Caught unaware…


I am not a closet gamer! By that I mean I do not hide my love for role-playing games. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know I regularly post about RPGs and other assorted geek interests. I actively support my local gaming community as much as I can. Heck I blog about it!

People around me know about role-playing. Coworkers and acquaintances know that I play “the game” on Tuesdays and know about the “geek picnics” I get involved in periodically. I talk about RPGs to my non-gaming friends (which there are not many of since most of my friends actively game or have gamed with me at some point in their life) when they ask about it. I am not pushy and try not to force my hobby on the uninterested.

However this past Friday something odd happened to me. I was out with my girlfriend’s sister celebrating her birthday, as the night progressed I had consumed a pitcher of sangria, various screwdrivers, I was chilling to the music when someone asked me, “What is this game you play and you keep writing about on Facebook?”

I was not ready for this question. I held my drink and look flabbergasted for a moment. As I was speechless they proceeded to discuss what they thought the game was. Obviously they had talked about this. They had no idea what the game was; someone thought it was something like Second Life (which admittedly I know little about), some sort of online game where I had an avatar.

I regained my composure and attempted to explain what the role-playing games I played were. I told them it was not a computer game, that it was a social activity where people got together to tell a story. They asked about the maps and miniatures and I told them we did not use them all the time, that we used them only during conflict or situations where the specific location of participants was important. I also explained that the game was somewhat like playing cops and robbers when we were kids and that dice were used solve conflict and avoid discussions like the ones we had when we were kids… “I shoot you!” “No I shot you first!”

They seemed genuinely interested, and thought it was much cooler than they had originally conceived. Someone actually asked me to invite her to the next geeknic, she wants to experience what RPGs are firsthand. I am happy with the outcome. However I know I was not as eloquent as I could have been. Alcohol had something to do, but the unexpectedness of the situation caught me off guard.

So I ask you, when someone asks what a role-playing game is, what do you say? What is your short description, your elevator pitch? Just in case I get caught unaware again…

7 thoughts on “Caught unaware…”

  1. Actually, you probably did as good as anybody could. This may come from my living in France, but when I get too eloquent and/or enthusiastic about my geeky activities, people tend to be put off rather than interested, even when they were the one asking to begin with. At best I elicit a polite version of “Oh, okay. Bored now.” And that’s when I’m not almost immediately labelled Freak, with people asking me if I wander around cemeteries in black robes and stuff. I swear to god, sometimes I think I’d have an easier time coming out as gay than as a gamer (though I don’t actually hide my gaming habits).

  2. I was in a hospital bed (hospitalized due to some weird infection which didn’t fully manifest then, but a month later, but made me sick enough to require hospitalization in the first place, and again later), reading some oWoD book when an on-duty nurse began to ask questions about RPGs out of the blue. It turned out that she had heard about it, and found the subject intriguing.

    Fortunately I was able to explain something, and the nurse kept her interest toward the topic.

  3. I keep my geekiness to (somewhat) of a minimum. Casual acquaintances know of my love of things like Star Wars & Doctor Who, and I do say that I have a “game night”. If asked, I will say that is “kind of like D&D”, but I don’t volunteer the information automatically. Some people do ask more about it, and I’ll describe it much as you did. If someone tries to liken it to a video game I’ll tell them that it’s kind of like World of Warcraft, but we do it in person and say what we’re doing instead of using computers.

    Some non-gamers get it and some don’t. I have noticed, especially recently, that more and more people either have played it or know other people who do/did, though. I’ve also never been treated poorly because of it.

  4. I actually don’t talk about it at all to anyone I don’t know to be a gamer. Basically, this includes all of my co-workers. As far as they’re concerned, I spend Saturday “with friends”, and that’s it. Perhaps I should practice an “elevator pitch” and start talking about it more…

  5. I usually start my description by asking the person if they’ve ever been at the movies and had ever wanted to scream at the character on the screen to do a certain thing because you know what will probably happen. (the answer is almost a unanimous YES!)

    I then describe an rpg as a game where you have a character (like in the movie) but you control what the character does (if you don’t want to go through the door to the creepy attic you don’t have to).

    Then I explain that because you’re a character in the movie, who may be a ninja, ex-marine, computer hacker, etc, that you aren’t in real life). Because of this you have numbers that represent what your movie character can do that you can’t. And then to figure out if your character is successful doing something you roll some dice and use those numbers to see if you can do it.

    Then I explain that just like the movie has a director & script writer that tells the audience what the movie is the game as a person who directs where the game goes, called the game master, but that the game master can only tell you what is going on around you, not what your character in the movie can do or what decisions your character can take.

    I’ll usually end with a simple scenario (that I got from a great Fear the Boot podcast episode) where I tell the person to pretend that they and some friends are in a move and that they are out camping. I then describe how the light is fading and the hear wolf howls, then how they find a cabin and when they go to look in they see a man turn into a wearwolf, and ask what they do…

    It seems to work pretty well for me.

  6. I have a pre-prepared answer i always give. Sometimes I tweak it and I am happy to elaborate after wards but at first my answer to “what is role-playing?” goes like this …

    “Imagine you are in charge of a ship, you know all billowing sails and salt breeze. Your skill will see this crew and the cargo to a safe port with wages and perhaps family. Suddenly your second in command cries “pirates”. Now, what would you do, stand and fight or trim the sails and run like buggery?”

    Wait while they think, perhaps ask pertinent questions and then give an answer.

    “There you go, you just role-played!”

  7. Thanks for all the comments folks. Some great ideas! I actually got asked about RPGs at my girlfriends birthday dinner. I guess people see me posting about RPGs in social media sites and want to learn more. I was thankfully better prepared this time around. In part thanks to you all.

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