When Is A Gamer Not A Gamer?

Published on GGL.com on 6/26/06.

Recently, my colleague Mahmood Ali wrote a piece defending a very inclusive definition of the word “gamer.” In that article, he referred to a “friend” who argued the point with him, stating that “I think you’re stretching the definition of ‘gamer’ until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

That friend was me.

Years ago, in the before time, in the long-long-ago, I was webmaster of a site called gamerjargon.com, which is now utterly and completely defunct. As the URL suggests, it was dictionary of gamer terms, the slang and jargon used by role-playing, wargames, and video gamers.

This was the definition of “gamer” given on gamerjargon.com:

gamer, gaming, n. Also gaming (v.), to game (v.).
1. one who plays games.
2. specifically, one who plays games of specific “hobbyist” genres, namely role-playing games, wargames, strategic simulations, and strategy & collectible card games; also computer-based variants of these games.
3. to game, (v.): the act of playing a game. Ex: Sorry, I can’t go on a date — I’m gonna be gaming all weekend.
4. gaming (n.): hobbyist games as a field of interest, or as an industry. Ex: I used to go on dates, until I got into gaming.

It seems the disagreement between Mahmood and me rests on the difference between definitions one and two. Definition one is the simplest, most obvious meaning, and probably what most people would think if encountering the word “gamer” for the first time.

However, the second definition is the real meaning of “gamer.” And, as I will argue, if “gamer” means anything more inclusive than definition two, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

For the purposes of a simple experiment, I will assume that the person reading this article is a “definition two” gamer. In fact, because you’re reading this on GGL.com, I can safely assume that you are primarily a videogamer, and interested in professional gaming. Chances are very good that you are also interested in some of the other types of tabletop gaming mentioned. And I’ll go out on a limb, and say you’re into anime, Asian cinema, extreme sports, science fiction and/or fantasy, fantasy sports, Internet culture and porn. You may not be interested in any of those things, but there is a good chance you are.

I am also going to assume that you have friends who are gamers. Now, think about your gamer friends. Do you have any gamer friends who play nothing but casual games like Zuma or Bejewelled? Do they know nothing about any of the subcultures I just mentioned, but they spend a lot of time playing The Sims? Are you thinking of a sports nut who would never go near a Halo game, but is addicted to Madden?

Of course, you’re not. Because those aren’t gamers. Those are people who occasionally play a computer game, or have become dedicated to one particular game but don’t care about gaming in general.

If the mom who plays Microsoft Solitaire during her lunch break at the office is a “gamer,” then who exactly is NOT a gamer? Pretty much the Sentinelese and that’s about it. Even the Amish have computers nowadays.

If everyone who ever plays a computer game is a “gamer,” then the word becomes completely useless. As GGL community member H-Force pointed out in the discussion forum for Mahmood’s piece, we don’t call someone who goes to the gym twice a month a “bodybuilder.” That’s not only because a bodybuilder goes to the gym more often; it’s because a bodybuilder is part of a culture.

Gaming is a culture. We have our own jargon, our own language, our own conventions and events, our own clothes. Do we have to coin a term like “hobbyist gamer” or “serious gamer” to differentiate us from the casual gamers? No. Because “gamer” is our word. We own it.

Sorry, I mean we PWN it.

The Ten Commandments of Tabletop Role-Playing Games

I spent many, many years playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. Many, many years. Years I’ll never get back.

But I learned a lot, especially about how to keep a game fun and successful. And now I’ve decided to share my wisdom from on high with the Ten Commandments of Role-Playing Games.

Follow these rules, and you will go to gaming heaven. Sin, and burn in the fires of gaming hell.

I am far from perfect. I have been guilty of most of these sins. But in any game I play today, I am a Saint.

Each Commandment is followed by an explanation, or exegesis, by Rabbi Kunochan Ben Tatewaki.

It’s Gary GyGod!

I. I Am RPG Thy Game, Thou Shalt Have No Other Games Before Me

Exegesis: It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to properly prepare and run a good RPG. Gamemastering, when done well, is labor-intensive. If you’re not going to dedicate yourself to an ongoing game, then don’t play. And once you have committed to a game, and your character is central to the story, you cannot just run off to play Halo, or spend a semester in France, or date girls. Role-playing is a responsibility.

And absolutely, positively don’t give up tabletop to play World of Warcraft. These people are traitors, and will be shot. (Full disclosure: I gave up tabletop to play WoW. Gave up LARPs, too.)

Just write your stats in pencil…

II. Thou Shalt Not Cheat, It Is An Abomination

Exegesis: This goes for any kind of game, anywhere, anytime. Tabletop games, LARPS, wargames, card games, computer and arcade games, sports, Chess, Bingo and thumb wrestling.

I have never understood why anyone would cheat. Scratch that – I have never understood why anyone over the age of 14 would cheat. Unlike work or taxes, games are entirely voluntary activities. So cheating at work or on your taxes, while evil, I can get. But why play a game at all if you’re just going to cheat? If you’re cheating, you’re not playing.

If you’re cheating for money, say at gambling or sports, then I understand. You’re an asshat, but I understand. But if there’s no money riding on a game, then you’re just ruining the game for yourself and others. Which means you suck.

What’s that? You cheat to win? If you cheated, you didn’t win. Somebody else won, and just doesn’t know it. You’re a loser. And if no one else knows, you know. And you care, if you have an emotional age over 14.

What about exploits, such as in computer games? Well, if you’re hacking game software for the sole purpose of sharpening those computer skills, then you are a 7334 h@xx0r — knock yourself out, sport. If you’re cheating to “win,” then see above.

In RPGs, cheating is a betrayal of everyone else at the table. And if you’re willing to do that, then you are a waste of protein. Go feed yourself to the boars.

Stop pissing me off!

III. Thou Shalt Not Take Thy Game Too Seriously

Exegesis: There are many ways to ruin a tabletop game or LARP for everyone. But the worst is to take the game too seriously. Nothing is worse than the guy (and there’s always one) who, upon losing his character/failing a saving throw/making a bad roll, freaks out and storms out of the room. That’s the end of the game for the night, folks.

Read my lips: it’s just a game. Now, I know this flies in the face of Commandments I and IX. I never said religion would make sense. But the reason we treat the game seriously is to keep it fun. Take the game too seriously, and it’s not fun anymore.

You will make a bad roll. Your beloved character will die. The gamemaster will make a bad or unfair call (see Commandment VI). You will lose one of your dice. Another player will do something stupid. Something bad will happen – it always does. It’s all part of the gaming experience. If it’s unavoidable, like a bad roll, then learn to deal with it. If it’s something that can be helped, like a poor decision by the referee, then feel free to defend yourself — right up to the point where you’re detracting from the fun of the game. Then stop. Just give in – be the better person.

If you’re upset about something, you may consider just going home. Don’t — it will ruin the whole evening. Unless you can genuinely convince everyone you’re leaving for some other reason (hey guys, my girlfriend called, and she’s ovulating), then just suck it down for the rest of the evening. If you still have your panties in a twist later, you can stop coming to future sessions.

Everyone contributes to making the game civil, successful and fun. Even you.

Loaves and fishes?

IV. Thou Shalt Not MinMax

Exegesis: Everyone loves a rules tweaker. Except we don’t.

Here’s a news flash, Pacho — role-playing games do not have winners. Having the most powerful character is not the point. Tweaking the rules to get powers and abilities the game designers did not intend may be fun for you, but it’s not fun for anyone else. And it may not technically be cheating — but whenever you have to say “not technically cheating,” you’re cheating.

The point of an RPG is to have fun, and to communally tell a story. MinMaxing your character to maximize every possible advantage under the rules does not contribute to either goal; in fact, it’s detrimental. It’s annoying, and it pisses people off. Don’t do it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t design your character intelligently, or take advantage of your superior grasp of the system. It’s all a matter of degree. The minute you’re detracting from the fun, you’ve crossed the line.

Why do Christians believe in Bird-Men? Someone please explain it.

V. Thou Shalt Not Break The Game

Exegesis: This has always been my great sin — intentionally pushing past the limits of what can be done in the game, for the sole purpose of pissing off the gamemaster.

I loved to invent races, powers and abilities the game could not support; devise solutions to problems the gamemaster had not anticipated; drive the party off the main plotline and onto some irrelevant subplot the gamemaster had not planned out. I did these things as a player because I lived for them as a gamemaster. I loved it when players pulled this shit — it was a challenge.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates this style of play. I always frustrated the gamemaster, even my friend who did the same thing in my games. Sometime the players found my antics amusing, but often not. Gamebreaking becomes a sin a moment the fun stops for others.

A top-rate gamemaster won’t let anyone break his game. Then again, a top-rate gamemaster won’t let anyone break any of these commandments.

You guys seen my DM’s screen?

VI. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Gamemaster and Storyteller

Exegesis: In a role-playing game, the gamemaster/Dungeon Master/referee/Storyteller must have absolute authority. He or she is GOD.

There are two systems whose rules made this perfectly clear; Paranoia and the World of Darkness games. But it’s true for every game. As soon as the gamemaster loses his or her authority, the game is over. Nothing is worse than a gamemaster who lets the players walk over him or her. I should know — see Commandment V.

If you don’t want to cheerfully accept every single judgment of the gamemaster, good or bad, major, trivial, or whim, then don’t play again. Note that I said cheerfully accept — begrudgingly following along just makes you a fun-sponge.

The Sacred Eight-Sided-Die

VII. Thou Shalt Bring Thine Own Dice

Exegesis: And books and paper and pens and chips and Mountain Dew. A mooch is no one’s friend.

Conversely, Thou Shalt Share Thine Dice. Jesus Christ, people, they’re not made of diamond. Share your dice. Lend your pens. Give your friend a Coke. Be a mensch. A miser is as bad as a mooch.

Also falling under this Commandment: Thou Shalt Care For Thy Friend’s Dice As If They Were Thine Own. Don’t lose dice. Don’t break or chew pencils. Don’t write on the mat with a Sharpie. And for God’s sake, be careful with painted miniatures.

Wanna kiss my rat?

VIII. Thou Shalt Learn The System

Exegesis: This is my other great sin. I have played and even run countless games without ever learning the actual rules. I ran a successful AD&D game for years and never understood the magic system. Still don’t. It’s not complicated, and I’m not stupid. I just didn’t want to learn.

But if you don’t know the rules, then someone has to do the work for you, and that’s not fair. Take care of your own character creation. Do your own bookkeeping. Understand how your abilities work. Otherwise, you’re just a douche.

If you’re going to play, then learn the damn game.

How do you play this thing? How do you win? Are those dice? What are you writing? What do you mean I can “be” and elf?

IX. Remember The Gaming Day And Keep It Open

Exegesis: This is a corollary of the First Commandment. The gaming day is for gaming, and nothing else. Be on time (right, as if gamers will ever be on time), be prepared, and don’t plan anything else.

Also: Thou Shalt Not Allow Gentiles To Defile The Temple. The Temple is the game, and the Gentile is your girlfriend, little brother, or some other non-gamer. If someone you know genuinely wants to learn the game — if it was their idea — then fine. But don’t invite your girlfriend to the game just because you promised to spend the day with her. She’s a distraction. She’s an embarrassment. She’s a Philistine.

It was the dice!

X. Thou Shalt Not Blame The Dice

Exegesis: Luck does not exist. Read it again. I’ll wait.

Probabilities are probabilities. If you roll 3d6, there’s a 0.4629% chance you’ll roll an 18, a 0.4629% chance of a 3; and a 25% of a 10 or 11. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what you rolled last time. You’re not “on a roll.” There’s no good luck or bad. Just roll the damn dice, and accept your fate.

Also, there are no good or bad dice. As long as you bought your dice, and didn’t make them in shop class, then they are properly cut and weighted. Any possible variations between manufactured dice are too small to matter. (Unless you bought one of those old-school d100s with the seam around the middle. That’s a novelty die, dude. No one uses that.)

There is no better way to roll than another. If you have some trick that supposedly makes the dice roll better, then you are cheating. See Commandment II.

The point is, if something goes wrong, don’t blame the dice. You sound like an idiot. If you must blame something, blame the laws of mathematics.