Being outed as a gamer…

Grown men playing with toy soldiers? Oh for shame…

Being embarrassed by something we do, say or take an interest in is an experience we could all have at some stage in our lives, unless we have particularly thick skin. The degree of embarrassment and / or shame would vary too, depending on person and subject. How then, would you deal with derision from others for a pastime from which you take pleasure? An interest less “mainstream” than others, or that’s perceived by some as being ‘odd’? Ladies and gentlemen…I give you the adult wargamer! 

The stronger-willed amongst us may thumb their nose at popular opinion, and as I get older I’m more inclined to take that approach. But, I think that the causes of said derision need examination. My mother, being a social worker, once told me this joke: 

“How many social workers does it take to change a lightbulb?” 

“None – it’s the lightbulb that has to change”.  

I mention that, as I think those making fun of the interests of others need to perhaps delve a little deeper than clichéd ideas about that which they poke fun at. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an evangelical crusade to convert others, merely an attempt to broaden understanding. And yes, I know some people do understand and merely make fun for humour or banter purposes. I am also aware that a lot of the things about gamers, particularly the social ineptitude of many, can also be true. Either way…a little more understanding never hurts! 

Many years ago, via an internet forum, I got in touch with a fellow gamer who lived nearby. Having previously been a historical wargamer, I’d collected and painted Warhammer 40K models for many years, along with voraciously devouring background material. Ian Athill introduced me to actually playing the game. We soon became fast friends, as we had a great deal in common in addition to gaming (Ian played for a local rival rugby club to the one I was a member of).

Although we regularly met up for a game, I recall the very first time we did so. He and I having arranged to meet via the internet, his wife (who was working late) phoned him, curious to know what sort of geek he’d brought home. I overhead Ian saying to her on the phone “No – he’s just a normal rugby bloke”.  Years previously, one of the chaps in the shared house I used to live in said “You’re the most normal bloke I’ve met who’s into this sort of thing”.

Lessons learnt? For the non-gamer, don’t believe the hype…we’re perfectly normal (most of the time)!  For the gamer? Be yourself. If people continue to lack understanding, that says more about them than it does you.  

If enlightening non-gamers about you is one thing, attempting to enlarge their understanding to appreciate your hobby as much as you do is quite another. For one thing, wargaming as a hobby has so many facets to it. If you stood several gamers in a line, the chances are that each and every one of them would cite a different reason for interest in the hobby. Modelling, painting, reading the background, research, and of course, actually playing the game (!). Several of those things become hobbies in themselves, especially amongst historical gamers who recreate the battles of history across the ages, and for whom intricate detail and historical accuracy is the be all and end all! 

For me, the hobby is a visual / modelling thing. In my former (gaming) life as a historical gamer, I’d sweat on getting uniform and insignia correct, but would still at the heart of it all, enjoy the visual spectacle above all else –  a well painted collection of models astride a nicely modelled gaming table. Awesome. Gaming in a collective environment is also inspirational, and I have yet to come away from a games night at my gaming club without wanting to have a go at painting / modelling something, having been inspired to do so by other models I’ve seen around me or a game I’ve had. 

I don’t for one minute expect those who laugh at us gamers to become converts, but for them to appreciate why we appreciate our hobby would be a satisfactory conclusion…thus the inclusion of the lightbulb / social worker joke. 

Before I conclude, why the title of this article? Well, I’ve alluded to it when speaking of the embarrassment some gamers feel in the face of more mainstream opinion of their hobby. In particular however, that phrase “outed as a gamer” was used by a chap I did a wargamers trade with once. He asked me to make sure everything was in an anonymous box and well wrapped in the parcel I was sending to his workplace, as he hadn’t “…been outed as a gamer yet…” to his colleagues. Poor fellow – clearly felt uncomfortable amongst his colleagues about his hobby. For me, that discomfort is occasionally felt as a result of my other major interest – rugby. Banter and beer-fuelled Saturday afternoons getting muddy and knackered followed by antics in the bar afterwards are not always associated with a wargamer! I’ve met a few others however (Gamers who play rugby that is) Were I still a player and not as old as I now am,  I’d be more concerned about the ridicule that’d come my way. Now I’m merely a fan / touchline dad, so it doesn’t bother me as much.  

These days, many previously “geeky” things are part of mainstream popular culture. When I was a teenager, reading comics and being a fan of superheroes was niche at best and the preserve of the nerd. Nowadays, the box-office success of Marvel and DC universe superhero movies are phenomenal. Trendy girls walk down the street with a Batman t-shirt on, and its not just kids with Spiderman pyjamas! These days, modern kids don’t know what it is like to be a nerd in a negative sense, and the term is almost meaningless. 

It’s sad but true to say that people often make fun of things they do not understand. They have pre-conceived ideas and base their ridicule on that. The notion that a gamer is a socially inept wierdo, frequently a stranger to grooming and personal hygiene, hunched over a gaming or painting table, or transfixed in front of a monitor with an xbox controller in his (or her) hand, persists even amongst gamers. Largely a mythical archetype and target for self-depreciatory humour (I’ve heard many a gaming podcast refer to basement-dwelling social outcast type gamers), this sort of person does really exist. However, individual ‘quirks’ aside, if those that made fun of hobbyists knew more about the hobby and thus its appeal, perhaps they would understand more. As I said, I’m not attempting to convert new ‘believers’ – just add appreciation and understanding amongst others.