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Hypothesis of the Role-playing Gamer Floater

Posted by hawke@rpgresearch.com at Jun 04, 2013 02:35 PM |
I have a new hypothesis as to why the stereotypes about role-playing gamers have become stronger over the decades rather than being disproved over time (as all the research indicates). I call it a hypothesis of the "Role-playing Gamer Floater"...

My working hypothesis has two parts, one, that the now inculcated social assumption about role-playing gamers and gaming drives away more "normal" people from the hobby and attracts the stereotypes because people are increasingly buying into the media and apocryphal stories the longer they are reinforced. The second half is because the gamers that fit the stereotypes are the rejects from the regular groups.

The "mature", "normal" players are already in their groups, that typically stick together for years, even decades. Generally the make up of the group only changing when people move and such. Then there is the percentage of role-playing gamer "floaters" that get kicked from group to group because of their various dysfunctions. These are the gamers that are most often seen in public as they go to pick up games at comic book stores, hobby stores, conventions, and new-member invites. Since they are so dysfunctional, they keep getting kicked out after a few sessions, and being the cycle again.

Meanwhile the "normal" gamers are happily meeting regularly at home or in closed game rooms, and most of the public never see the "normal" players, and instead generally just see the dysfunctional floaters.

Though occasionally some of the players I gamed with in the 70's, 80's, and 90's fit the stereotypes, MOST of those I gamed with were successful, well-adjusted, functional people, with none of the anti-social and dysfunctional aspects claimed about role-playing gamer stereotypes.

The research done on role-playing gamers (correlative and meta studies) shows the stereotypes generally disproved.

Most of the gamers I gamed with regularly didn't have any more trouble getting dates, girlfriends, wives/husbands, etc. than anyone else. They were from all walks of life and interests, and over the years most of them were professionally successful.

There are very few gamers I have gamed with (once they are adults) long enough to get to know more about their personal lives, that fit the dysfunctional, anti-social, unemployed, living in their parents basement stereotype.

Though everyone has various foibles and challenges, most of them did not map to the stereotypes any more strongly than other groups (non-gamers). That being said during about that time period, more recently about half of the gamers I have met since about 2004 to current have been fitting the stereotypes. I have had to move a few times over the years when I was building my professional career, including Utah, California, Oklahoma, Idaho, Washington, and elsewhere, and as I moved it took a while to put new groups together.

When I moved to Spokane, Washington, I began seeing a LOT of the stereotypical gamers. At first I thought it might be an issue with Spokane (I haven't completely ruled that out yet), but as I have gone to Seattle and elsewhere, I developed the aforementioned alternative hypotheses.

What do you think of these hypotheses?

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Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Jun 05, 2013 12:04 PM
It is interesting to note the various sites where the link to this page was posted, the main issue for those that may not necessarily agree with these hypotheses, is getting into discussion about "normal", even though that term was used in quotes every time.

Certainly in a more formal setting "normal "is a meaningless term, and I generally have trouble even considering using it in general, usually the closest being "normative behavior" or similar. But I was intentionally contrasting the way the "general public" (non-gamers) refers to those that are gamers and the general attitude regarding gamer stereotypes. In a number of conversations now, laymen have used the term "normal" versus "Weird" "freaks" "abnormal" "geeks" "nerds" "abnormal" for their description of role-playing gamers

For years I have tried using more "correct and accurate" language when working with laymen.
I found this generally counterproductive when trying to educate and change the attitudes of people not invested in a topic to the level of those who ae invested in a topic.

Instead I have found it much more effective to attempt to discern the level and language of the target audience, and attempt to begin with language they are familiar with, and then slowly walk them into more technically accurate language, but first they need to be engaged enough to be walked there.

I have experienced this professionally in automotive technology, computer sciences (information technology,information security, software development, etc.), security services, financial services, and professional photography. I am still relatively new (compared to the previous fields) to the therapeutic/psychological realm, but have been observing similar reactions.

I too cringe at the word "normal", but have found using the word in a context they understand, has helped engage and further the conversation much more effectively than initially more accurate (and thus technical) language.

This might be a legacy of my own background, and hopefully over time I can find a more effective middle-way. If possible?

A more appropriate term might be "normative", "Generically, it means relating to an ideal standard or model. In practice, it has strong connotations of relating to a typical standard or model", "of, relating to, or determining norms or standards", etc.

Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Jun 05, 2013 12:09 PM
Another posting on a site brought up two issues, the rpg research project (of a number of them, see the list on the front page of the site) is attempting to define: normative attributes of gamers, and causality for any statistics outside of the normative range.

According to psychological standards previously from the DSM-IV (and going forward likely referencing the DSM-V), using correlative and meta-analysis, most gamers fall within the "norm" of the general population compared to non-gamer peers in areas related to socialization skills, anti-social behavior, suicide levels, homicidal tendencies, depression levels, dissociation, and almost any other measurement in the nearly 100 hundred such studies performed since the early 1980s.

There have been some other studies also indicating superior skills in communication, problem solving, creativity, group social dynamics, stronger differentiation between reality/fantasy, math, reading, language skills, 1/5th to /10th the suicide rate, lower levels of violence, lower levels of anti-social behaviors, etc.

The correlative and meta-analysis data indicates that those outside of the "normal" ranges are very much a small minority of the (_evaluated_) gamers.

Since most of these studies were correlative and meta-analysis, causality is not proven.

Did people with these skills and rating outside of the standard ranges become attracted to RPG's so they could exercise these skills?

Or are there fundamental aspects to the experience of role-playing gaming that helps participants to develop these skills?

Some few, very small, studies (around 15 to 50 participants in each study) have some indication of a possibility of causality, but no large scale or long term experiments have yet been undertaken or completed.

The long term goals of the RPG research project hope to address these (and other) issues over the years to come.

The studies referenced can be found in the Documents section of the website, detailing all of these statements.

Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Jun 05, 2013 12:51 PM
One comment stated that:
"I really love my RPGs, guys, but refusing to admit that many of us are "a little bit off" is like burying our heads in the sand."

To which a hopefully helpful response:
Well, I respectfully disagree that this has always been the case with tabletop RPG's both from personal interactions with hundreds of gamers over more than 3 decades, and from the existing correlative and meta-analysis research currently available. And this is from quite the opposite of burying my head in the sand. :-)

As for how it has become in the past 10-15 years, I am less certain. Unfortunately most of the existing research is from the 80's and 90's, and only a smattering in the early 2000's, so it may be possible that a newer generation of gamers are of a different ilk. If so, that potentially reinforces the "inculcation" portion of the hypothesis.

The upcoming research will hopefully be able to provide a more up to date empirical snapshot.

As for my personal, subjective, experience, it does seem there might be more "weirdo gamers" out there than before, but nothing like a majority by any means. I am currently in three regular groups, and only one gamer in one group would fit the stereotypes, none in the second group, while the observation group has had a higher rate (more pickup players, rather than friends), which potentially reinforces the "floaters" hypothesis, but it is early yet.

Over the summer, and coming years, as more observation groups are formed, there will be more statistically significant data to work with.

And I am emphasizing significant dysfunction in this discussion, a "little bit off", besides being completely vague, would apply to almost anyone, while the stereotypes of all role-playing gamers having significant dysfunction, while still broad, meets specific criteria (as per the DSM).

Hope that helps clarify.

Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Jun 05, 2013 12:58 PM
I should also mention I have noted similar trending in Seattle, in the Bay Area, & Silicon Valley areas of California, similar to those I have noted in Spokane, so I am not yet certain how much of a geographical variable this is yet, versus a generational, or a non-issue this may be.
Joshua
Joshua says:
Jun 10, 2013 06:34 AM
I'm not convinced that the general public's perception of gamers is based on any personal interaction at all. Game and comic book stores, conventions, these aren't places that they go, so even if the hypothesis that an unusually large number of gamers that fit the stereotype are found there, it wouldn't explain how the stereotype gets reinforced outside of the community. Rather it seems likely to me that their entire impression of gamers is based on a few mass-media portrayals, e.g. the Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons that were created for comic/narrative reasons, much like the jolly fat person or the dumb blonde, rather than any sense of depicting a representative specimen.
Erik
Erik says:
Jun 10, 2013 11:31 AM
It would be an interesting hypothesis to test. One could go to 'public' games at hobby stores and maybe count incidents of stereo-typically problematic behavior: misogyny, strong body order, etc. You could compare that to how many people report the same sort of incidents in more private groups and see if there's a significant difference between the two populations.
Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Sep 06, 2013 02:58 PM
Since first proposing this back in June, I've modified the term to be "Public" instead of "floater" versus "Private" instead of "normal" gamers.
The public gamers are those at the Pick Up Games (PUGs), game stores, gaming conventions, etc.
The private gamers are the (unseen majority?) gamers that game with their friends at home, never/rarely attend public gaming events, have mostly the same players year after year with only a little attrition and replacement, and purchase mostly online, or mostly just browse, buy, and leave the gamer stores, rather than hanging out, socializing, or joining games or activities.

Also, since attending the Spocon convention this August, 2013, it seems to further reinforce my hypothesis to some degree.
Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Sep 15, 2013 02:13 PM
Here is a revised version of the opening discussion:
Since first proposing this back in June (elsewhere), I have modified the term to be "Public" instead of "Floater", and "Private" instead of "Normal" gamer.

This is a lengthy post.

I have a new hypothesis as to why the stereotypes about role-playing gamers have become stronger over the decades rather than weakened over time. I initially called it a hypothesis of the "Role-playing Gamer Floater", but have since revised it to "Hypothesis of the Public Tabletop Role-Playing Gamer versus the Private Gamer", when some people irately interpreted the "floater" term as a scatalogical pejorative.

I am defining "Public gamers" as those that spend the majority of the tabletop role-playing game time at Pick Up Games (PUGs), game stores, gaming conventions, etc.


I am defining the "Private gamers" as those (unseen majority of?) gamers that game with their friends at home, never/rarely attend public gaming events, have mostly the same players year after year with only a little attrition and replacement from typical life changes, and purchase mostly online, or mostly just browse, buy, and leave the gamer stores, rather than hanging out, socializing, or joining public/pickup games or activities.

My working hypothesis has two parts:

1. That the now inculcated social assumption about role-playing gamers and gaming drives away "normal" people from the hobby and attracts negative stereotypes because people are increasingly buying into the media and apocryphal stories, the longer they are reinforced, the worse this becomes.

2. Gamers that fit the negative stereotypes might be players/GMs that were rejected from regular "private" groups, and because of their constantly seeking a table to play at, become the most visible.


The private gamers are already in their groups, they are typically more self-selecting and typically stick together for years, even decades. Generally the makeup of the group only changing when people move and such. Then there are the public gamers (previously I used the term "floater") that float from group to group because of their various dysfunctions. These are the gamers that are most often seen in public as they loiter far more, constantly seeking pickup games (PUGs) at comic book stores, hobby stores, conventions, and new-member invites. Since they are so dysfunctional, they keep getting kicked out after a few sessions, and being the cycle again.

I am not claiming that all public gamers have this level of dysfunction, but that maybe a large minority, (or even a slight majority?), might.


Meanwhile the private gamers, are happily meeting regularly at home or in closed game rooms, and most of the public never sees these "normal" players, instead generally just see the dysfunctional floaters hanging out in the stores, on the streets in lines waiting for events, etc.

I only recently began to develop this concept. Though occasionally some of the players I gamed with in the 70's, 80's, and 90's fit the stereotypes, MOST of those I gamed with were successful, well-adjusted, functional people, with none of the anti-social and dysfunctional aspects claimed about role-playing gamer stereotypes.


The 70+ research projects performed during the 80's and 90's regarding role-playing gamers (correlative and meta studies) showed the negative stereotypes generally disproved.


Most of the gamers I participated with, regularly did not have any more trouble getting dates, girlfriends, wives/husbands, etc. than anyone else. They were from all walks of life and interests, and over the years most of them were professionally successful.


There are very few gamers I have gamed with (once they are adults) long enough to get to know more about their personal lives, that fit the dysfunctional, anti-social, unemployed, living in their parents basement stereotype.


Though everyone has various foibles and challenges, most of them did not map to the negative stereotypes any more strongly than other groups (non-gamers).

All the above stated, my experiences have changed more recently, with about half of the gamers I have met or observed since about 2004 to current have been overtly fitting the negative stereotypes.

I moved a number of times over the years when I was building my professional career, including Utah, California, Oklahoma, Idaho, Washington, and elsewhere, and as I moved it took some time to put new gaming groups together (I am usually the GM).


When I moved to Spokane, Washington, I began seeing a LOT of the negatively stereotypical gamers. At first I thought it might be an issue with Spokane (I haven't completely ruled that out yet), but as I travelled and gamed in Seattle and elsewhere, I began developing the aforementioned alternative hypotheses.


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