Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shared Fantasy, Chapter 2

On Friday, I started a discussion about the book Shared Fantasy.  Today, I'm going to talk about Chapter 2, which discusses what gamers are like and where they come from.  The final part of Chapter 2 is about women in gaming, which I'm actually going to split off into its own post.

In summary, the average gamer (as of 1979) is a young white male, unmarried, but well educated.  He likely has related fandom interests.  He probably either has a good job, or is working on building towards a career.  He has strong feelings about war, though they may be either pro or con.  Finally, he is likely to be non-conformist and possibly judged as deviant.

Of course, Fine goes on to say that "a population's variance is as important as its central tendency."  He stresses more than once in this chapter that there is a wide variety among gamers, and that to make any assumptions about their characters is likely doomed to failure.  I think that that much, at least, has only increased with time.

One thing I find fascinating is that Fine goes through demographics of age, gender, income, and even such soft descriptors as intelligence and imagination.  But, never once does he mention race.  Either his sample was entirely white, or the surveys he was basing his numbers on didn't ask about race.

The discussion of average intelligence was remarkably similar to many I've seen.  However, it did involve a spin that I haven't really seen before.  While Fine says that the average intelligence of gamers is probably similar to the population as a whole, he does note that there are two factors that may skew the perception.  Gamers tend to be more educated than average, which often presents the appearance of higher intelligence.  Also, gamers tend to have much more unusual and specialized knowledge.  Rather than being experts in sports and celebrity gossip, they are experts in medieval history and scientific advances.  These interests are generally assumed to be correlated with higher intelligence, though in practice it is clear that it is generally an even trade.

There are several comments about the morality of gamers that I find frankly shocking.  "Within the context of the game, players are oriented towards murder and death without consideration of the moral niceties."  "Frequently male nonplayer characters who have not hurt the party are executed and female nonplayer characters raped for sport."  "Mass murder and wanton destruction are not uncommon, as when a player character fires a machine gun into a crowded room of strangers or another lights a fire that destroys a town 'just to cause havoc.'"  Is this really how games were played in the seventies?  Do people really play games this way now?  I have never been in a group that condoned that sort of behavior.  If this was common, I have new appreciation for the codification of alignment rules and the paladin code.

Another intriguing quote: "And when [gamers] discuss sex it is in the context of the game, not in the context of the real world."  I think that this has pretty definitely shifted.  But, that's probably because of the general societal shifts over the last thirty-odd years.

There's a whole section on how gamers get recruited.  It's actually surprisingly similar to how they are still recruited.  Just replace "war games" with "video games".  And, obviously, there was no mention of internet culture.

There is another section on the justification for gaming.  Naturally, the prime justification is "fun."  Apparently in the '70's, though, "fun" was not a valid justification in the social sciences or psychology texts.  The author goes on a bit of a rant about that.  Apart from that, the justifications are pretty familiar.  It's educational.  It's escapist.  It grants a sense of control or efficacy.  And, it's social in a way that many gamers can't find elsewhere.  I find it interesting that "telling stories" is not considered a factor at all.

Under the bit about socializing was a section that sounded very familiar.  The author had interviewed several gamers, who talked about the "typical" gamer having no social life.  However, "speakers are careful to distinguish themselves and their friends from this accusation, claiming a partial, rather than total, interest."  Yup, gamers will always point to those "other" freaks who are more obsessed than they are.

I want to close this with a rather long, but really great, quote that Fine included:
What do people do in life, other than play roles?  We are the people we are, because we have selected roles when we were children.  We know how to behave in most situations because we practiced playing our roles in childhood games. ... What more appropriate form of entertainment is there, than a role-playing game? ... RPGs can perform an invaluable service by preparing us to face the unexpected with equanimity and to search for truth in spite of manifest meaninglessness.


  1. That's really interesting, I've gotta check this book out :D

    I was actually considering this the other day, Reddit has 17K roleplayers allegedly, which is a pretty sizable demographic (I'm assuming since D&D gets about a million searches a month)... maybe we could organize something :D
    (Although... I think there's a trade magazine that does it now that I say that lol)

  2. If you want, I'll sell it to you when I'm done. I've got an Amazon store I can set it up through. My copy is marked up a bit to help me write these posts, though.

    I know that there are periodic surveys of roleplayers. WotC did one not too long ago. I think GAMA does them periodically. The recent RPG Podcast survey had some demographic information. The basic problem is that the roleplayer community is extremely fragmented. Even if you could get every single gamer that is active online in various forums, blogs, etc. to answer one survey, you'd still probably only touch about 10% of the total population. Of course, if you allowed the gamers to also input the demographic information of their groups, that would probably expand it considerably. But, then you'd have to worry about overlapping data.

    It's not easy. But, it could be valuable, if we could do it right.