ve built careers and friendships because of them. The intention behind The Guild is to encourage others to bond with like-minded folks over the things that they love and let them know that they can do it even if they’re fearful, neurotic, sometimes unhappy, and haven’t yet attained every goal they’ve set out for themselves.