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Theory of the Role-playing Gamer "Floater"

by Hawke Robinson published Jun 20, 2015 05:05 PM, last modified Feb 05, 2023 12:22 PM
Originally posted Jun 04, 2013 02:35 PM: I have a new hypothesis as to why the stereotypes about role-playing gamers have become stronger over the decades rather than being disproved over time (as all the research indicates). I call it a hypothesis of the "Role-playing Gamer Floater"...

From decades of observations, my working hypothesis has two parts or possible explanations as to the observed changes I have been seeing:

#1 - That the now inculcated social assumption about role-playing gamers and gaming drives away more "normal" people from the hobby and attracts the stereotypes because people are increasingly buying into the media and apocryphal stories the longer they are reinforced.

#2 - The players that are rejected from regular, generally not public, groups, are the players constantly trying to find games at hobby stores and Pick Up Games (PUGs), because the gamers that fit the stereotypes are so dysfunctional that they are the rejects from the regular groups, and because they keep getting kicked out, become the most visible representation of gamers to the public.


The functional players are already in their groups, that typically stick together for years, even decades. Generally the make up of the group only changing when people move and such.

Then there is the percentage of dysfunctional role-playing gamer "floaters" that get kicked from group to group because of their various dysfunctions. These are the gamers that are most often seen in public as they go to pick up games at comic book stores, hobby stores, conventions, and new-member invites. Since they are so dysfunctional, they keep getting kicked out after a few sessions, and being the cycle again.

Meanwhile the functional gamers are happily meeting regularly at home or in closed game rooms, and most of the public never see the "normal" players, and instead generally just see the dysfunctional floaters.

Though occasionally some of the players I gamed with in the 70's, 80's, and 90's fit the negative stereotypes, MOST of those I gamed with were successful, well-adjusted, functional people,from a broad range of "group association", with generally little to none of the anti-social and dysfunctional aspects claimed about role-playing gamer stereotypes.

The research done on role-playing gamers (correlative and meta studies) shows the stereotypes in the 1980s and 1990s generally disproved. I haven't seen any updated studies in the 2000s (most have been focusing on video games now).

Most of the gamers I gamed with regularly long ago, didn't have any more trouble getting dates, girlfriends, wives/husbands, etc. than anyone else. They were from all walks of life and interests, and over the years most of them were professionally and personally "successful", within the context of functional versus "dysfunctional" western societal expectations.

There are very few gamers I have gamed with (once they are adults) long enough to get to know more about their personal lives, that fit the dysfunctional, anti-social, unemployed, living in their parents basement stereotype.

Though everyone has various foibles and challenges, most of them did not map to the stereotypes any more strongly than other groups (non-gamers). That being said during about that time period (70s, 80s, and 90s), more recently about half of the gamers I have met since about 2004 (when I moved to Spokane, Washington) to current, have been fitting the stereotypes. Socially awkward to dysfunctional, poor hygiene/stinky, borderline homeless or living in their parent's home in their 30s, 40s+, etc.

I have had to move a few times over the years when I was building my professional career in computer science (before retiring in 2003 to raise my family full time), including Utah, California, Oklahoma, Idaho, Washington, and elsewhere, and as I moved it took a while to put new groups together. I didn't game much in the late 90's to earliest 2000s due to working so much, but when I did, I didn't really see an increase in the negative stereotypes.

Then when I moved to Spokane, Washington, in 2004, I began seeing a LOT of the stereotypical gamers. At first I thought it might be an issue with Spokane (I haven't completely ruled that out yet), but as I have gone to Seattle and elsewhere, I developed the aforementioned alternative hypotheses, as I saw similar patterns elsewhere.

What are your thoughts on this?


UPDATE 2016: Over the past 5 years, I have begun to try taking more semi-formal observational notes, observing from a distance rather than directly interacting, at game stores, gatherings, and conventions. I have observed more than 1,000 so far, and while the ratio at this more purely observational level isn't as high, it is still disturbing in number. The key factors I watch for include:

  • Special needs individuals harassment, teasing, bias & exclusion
  • Sexual harassment, bias, exclusion, inconsiderate and hurtful language
  • Extreme lack of hygiene
  • Very noticeably disruptive behavior at the table
  • Non-in-game yelling at players/GM that is clearly upsetting by facial/body language of the others
  • Storming off from the table or physical lashing out

With those much more limited criteria, in Spokane it has been around 1-2 players per table per session! Some tables are a majority behaving this way, others have none.

In Seattle (smaller sample size so far, only about 400), it seems about 1 player per 2 to 3 tables per session.

This doesn't even take into account so many other stereotypes and dysfunctions that could come up with interaction and interview, this is just what an outsider would see, that would further reinforce the negative stereotypes about tabletop gamers.

What do you, the reader, think?

Whatever ideas I have for developing testable hypotheses run into the problem of self-selection and selection and of course research resources. With enough funding it is theoretically possible to find a sample of people that do not go to conventions or books stores or public gaming venues but do game with friends, through random polling and selection datagbase services like InfoCo USA. But a lot of money would be needed to find a large enough sample size to make it testable.  Once these non-prominent gamers were found, they would need to be wiling to undergo a battery of psych, demograhpics, and other assessments, and then compare and contrastd those with those in the "floater" category, vs. those just in public gaming venues and public sys, versus the general non-gaming public.  So, this could be done, but would need real money and resources to make into an actual testable hypothesis: