Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reading About Gaming: Gary Alan Fine's Shared Fantasy

Just a quick post today about something I've been reading: Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds, by Gary Alan Fine.

Gary Alan Fine (GAF) is a sociologist of some small fame. I met him, briefly, in 1993 at the American Sociological Association conference in LA, but I've really had no more truck with him outside of reading an odd article of his, here and there. He's from the Interactionist area of sociological inquiry, riffing off of the work of Blumer, Goffman, and others of that ilk. Before my own switch from sociology to rhetorical studies, that's pretty much where I was positioned as well, and I still am interested in that sort of thing.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that GAF had published a book about tabletop RPGs, D&D, Empire of the Petal Throne, and other elements of his particular gaming community. The book itself was published in 1983, but the research occurred in the late-1970s. He wrote this stuff before E. Gary Gygax left TSR. He played EPT with M.A.R. Barker. The community of which he was part interacted either face-to-face, or in the pages of the letters sections of various gaming publications, both local and national.

Here's the thing, though. A lot of what he writes about seems like same shit, different time. For example, in talking about disagreements in the community, and how they play out in publications, he observed:
Feuds regularly appear in these journals... The gaming world is not made up of individuals who love and respect each other. Gamers have their own styles of playing and their own moral standards; those who cross these boundaries may be attacked in the gaming press. (p. 154)
Ain't a damned thing changed, has it?

Here's another bit that I found humorous. In his discussion of the old-school miniature wargamers, and their reaction to the tabletop RPG players:
A similar situation occurred at the University of Minnesota gaming club, where FRP games were also prohibited for a time. Within a few years after the games were marketed people recognized the group playing them was significantly different from war gamers.
As often happens when stereotyping is present, members of the subsociety respond to the views of others. In this case the response is partly defensive: distinguishing serious fantasy gamers from children who have only a temporary interest... A second means of dealing with external criticism is to attack war gamers for their militarism, their misguided belief that they are engaging in "realistic" battles, and to suggest that their personal peculiarities label them as "misfits." The hardcore miniature gamers are termed grognards by fantasy gamers, a French term meaning the conservative old guard, or literally "old sweats." (p. 38, emphasis mine)
Reading this book through the lens of our current media is simply fascinating, especially since I spend so much time reading about this kind of thing on the blogs and on G+.

Anyway, like I said, just a short post today. Lots of work to do.


  1. Funny!

    I read Shared fantasy back in the early 1990s and could barely believe that gamers were so dysfunctional, but my experiences were with friends rather than clubs until then.

    Interestingly I have also read that the subjects of Fine's book felt that he sensationalized and misrepresented them (mainly as a bunch of rape-crazed psychopaths) but I don't remember much of that being in the book.

  2. Yeah, they do sound sort of dysfunctional from time to time, but then again I suppose it's the weird stuff that gets noticed, not the time that nothing cool happened. Also, what's funny at the table when you're playing, the kind of stuff that has you weeping it's so funny, isn't so funny if you weren't there. I'm enjoying the book, but it's a lot drier than it really needs to be. Fine is a decent writer in a technical sense, but he's not much in the style/readability department. Good old academic style.