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 The good news is that they make fewer and fewer of these outdated models each year.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 used to be a closet gamer. College made me more sure of myself and allowed me to realize that I didn’t care if people thought I was a geek for playing D&D. It’s something I love and it’s a big part of me, so I embrace it and am even proud of what I do.

  2. My gaming hobby isn’t a secret, but I don’t go announcing it to the world either. If it comes up, I’ll admit and defend it, but I generally won’t bring it up myself.

    It’s not that I’m ashamed… I just have no desire to deal with other peoples’ prejudices unless it’s necessary.

  3. @ Danae: It’s fun being a female gamer. It’s especially fun when you draw up a combat twink of a character and proceed to whup much butt with it. :)

    WoW is less geeky than D&D FTW?! It’s sad but true. I guess it’s one of life’s great mysteries.

  4. I work in the tech industry, so I know that everyone I work with is just as geeky as I am — most of us, however, have a sense of personal hygiene and like to go out sometimes. On the other hand, when I mention that I’m a D&D addict (and I haven’t kept it a secret; in fact, I’m trying to actively recruit one more player for Friday nights) the general reaction is a) that I’m a girl who plays (we’re still so outnumbered), and b) that it’s an even nerdier pursuit. I generally point out that at least I’m sitting at a table having real social interaction with other humans face to face instead of staring at my computer screen for another 6 hours a day than I do already. Somehow WoW is still less geeky. How can this logically be?

  5. I suddenly feel very lucky to have grown up in New England. I have never been called a satanist for playing D&D. I knew that idea was out there but I assumed it had died out a long time ago.

    @Yax: I’ve been trying to not tell so many stories, I will reverse that policy.

  6. i get alot of questions from my coworkers about the game especially since i use the downtime at work to paint miniatures and work on a campaign or two. most everyone i work with finds it interesting, albeit “too advanced” to have a good time with. apparently, they’d rather tune in mindlessly to American “false” Idol than get together with friends and use their brains and imaginations.

    i find myself however restraining my inner geek around my fiance the most…he doesnt play, nor has any intention of trying; instead he believes that spending more than one day a month on gaming is frivolous and a big waste of time. my comeback? im not spending hundreds at a bar or wasting gas, or doing drugs, and the game is kid friendly. if he can find fault in that hes getting a tap to the nutz.

  7. i have always been open about my role playing often meeting with derision and general mickey taking, from those who do not understand when i have told people. Even now after 30 years of role playing i’m always surprised at peoples reactions.
    I can still remember a close friend was only allowed to play if we all read a leaflet his mother had obtained from the local catholic priest warning of the risks to our souls from D&D

  8. i live in a neighborhood riddled with hoodies and “wiggers” which is fine, but i still try and drop a word or two every once in a while in the shop i work at…

    i get some raised eyebrows… thats about it….

    great update today yax, always an interesting angle…

  9. @Jordon: Thanks for telling your story.

    I was thinking that the website staff should share more stories, or work stories into articles. Don’t worry, we won’t keep baqdgering you with how great our character is!

  10. @Janna Well both of them were virgins when they met at age 20. ANd neither of them had any real skillz in bed (unlike me of course *wink*). When two people first get together and neither of them has any skills two things can happen. Either one of them will be an idiot (The guy in this case) And instead of realising it is his lack of skillz which makes the intercourse not great, he thinks the sex is bad beacause sex is boring. (the fool) and thus feels like WoW is more fun essentialy denying her.

    OR

    The guy can realise he needs to work on his skillz (the girl can realise it too if she wants) and then traverse the multitude of books and internets to find ways to improve said skillz.

    @Yax Ya I try and tell my stories. Or say something interesting on here. But if I have nothing to say I am not one for typing in the random and not saying anything at all.

  11. @ Jordan Ross: Sounds like your girlfriend dated some real losers before she met you. How could someone choose WoW over sex?! I’m just sayin’…

    Good job for introducing her to the fun and joy of RPGs. :)

  12. I know this doesnt exactly count but I have been a gamer since the NES days of yore. Mostly videogames but more recently I have been getting into D&D and other games of the like. (Dark Heresy)

    I know this doesnt exactly count and I will probbably be smacked for this but my greatest conquests to date would have to be this one:

    My curretn girlfriend (no names to protect the innocent) would never play Halo. When I asked her why she told me that her boyfreind before me would on various occasions start playing Halo when they were together (singly player style yo) and when she tried to get him to do anything else once he started his only reply would be “Finish me off or I am going to keep on playing”

    Suffice to say she hated the game for what it did to the relationship. After she split with him and went out with me I begged and pleaded and bribed her to play some halo with me. As soon as she got her first headshot in halo 3 and the grunt exploided with the birthday party confetti and went “*puff* YAYYYYYY!!!” She was hooked.

    Also along that line:

    More or less the same thing happened to her with World of Warcraft. THe only difference being that the former boyfriend would straight up DENY her intercourse in favor of leveling up his character in WoW.

    And by this point she learned that I know her and she should listen to me when I say something to her and know she would like it if she gave it a chance.

    I have also gotten her to play D&D and Warhammer. But there is no super awesome story with those.

  13. I’m up to playing D&D for 5-6 years now, and no, I have no intention to keep it hidden. When we started playing it was extremely hard to find someone who had a faintest idea about RPG(people who played computer versions were the most usual), we even had to improvize, because we didn’t know where to buy dice(as for the rules, LONG LIVE THE INTERNET). Luckily, conditions improved quickly. I’ve had quite a lot of funny experiences with prejudice or ignorance about D&D.

    I’m a GM and when we played at one of my players home his grandma was constantly watching us, finding excuses to enter the room for no reason, just to take a look. Later she told the player:”I think that you should stop playing that game, I don’t like that, it’s Satanism”. xD He tried to explain it, but she’s completely convinced that it was Satanism, even now, 4 years later.

    I had two of my players in my class in school. When I first bought Dungeon Master’s guide(for us the books were very expensive back than, so we all used PDF files, now it’s much better, Serbia is restoring it’s war-torn economy) I brought it to school, and of course, one of my friends couldn’t help but read the book during math classes. The math teacher took the book and told me that I will be able to collect it from our class tutor tommorow. I got angry, but tommorow I went to the tutor and asked for the book. He gave it to me, started laughing, saying:”You’re crazy, you’ve made a philosophy out of a GAME!” Later, on our math class, the teacher asked me if I got my book back, and than she said:”It looks like a great game, you have to teach me that one day!” We all just watched in disbelief. xD

    I’m on my third year of studies now(aerospace engineering) and few months ago, I had a D&D session right after the classes, so I brought the books with me(a heavy burden it is xD), I got bored in the brake between classes, so I took the books out in order to sort some things out for the session. One friend approached and was very happy to see what he saw(he doesn’t play, but he knows much about it and likes it), we started talking about D&D and than ANOTHER GUY came and said he’s a GM, so we started talking. Strange, looks like engineers tend to like roleplaying. :-D

    I have much more to say about this, encounters with other players in busses, on the beach(yes, we played even there, xD), one girl I met because of D&D(and yes, we got together, it lasted 5 months xD). All in all, the condition now is uncomparable with what we had just 5 or 6 years ago, there are clubs(best friend works like a manager in one of those, she has a nice salary for doing what she would be doing anyway xD), on any metal concert(but mostly power metal \m/) you can be sure that 50% of the people know about or play D&D(strange, we metalheads are also commonly refered as “satanists”). It’s interesting that RPGs are mostly played by the more educated(and usually smarter) population, of all the people I know who play more than 90% are at the university(engineering(all kinds), medicine, biology, art, psychology, politics, languages(2 Japaneese, 2 Chineese, 1 Nordic), managment, law, literature, philosophy…). Long live D&D!!!

    And no, I know no people who play D&D are are anti-social.

    P.S. Is this actually longer than the original text? :-D

  14. I am a semi closet gamer. On nights I game with my friends, I just tell my mom that I’m having some friends over at my place and that’s why I can’t come to her house. Someone told her once that they thought I was playing D&D, and I got a 10 minute long voice mail (I wasn’t at home… ironically I was gaming at a friend’s house.) with my mom crying saying that she hoped and prayed that I wasn’t involved in that Satanic mess. At work, the people I worked with knew I liked sci-fi, but I didn’t really go into the fact that I gamed. They thought I was weird enough with just the sci-fi. For some reason many people think that if you’re into gaming, that you can’t be serious in your occupation. I personally think gaming is much more respectable that partying/bar hopping every weekend. You’re with friends at someone’s house (or other meeting area) and you’re snacking, laughing, and essentially playing a complex board game with friends that encourages imagination and creativity. Some of my closest friends know that I game, but I don’t really discuss it with them, because I know they “don’t get it”. But that’s fine. It’s just a hobby I really enjoy, it’s not my life.

  15. I have been playing D&D since 1978. I was 31 years old, the oldest gamer in our group. Although I quickly fell in love with the game, I knew almost everyone of my own age would not understand whatr I was talking about, so I avoided talking about RPGs and rolle-playing around them.

    It became a habit. Right or wrong, I still find it uncomfortable to bring it up in conversation with non-gamers, and am usually embarrassed when my wife tells others. But I have yet to get a negative reaction (to my face, at least) when she does.

  16. I used to be a lot more closed-mouthed about the fact that I play D&D and other RPGs. A few things brought me out of my shell.

    1. Joining up with the Lords of Tyr. Many of the members of this group were former co-workers, and several of them were quite vocal about their hobby. All of this made me feel a bit silly for hiding it.

    2. Meeting my wife. My wife is an avid video game player, so I felt comfortable letting her know I played D&D from day one. Once again, this made me feel silly for having kept it a secret in the past.

    3. Gary Gygax’s death. I blogged about this at the time. As I state in that blog post, I have tried to be a bit more forthcoming about my hobby since then.

  17. When my friend started dating his current girlfriend he was very up-front about his gaming. He told her “Every Sunday night I get together with my buddies from high school and we play D&D.” She had no problem and every Sunday night kissed him as he went off to slay dragons.
    Then a few months later he decided to host the weekly game at his place. When his girlfriend walked in and saw us around the dining room table playing D&D she was flabbergasted.
    “What the hell is this!” she remarked.
    “We’re playing D&D like we do every Sunday,” he replied.
    “I didn’t think you were REALLY playing D&D,” she said “I though that was code for going to see strippers.”
    We though it was funny that she had no problem with her boyfriend going to a stripers every Sunday night, but freaked out when she discovered that he was indeed a gamer.

  18. I kept my D&D life from non-gamer friends and family for years, going as far as to tell my then-girlfriend that my weekends spent at a friend’s place were just videogaming… she probably thought I was in a cult or something.

    I’ve met so many nerdier people in my travels that I don’t hide it at all anymore (the President and CEO of the company I work for is a videogamer, and found one of my d20s in the boardroom a few weeks ago, so it’s pretty common knowledge). I’m looking forward to sharing the game now, rather than hiding it. As some commenters have pointed out, many people are receptive to learning about just what the heck goes on at the table.

    I explored this subject at length in a major article a couple of years back:

    http://www.unnatural20.com/table-manners-latest-article/2008/6/19/die-cast-ignorance.html

    Enjoy, and thanks for the duscussion, Yax.

  19. I’m in the military so it was always a tough guy thing. Sports and killing bad guys was a good subject, RPG definantly not. One day I found out that my buddy used to play and he was interested in how it went now a days. I started e-mailing synopsis of my weekend games to him, and every one else in the office. The first time I did it as a joke, but after a while the non-gamers waited in anticipation for my weekly updates.

  20. @ Jared: I completely sympathize with you. I was raised in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt (Texas). I hid my D&D hobby when I was younger, but I finally just told my family that I *am* evil and to deal with it. :) They always thought I was weird anyway. Luckily, my husband and my kids see D&D for what it is: fun.

    @ Steve: D&D as contraband? 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.

  21. I started playing DND while in a christian private boarding school. While trying to solicit players I got my game confiscated. I didn’t really know it was contraband but I knew that I needed to be discreet. Apparently I should of been a lot more discreet. I craved to get my DND stuff back for the rest of the year, so I could play and read to my delight. When I got it back it was like the most glorious x-mas ever. And I saw the other DND contrabands in the foot locked like a treasure chest full of gold. I think the fact that they took it away from me made me want my DND fix like it was heroin! I had started a gaming group with my brother and sister (something I would never advise to anyone). Once in a while if someone from whom I may of gone to school with heard. It was whispered like I played an evil game. All of these circumstances made me secretive in my gaming. I don’t think conservative religions will ever be accepting of DND. And that the only thing they allow you to be addicted to is church. Just like everything, moderation is important. Including church! However, we have along time to prevail until people no longer have to be afraid of coming out of their closet be they gay, gamer, liberal, or democrat! lol

  22. There is actually a player in one of our games who’s father believes that D&D is satanic still. Luckily, we’re all teenage boys in the group, so he doesn’t suspect anything when we all get together. It’s still a bit weird though, I thought people were smarter than that…

  23. I’m not ashamed of my gaming, but when people find out they usually ask me to explain what D&D is and why I do it. Explaining the game to someone for whom is a completely alien concept is very difficult and usually not worth it. For the hassle alone I tend to not talk about gaming around non-gamers.

    I do have some victories though. I just found out one of my favorite professors is a long time D&D player after he heard me and another player discussing it on the way into class.

  24. I live in a very conservative Christian era, where the idea that D&D is a tool of the Devil is still very much alive. I’ve done the carry the rule book trick to see if there are any closet gamers lurking about, instead I have people tell me that I need to put that book down, and pick up the bible instead. Better turn before you burn mentality. On the other hand, this semi-oppressive religious stance has made gaming a non-mainstream hobby. The people you do encounter at gaming stores are the quintessential gamer stereotypes; poor attention to personal hygiene (c’mon, get a decent haircut, wash your hair, change the shirt when the pits have stains, splash on some cologne, take a shower etc) anti-social hermitic tendencies and the the whole nine yards.

    I game, but I continue to do it in the closet.

  25. When I went to university, I made it public that I play. It was terrible, because rpgs are hard to explain. Now that I’m working as a lawyer, I need to look and feel “serious”, “hard” and “aggressive”.

    That’s why I don’t use my family name and keep hobby and job seperate.

    But then, one of my friends managed to get a job as a business consultant by using his roleplaying as an example for his well developed skills in teamwork and leading people.

  26. i have a D&D backdrop on my screen at work, i have some character pictures from the HEX rulebook and the obligatory d20 on my desk..this has sparked conversation with some of my collegues, although many dont understand tabletop RPG’s, but are aware of MMO’s like WOW.

    I recently went to a residential convention here in the UK, and my wife was visiting her father the same weekend, he couldnt understand why i needed to go away to play a computer game!..after 30 minutes of explaning, my wife conceded defeat and left him in his ignorance.

    Chris

  27. Hmmm… I think it’s most of the third option for me. I won’t start drabbeling randomly against non-playing friends (NPF’s?) but sometimes if someone asks “hey, the group wants to go bowling saturday, is that a good day for you” I wont reply with “No, I’ve got Something to do Somewhere with Some people”. I’ll just say “No, i’m DnD-ing that day.” They either ask what DnD is, in which case i’ll explain a little, but most of the time the part of my sentence that they needed was the “No” and they are gonna search for another day.
    Thats the people that dont know what it is.

    For the people that have an Idea of what it is…. well they don’t mind either since they are either playing-friends (PF’s! :D) or they do some kind of MMORPG or something like that.

    Woah, so much typing in the morning.

  28. From where I come from, the concept of pen and paper RPG is almost unheard of. RPG is usually associated with computers and consoles and they carry their own different tropes and conventions that differ from P&P RPG. It’s hard to explain it sometimes because you have to breakthrough any preconceived notions.

    I’ve only spoken about RPGs to those who are slightly familiar with the term of P&P RPG and among the CCG crowd who happen to understand it better than most other people I met.

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