Breaking the Gamer Code
By Michael Mandt
Many non-gamers have come to me over the past few years and asked me about what it is to be a gamer. Not because they are necessarily looking to become a gamer, but to try and understand them, or even relate to them. I didn’t realize that this was a big issue at first. Is there some kind of great divide amongst gamers and non-gamers that I hadn’t really been aware of or privy to? Could there be a “gamer code” that can be analyzed and accessed by those who don’t know what a tabletop role-playing game is or how many cards are usually in a Magic the Gathering deck? I think there is something about gamers but that something isn’t as different from you as you might think.
So, what is a gamer? We could say that a gamer is anyone who plays games, but for this article we will define gamers as those individuals who more than enjoy hobby games like: Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, Pathfinder, Talisman, Warhammer 40k, etc. These types of gamers are usually not casual players; they live their lives thinking about the game. What is the next step? How can I make my character better? What books, dice, or other accessories do I need to get? This drive and focus on the game is what sets gamers apart from those who are casual players or non-gamers.
What drives a gamer?
First off, obsession is not a way to describe most gamers. The terms I would like to use are, driven or focused. Gamers don’t usually live their games 24/7, but when they are at the table and the dice are in their hand, the great majority of them have left the world behind for a time to completely focus on their match or session. For a non-gamer, this might seem like something very strange. Yet, the same devotion to the gamer’s craft is the same that artists, craftsmen, people playing a sport, readers and movie goers experience while deep into their events.
Gaming is about the experience, the power, and about the social interaction. Yes, gamers like to be social! Even the most anti-social gamer enjoys showing others what they know about the game(s) that they love. The same way that a football quarterback throws a ball is in many ways like how a gamer designs their character or throws their dice. To a gamer, the sport is the intellectual application of the rules to achieve the best outcome—they want to kick ass and take names.
How do you socialize with a gamer?
There are several things that a non-gamer can do to relate more to gamers. I could go into many examples of ways to respect and understand gamers, but for this article I will focus the top five.
Show interest in a game they love.
This really isn’t any different than talking with your friend, or significant other that isn’t a gamer. If you show interest in a game, a gamer is going to help show you why they love it, and how to be the best at it. The best way to become friends with a gamer, is to like some of the games they like to play. Now, sometimes, gamers won’t want to help teach a non-gamer how to play while they are in the middle of a tough match or a session, but just ask them nicely, “Can you teach me about this game when you have some time?” This will go a long way to getting around the drive or focus that most gamers have playing their game. Be patient with the gamer and they will respond when they have the time.
Don’t degrade what they do or how they dress.
Gamers are just like everyone else, they don’t like to be picked on. Telling a gamer that what they do is “weird” or “stupid” is the wrong thing to do, even even jest about. The game they have invested their time in is no different than a basketball player practicing for a game or a mechanic building a custom vehicle and collecting old muscle cars. In the moment of the game, it is their world and their character is their baby, just like that 1970 Dodge Challenger.
Gamers have been in their circles for awhile and many don’t have time or energy for things like staying up with the latest fashions or trends. If you think a gamer might look good in some type of clothing, just tell them, “Hey, I think you would look great in this!” You’ll get a lot more bugbears with honey than you will with giant wasps. Gamers will more than likely be happy to have someone looking out for them in this way, as long as your suggestions are not condescending. As a gamer myself, I am guilty of not being as trendy as others. I also know anytime that people give heartfelt advice about the way I look or maybe even another game I should look into, I will listen.
Tell them straight that you like them.
For those who are looking to date a gamer, I could go into an entire article about techniques and advice, but the best advice I can give is, just ask them. In my experience, gamers are wonderful at understanding the complexities of the game, astrophysics, and complex number theories, but they aren’t as great at translating subtle hints. This may come from years of social isolation, fantasy immersion, or self-esteem issues. Just tell them how you feel, let them know you are interested and that you want to go out sometime and talk about their Warhammer army over coffee and donuts (the gamer equivalent might be mountain dew and pizza, but you get the idea).
This straight forward type of thing might not be what you are used to, but the gamer is not your usual prospective mate. Gamers are generally of a higher intelligence, loyalty, focus, and technologically skilled. While some gamers could rebuild your car, the majority would do better with rebuilding your computer or helping you with a long research paper or essay on English literature. Gamers are used to things being in rules, and dating is not usually something that you can read about in a book and know everything about. If you make yourself known to the gamer that you are interested and you want to go out, you will get much better results than using third parties or waiting for them to make the first move. One of the least favorite types games that a gamer likes to play are mind games.
Respect their time gaming
One of the number one questions I get about gamers from my non-gamer friends involves time. “Why is my boyfriend always playing magic?” “Why does D&D take five hours to play?” “I want my girlfriend to spend more time with me and less time playing World of Warcraft.” You are not alone, so first thing is, don’t panic. The gamer still enjoys being with you, they just are in the “gamer zone” and you will have to wait until they are out of it. Really, don’t try and control a gamer’s time during gaming by calling every 10 minutes, throwing their books or gaming system away, or deleting their characters. DON’T EVER MESS WITH A GAMERS GEAR. It is not the gear that you should be taking your frustrations out on, and if you do mess with a gamer’s gear, you might as well have just ended the relationship, because it’s over.
The best way to answer the time question, is to make time with them. Have a schedule, plan a date, or intimate dinner in advance. Don’t expect to be able to pull your significant other away from their scheduled event without a fight. You have to be patient, a gamer is deep in focus and just like a sport, they cannot stop until the game is over. Would you feel the same way about interrupting a tennis match, or a football game that your significant other is playing in? No, you would let them finish, it is no different with gamers. To pull the Dungeon Master away from the table, will ruin the night for all the othe players, just don’t do it. Wait until your gamer mate is done, and they will appreciate the patience you give them when it comes to their games. They will love you forever, if you accept that they love games and you.
Try and play a game with them.
Even though you might not be a gamer, gamers love it when their friends, family, and significant others to play the games with them. You don’t have to be as hardcore or as driven as the gamer, but interest goes a long way to becoming a closer friend and understanding what they love. You might actually find out that you really like the games they play, and even become more interested in one game or another. One of the greatest feelings I’ve had with my friends is when I see them enjoying the games that I have introduced them too. Every time a girlfriend beat me in Magic, I was very happy to have introduced them to the game, I helped! And role-playing isn’t just something that you have to do at a table. Fantasy role-playing is great if you can enjoy it with the people you love. Girlfriends or boyfriends who really get into their characters can be great both at the table and when you are alone. Try interacting together in your characters outside of the game a little bit, I’ll bet you sparks fly.
In conclusion, gamers are like everyone else. If you prick them, they bleed; if you degrade them, they get sad; if you love them, they will love you. You may never be as driven and focused as the gamer, but you will find that most gamers are great friends to have. So, the next time you see a gamer that you don’t know go up and introduce yourself and see what they are into. You just might find that there is a little gamer inside you just waiting to roll initiative.
Michael Mandt is an editor, writer and game organizer for www.chamberofchampions.com as well as lifelong gamer and role-player. Check him out on facebook at www.facebook.com/drakesylvan or at the Chamber of Champions website.