When I spoke to Ethan Gilsdorf about his new book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, we couldn’t seem to get away from the idea of gamer shame. Basically, many gamers feel guilty and ashamed of their obsession with LARP, World of Warcraft, etc.
In my own research on LARP, I’ve encountered a couple cases of gamer shame — a long-time LARPer who hides his hobby from friends he’s known for years, for fear of ridicule; a woman who doesn’t want people at her office to find out about her weekends in the woods, because LARP is hard to explain and at first blush, sounds like a child-like past time; gamers who treat other forms of nerdularity — massive multiplayer online games, Cosplay, and Rennaisance Faires — with ridicule.
Gilsdorf, who immersed himself in tabletop role playing games, tried LARP, and attended Society for Creative Anachronism events for his book had some interesting things to say about the whole phenomenon. Here are some excerpts from our interview.
Why do you think gamer shame exists?
“In our civilized society we place a lot of emphasis on growing up quickly, making money, being a productive member of society, working hard, being part of the American dream and anything that smacks of childhood or play is really frowned upon. It’s a pretty conformist society. There are costumes everyone wears in their day-to-day world and [emphasis on] fitting in with whatever subculture you belong to, but there’s not a lot of tolerance of people who do something beyond that.”
What was the most difficult stigma to overcome, in terms of getting back into gaming?
“There’s a lot I had to overcome. Part of it was my own discomfort. We all want to feel like we’re cool and we’re doing hip cutting edge things, but as you get older it’s harder and harder to maintain that illusion. On some level, online games or video games are on the cutting edge of culture. But by and large I’d put all of gaming into this geeky kind of category and I was eager, almost desperate to shed that identity after my childhood.”
What branches of the gaming community are considered the geekiest, and why?
“In a way, the board gaming and the online gaming and the fandom activity surrounding them are probably the most acceptable. [Our culture draws the line] with people who dress up and people who play with figurines and it’s probably because that’s what we associate with childhood. [It’s ironic because] in sports fandom people will wear their favorite quarterback’s jersey. People find LARPing among the most bizarre among all the fandom activites. For me it’s unfortunate that society has chosen to draw this arbitrary line. I can’t figure if it’s American culture or world culture as American culture infiltrates world culture.”
If gaming is so geeky, why do people do it?
“The reason why people are drawn to gaming, why the gaming community is so open to all types is because most gamers know what it’s like to be picked last for the kickball team. That’s where [gamers] find their tribe, their people, a sense of achievement. That said, I think there’s some hierarchy at the gaming community, and there are subcultures inside subcultures.”