You’ve got to hide your love away: Behind the stigma of being an “open” gamer
I recently tweeted about how great it is that we can just kind of talk about gaming with our friends and co-workers. Due to the ubiquity of the hobby, playing a game shouldn't be any stranger than watching football or reading a good book, right?
Several people e-mailed to let me know the extent of my incorrect assumptions.
Bullied at the workplace
“Perhaps you are extraordinarily blessed, or I and a few of my friends here in [redacted] are extraordinarily cursed but here gaming or talking about games, other than Madden or COD, is considered quite strange,” wrote one reader, who wished to remain anonymous. “I am not alone in this, several of my friends who work in other fields and in different areas around the midwest can concur.”
“We do not say we are getting together with friends to play 'Risk' or 'Zombicide' anywhere near our co-workers. Those of us that have, have quickly stopped. It's not worth the looks. It's not worth the jokes at meetings,” they continued. “It has in some cases put our careers in jeopardy as the playing of games is not an activity a 'professional' individual would take part in. This is the unspoken opinion of the populace in these areas.”
Being known as a gamer has negatively impacted this individual, and they're often “volunteered” for weekend assignments because, while other employees have kids, all this person is going to do is play some stupid game. A waste of time, right?
“I've talked to HR about that being an unfair assumption, and was rebuked with heavy implications that my time playing games is in fact less important than someone else's who has children. Had they not known I played games I might have had more leverage,” they explained. “A damage to my career that wasn't fixed until after I got married. Back on the right path you know…”
So instead of talking about playing Borderlands or running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, they say they're watching the game or going out drinking with friends. They tweet from accounts that hide their identities. They don't talk about where they work. In fact, one of the prerequisites of me writing this story was a promise to hide all identifying characteristics.
In fact, this individual is moving to an area in the country with a strong gaming development community and an open gaming culture, so they can go to bars or play board and role-playing games openly without fear of being mocked or harassed because of their hobby. Frankly, this is the first time I've heard of someone having to take such drastic steps just to indulge in a little gaming, but it shows just how stigmatizing our hobby can be in certain parts of the country, and likely in other parts of the world.
“So no, gaming is not so widely accepted as one wishes to believe. In many places it still has quite the stigma and so communities that may even be larger than they seem stay quiet,” they wrote. “Because here none shall game past 21 lest they wish to work at Gamestop or Starbucks.”
Dealing with the stigma
Others have contacted me with similar complaints, and it seems that with certain jobs, and in certain areas, you'll still be mocked, judged, and even bullied for playing games. The person above even works in the tech field, a place that you'd think would be safe for people who like to unwind with a game or two.
I don't have a good solution to this problem, although hiding and moving seems extreme. I also dislike the idea that we have to hide what we love in order to do well in our jobs or schools. What's clear is that, for many people, gaming still remains a hidden activity, something they do away from the eyes of others, afraid of being found out.
Those of us who live in more welcoming areas may take this sort of thing for granted, but it's clearly a problem for a nearly silent minority (majority?) of gamers.