Gaming Adults – We’re Grown Up

Recently I read an article on how RPGs (notably D&D) had helped writers become better at their craft. However, once I finished reading through it there was an implication that the interviewees had largely grown out of the hobby. Unfortunately it’s a common media assumption. It’s a childish pastime, played by those who are socially inept, single, and who bathe occasionally. Likewise, there’s also this (from the article’s end):

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.”

I’m 40 and a gaming adult. I’ve playing RPGs for a long time. Over 25 years in fact. That’s longer than some of my players have been alive. I’m sure as hell not going to call myself an Adult Gamer. A Gaming Adult is far more PG (and safe for work)! I don’t do cosplay or LARP (and have no wish to).  I don’t own large amounts of Anime. For me, RPGs aren’t my way of dealing with a humdrum reality, they’re a creative outlet.

So here’s my thoughts on what a Gaming Adult is perceived as these days (and comments I’ve heard when I take about my hobby). I mostly ramble on about RPGs, but it covers wargames, boardgames and card games to an extent. It’s perhaps a rebuttal? Focussed towards someone who may be curious about RPGs.

Gaming adults are immature

We’re not children, and we’re not immature. Nor are we slackers hanging around in a basement. Gaming Adult RPGers have jobs that are often not only highly skilled but also professional, often both emotionally and intellectually. I’ve played games with radiologists, police officers, and lawyers – as well as higher-functioning individuals working in intellectual think tanks.

Sometimes its easier to call it “interactive” or “improvised fiction” when dealing with folks unfamiliar with RPGs or other tabletop gaming. As long as you don’t start a rambling discourse about your character shooting the head off a troll with your Uzi during the last Shadowrun game in a shopping centre.

World of Warcraft, Skyrim and other MMOs pretty have their roots in tabletop RPGs. Most adults have a console or play online games (even if its on their phone) – so, to a certain extent the majority of adults are adult gamers, and are “one of us”. They just haven’t accepted it yet. Also tabletop RPG is far less expensive than a Playstation, X-Box, or Wii.

I couldn’t find the time

There’s a huge groundswell of gaming adults returning after a long time away, usually to RPGs. As you get older, the biggest challenge is the challenge of time. Not only are there increased social and professional pressures (find a job, get a mortgage, raise a family, increased responsibility), it can become harder to commit to a regular game.

For example. As a gaming adult, I pretty much can only do RPG stuff once a week.I run two RPG campaigns on alternating Saturday afternoons. With everything going on in my life, I can’t play during the week. Most of my players can only make that afternoon.

Since the Wizards of the Coast “drank” TSR (to quote Conan, badly), there’s been something of a gaming renaissance. Many gaming adults who played in the 90s or earlier have found new groups to play in thanks to the dawn of the digital age. Communities like ORC or Scotland Tabletop have sprung up and encouraged many “old timers” back to the hobby. Usually they can find themselves a group of like-minded individuals who can commit to play on a fortnightly basis for a few hours.

However, there’s plenty of games that allow for simple one-shot (or one-off) games like D&D Encounters. If you’ve never played an RPG these are great to introduce you to the hobby. Demo games in Edinburgh are also run at both Black Lion and the Games Hub of wargames, boardgames and card games. See my Edinburgh Gaming page for details of these, and other venues.

You’re all weirdoes!

This is the one I hear most from those have never played an RPG, or only play First Person Shooter (FPS) games. And it’s the most common aspect portrayed by the media, with the GM usually dressed up, and the players getting way too carried away. There’s even a whole Futurama parody (Bender’s Game).

It’s also perceived that gamers have poor personal hygiene and don’t bathe. As with any activity involving a large number of people often sitting in a confined space, it is the minority that give the rest of us a bad name (and smell). Most gaming adults I know certainly bathe and shower regularly and do their own laundry!

There’s also the myth that RPGers are socially awkward. That’s only true for a minority of gaming adults, often below the age of 30. Consider this:  a GM meets his group of 6 players for the first time, none of whom know each other. The social interaction in a group of this kind, particularly working towards a shared goal will certainly make even the shyest individual get involved. Trust me, I know!

I was never the most outgoing person at school and was pretty much a misfit like a handful of others. RPGs have since got me to become far more outgoing, be more organised, and have helped me become far more sociable. Right now, I run ORC Edinburgh’s website of 300 members (currently) most of whom I’ve met and consider friends. I attend the ORC pub meets where I’m often meeting people for the first time in large numbers. In June I went to Q-CON in Belfast knowing only a couple of folk there and ran three games for complete strangers, and we all had a great time.

And of course there’s subject of the opposite sex – and the attraction of them. Sorry, but all genders play RPGs – not just the male gender! I’ve never liked the term “girl gamer”. It’s a redundant phrase, otherwise I’d call male gamers “boy gamers”, etc. Many adult gamers are comfortable enough with the opposite sex, despite the way the media often portrays adult gamers as geeks (Channel 4, you should be ashamed of Geeks and Beauty & the Geek. Gaming adults often have partners and children in most cases (who can often be gamers themselves). Gamers tend to be far more tolerant to others –  regardless of politics, sexuality or skin colour. I’m not saying bigotry and sexism don’t exist in gaming adults – they are  just far more infrequently encountered. There’s room for everyone at the gaming table.

Often we look, and dress just like anyone else. Like the rest of humanity, gaming adults appear in all shapes and size not just the 9-stone weakling stereotype in glasses and Moss/Dwayne Dibley hair. The chances are that you’ll not be able to tell if somewhat plays tabletop RPGs. Obviously LARPers are different – and they’re what most people equate with RPGs outside of computer gaming. You don’t need to dress up to play a tabletop RPG (in fact, you’ll get funny looks turning up to a venue or game dressed as an Elf). The GM doesn’t need to wear a fez or cloak. A game doesn’t need to be held in a basement in the dark (it can be but you can’t always see what you’re rolling or reading!).

As for me? Well, until recently I was in a relationship of 5 years. I’m not overweight and wear contact lenses. I do wear geeky t-shirts. I shower and shave daily. I may not turn heads, but I don’t turn stomachs.

They’re just silly games

They are games, yes. But “Silly”? No. I’ve learnt a huge amount from RPGs.

RPGs have taught me a lot about creativity, whether it is improvising a NPC or building a world – and to be consistent and organised. Not only has it encouraged me to bring out my creative side, it has taught me a lot about writing and structure, much like the New York Times article describes.

Research for RPGs has fired up my intellectual curiosity far more than school ever did. As well as historical research I’ve needed to do for games like Achtung! Cthulhu (set in WW2), I’ve learned a lot about politics and world building. To the extent where I have to resist the urge to point out errors in other created worlds.

I’m also far more outgoing socially than I was when I was younger and far more adaptable in such situations. I’ve a huge amount of self-confidence from the GMing I’ve done over the years, plus I’ve learned quite a bit about diplomacy!

Plus, it gets me out the house.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.

4 replies on “Gaming Adults – We’re Grown Up”

  1. Nice post! You described so well how I feel… I am 42, two daughters, a wife, a job… I play just once a month, and as like you, rpgs are for me a creativity output. Because of rpgs I learned things that had been useful for my job: photoshop, wiki platforms, html, xml…

    What would do I without rpgs? Write a book? I don’t see why this would be better…

  2. Love the column. I’m introducing my kids to RPG and they love it. Keep up the great work.

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