The Secret Lives of Closet Gamers

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The Boston Globe recently ran an article about middle-aged gamers and their secret lives. For whatever reason, these guys have chosen to keep their hobby a secret from the outside world. Some of them have been closet gamers for decades.

This begs the question: why do we hide what we do? It’s not like we’re harming anyone (except our own PCs and, on a good night, some loot-toting monsters). No matter what the critics say, role-playing games have never unbalanced a mind that was sane to begin with. In fact, since the 1980’s, all of that superstitious nonsense about role-playing games has died a natural death. Right?

Well, kind of. D&D is still decried from certain pulpits and disapproved of by people who will never play it themselves. But that’s not the only reason we zip our lips. Some players just don’t want to admit that they have a hardcore inner geek. And others, being truly insightful, just realize that not everyone is into D&D.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why we keep our D&D on the down-low.
Because it’s geeky.

Yes, D&D has a huge stigma attached to it. The players are stereotyped as true geeks who pretend to be heroes in order to feel cool. That’s a very general belief, and it’s often untrue. Many middle-aged gamers grew up playing D&D, and they’ve continued to play while holding down successful careers and starting families. I’ve gamed with veterinarians, real estate agents, and countless people with gorgeous children and happy homes. If that’s what it means to be a D&D geek, I’ll proudly count myself among their number.

Because it’s evil.

In some communities, Dungeons & Dragons carries a stigma of another kind. Yes, unfortunately, they still make people who believe D&D is a tool of the devil, designed to indoctrinate young minds into a world of sorcery and witchcraft. The good news is that they make fewer and fewer of these outdated models each year. Their arguments are pretty much without merit; many of us have been gaming for years and haven’t sacrificed anything but time and money.

Because it’s boring to non-gamers.

Just like you wouldn’t talk incessantly about football to someone who wasn’t a fan of the sport, you shouldn’t ramble on about D&D to someone who really doesn’t care. But how do you know which people are non-gamers and which ones are simply staying quiet about their hobby? Statistically, most of the people you interact with are non-gamers. (Unless you’re very secluded, in which case you *are* the stereotype. Congrats.) You could mention your hobby to see if it peaks any interest, or carry a novel or a rulebook with you to see if anyone comments. You’re much more likely to meet other gamers through the Internet than by talking to random people, so keep your geek in check and drop subtle hints.

So I’m curious: Have you told a non-gamer about your D&D hobby? How did they react? Share your triumphs and terror in the comments section.

49 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Closet Gamers”

  1. I am 49 years old and a gamer. I do not hide it. In fact a great amount of my preaching skills come from years of game mastering. I have always believed in being honest about who I am even if this means having people reject me.

  2. Thread necro here, but I appreciate all the feelings expressed here. I’ve been in the closet about D&D really since I started playing as a 10-year-old in 1977. Now, my wife views it as a pastime to share with my friends … “poker night” as it were … and a hobby when I’m actually not playing. From a relationship-with-a-non-gamer standpoint, D&D is WAY less destructive than video gaming. Not even close.

    Talking about D&D at work would be career suicide. I try to keep it hidden though I’m sure that some coworker has probably seen a printout of something or another that raised question marks.

  3. Not only does it have a geek thing to it. A lot of gamers (not all) have bad hygiene, or can be hard to get along with. Some of them have power control issues and the game is their outlet because they created something they feel they should have control over. Including other’s characters. Some of them are strange and awkward because they don’t have strong people skills to begin with be it that they stay home and play video games and don’t interact with others much.
    Another thing is that people don’t understand the game, they think it’s too complicated and takes too long. Or that people my age are too old for games like this. That people that play rpg’s are immature. Also that people that play this lose their perspective on reality and start to act out their imagination in unhealthy ways. Or that we’re warped and would like to stay home and not go to work because of our hobbies. Games like Everquest and WOW, haven’t done a lot to improve the image of gamers like myself and I have to admit Everquest back in the day was getting in the way of life and causing me to be angry at the game, and I was probably not very nice to get along with when I lost everything because I could not get to my corpse to loot it or the multiple other corpses while trying to get to the original corpse.
    So D&D is a lot like politics and religion. You can’t just talk to anyone about it. Just like a lot of things in general, people are on a need to know basis.

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  6. (quoted from Janna): “That brings back memories of my (brief) stint at a private Christian school. They hosted a ‘haunted house’ for Halloween, and one of the rooms featured a robed guy sacrificing a white-clad virgin with — GET THIS — a D&D game set up in front of the altar. I was like, “Cool, I play that!! Oops.. *claps hand over mouth*” What a riot.”

    Interesting. That’s a pretty messed up thing for a private christian school to put together: a room featuring someone sacrificing a virgin… Maybe they should take a look in the mirror briefly.

  7. @ Yugure: I totally sympathize about being a gamer in Texas. As you said, D&D won’t turn a normally sane person violent (unless they roll like 10 1’s in a row, in which case all bets are off!) If anything, it’s that darn devil music that turns kids batty (aka, Country/Western). When will parents learn?

  8. I just don’t like to bother with it. When people see me with the books and ask about them, I always feel like they won’t understand or they’ll think I’m an all-out nerd which is, unfortunately, the stereotype about D&Ders that has been ingrained into even my own mentality. I’m not a closet gamer, especially recently, with me planning out my group’s campaign, I’ve been lugging my core rulebooks, graphing paper, maps, dice, and notebooks everywhere.

    I’m cool with the idea of being labeled a gamer, more or less, I just don’t like discussing it with people because at least 90% don’t care, won’t understand, or are just asking me to get something to laugh about or secretly scorn.

    Now, beyond that, it’s kind of a chore to game in secret with my friends because I live in Texas and almost everybody’s parents think it’s satanic and worry about them playing because of those stories about people commiting murder and suicide over the game. I wish I had the guts to set them straight like “Hey, they would have done the same thing if it had been anything else. It’s called insanity, and that kind of insanity is kind of already there before the game.” But, like I said, I do not have the guts, so, instead, I’ve been trying to get us together to play after school in the practice rooms of the band hall where we will have little or no conflict and/or suspicion as to what we are doing or why we are there. We’re all in band so it works out alright. It’s just getting around everyone’s schedules, and lessons, and work and stuff that’s been most difficult and annoying. We only have a certain amount of time allotted to perform our little satanic ritual called fun.

    <3 Dani

  9. Alot of people i mention it to are actually interested. some have even asked me to teach them. some have actually played with me. some are lvl 5 Barbarians by now

  10. I’m such a closest gamer I don’t even talk about it even when I meet someone new and find out they play as well. In fact, anytime I recruit new players make sure they don’t have any connections with people who I might know outside of gaming. I feel kind of funny admitting all this, but it’s true. Time to go back into hiding in my closet. LOL!

  11. I only tell those that I’m good friends with already unless I already know they like games. My friends that don’t play think it’s pretty funny that I get so involved with D&D and they find it hilarious when I tell them about my most recent adventures : )

  12. A little late to this post – but thought it was very interesting subject.

    In my professional career I am a vice president for a publically traded information technology consulting company. I’ve been in that business since graduating college 25 years ago.

    About the time 3rd Edition came out some of my favorite consultants decided to start a group. I’ve always been a fan of fantasy/adventure and played a few computer-based games, but suddenly found myself to be a 40-year-old first time D&Der… We’ve been playing ever since.

    Along the way we invented, prototyped and brought to market the concept of magnetically stackable markers ( reviewed by Yax a while back.

    It has been fun playing once or twice a month, but it has also been very interesting conceiving a product and bringing it to market as a virtual company.

    Here is the tricky part – folks in my professional career don’t get D&D. So it is very hard to explain what the heck I am doing with this hobby. I think it is grounded in the notion of “fantasy” – meaning there is something wrong with losing touch with reality. Once you grow up you should be past that Peter Pan stage and into the real world.

    Well, a couple things help me with my business friends. The fact that gaming (on-line and computer-based) now dwarfs movies in terms of revenues and profits and the fact that a major company like Hasbro actually thought enough of the segment to buy it… well it gives the whole gaming niche a little more credibility.

    I also like to point out that most hobbies are an escape of some type once you get down to it. If they weren’t then they’d pretty much be just like the rest of your life. What would be the point?

    So – the next time someone asks, tell them you are participating on one of the many aspects of gaming – one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world. You just choose to play it more like an evening of poker with your friends rather than staring at a computer screen… they might “get it” a little better then…

    Craig Andrie
    Owner, Alea Tools

  13. I don’t hide the fact that I am a Hardcore Nerd! I even have a tattoo of Link from the Legend of Zelda, and a tattoo of Captain America’s shield. I will tell anybody and everybody that I a play D&D. I have no shame in my game. I even crack D&D jokes to people that don’t play D&D and make them feel left out when me and my group of friends get it and they dont. Thats the best!

    “What did you say? Oh its over now… Roll Initiative!”
    My favorite is pretending like im rolling the dice anytime I do something like hop over a puddle or balance on a curb. Most people that dont know D&D just look at you weird.

  14. I’m not really in the closet with DnD, the books fill a shelf on the bookcase right next to a battlelore box.

    However I was looking at this very site at work when a co-worker saw the site and introduced himself as an ex-gamer! I went into shock, failed my save and made a few polite yet incoherent statements.

    What was really interesting to me was that I had a hang up about people outside of my nearest and dearest knowing I play DnD!

    So, I want back in the closet where its dark and safe!

  15. We got my friend, Bobby, into roleplaying with us. He was so excited, he went home and told his parents about all about it. They apparently believe D&D is of the Devil, and banned Bobby from playing ever again. They said he wasn’t even allowed to hang out with our group outside of school.

  16. What I find funniest is that most of my friends are gamers, yet we all are responsible adults with lives. Of the people I play with 4 of us are married. 3 of those married couples have children. Two of our wives play. Two are school teachers. One is an engineer. Another of us is a community activist, works for Non-Profit Organization. We’ve all been playing for no less than 20 years, with the exception of the wives who’ve been in the game for maybe 10 years and myself and Kev, wh’ve been doing for 30 years now.

    We wear our GEEK BADGES proudly, and we let most people who ask that at least one Saturday a month is off limits cause we game from like 1pm to 1am.

    So in certain respects I guess we are in the closet. And in others we are definately out. People are always asking me what the books i have with me are about, I always give them a brief explantion that its game. It nothing more than inter-active story telling and we’ve been doing awhile. Its funny cause we got a newbie coming to our march session.

  17. This story is not about me it is about my friend, he is our dm and a good one at that. His flaw he blabs about dnd WAY to much trying to pick up girls, get more votes for the upcoming election, prove uncountable amounts of point you name it he’s tryed it can any one help me stop him!!!!!

  18. I never intentionally kept my gaming life secret from others, but I guess I did it anyhow. I know that when I did the bulk of my gaming (early 90s), I was splitting my time with hustling pool as well. I know I never talked about D&D whenever I was at any of the pool halls because it was the furthest thing from my mind. But I didn’t keep quiet about pool whenever I was with my old gaming group. They knew that I often put the pool halls and gambling ahead of gaming.

    One story I do remember, however, was going to one of my gaming friend’s house before we went on to our gaming session location. My friend gathered all of his books and notes that he needed for the game (he was the DM) and we were getting ready to leave. His parents were very religious, but they were tolerant, even supportive, of his gaming and how he put his overall creativity to use. His mom was sitting in her comfy chair, reading a book, as we were about to leave when my friend said to her “see you later, mom… we’re going to worship the devil!” She didn’t even look up from her book at all as she replied “that’s nice, dear… have fun.” We all laughed about that as we left.

    I have to say this is a very interesting topic that could easily lead into several different discussions. It certainly is something to think about.

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