Spot Check 16: Gaming and Intimacy

by NICK MIZER 

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About Nick Mizer

Although much of my work focuses on tabletop role-playing games, I think that geek culture in general has a lot to offer for anthropological study, from understandings of modernity and consumerism to the role of the imagination and wonder in the midst of those more “serious” trends. As I explore these things, I find myself straddling the borders between anthropology, folkloristics, and performance studies.

There are 4 comments

  1. Sean Smith

    I have found over time the biggest strain on a gaming group is when one becomes involved in a relationship. My group are all close friends that have been a group for over 20 years and nothing gets them fired up more than when one starts dating and misses a game! Me I got lucky, I married one of my gaming group, And even though everyone had a crush on her it went so much better than when someone dates a person on the outside. Heaven forbid someone wants to bring a short term girlfriend into a long term group!

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    1. Nick Mizer

      New relationships can definitely strain things. In a certain sense, *any* new player can potentially do that, but perhaps romantic relationships more so. In social networking terminology we’d call those connections multivalent, meaning that you’re connected with the person in multiple ways. That is, they’re not just a fellow player, they’re also a significant other (or a friend’s significant other.) The expectations of those different types of relationships you share with the same person are different and can sometimes come into conflict, which can put a strain on the whole group. Of course, if the group manages to navigate those tensions, the result can be a stronger, more closely knit group, but that doesn’t always happen.

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  2. k8monstr

    I think this is a really interesting topic, and the direction you took with it was unexpected (to me). In my research on video games I often focused on how people use video games to maintain long-distance relationships, or the group mentality that can form in a vent chatroom.

    Looking at the relationality of table-top games definitely adds a different dimension, because it removes the “virtual” aspect. I’ve had two role-playing game experiences in my life, and I think they speak to the important of relationships.

    The first time I played a role-playing game, there was a group of graduate students that decided we wanted to try out this new experience with another member of our cohort who was a rpg veteran. I had actually be interested in role-playing for awhile, but had never had the opportunity to try it before.

    The dynamics of that game were fascinating, and none of our comfort levels were high. Those of us that were new fumbled along, an a few members didn’t get very into it and seemed like they were trying to “play cool”. That experience wasn’t very rewarding, and the story we created wasn’t especially great.

    The second time I played, I was playing with gaming veterans, but people who I was very comfortable with and we had a few meetings to talk about the game and our concerns before our first session. That game (we were playing monsterhearts) went exceedingly well, and has turned into a bi-monthly routine.

    I personally can’t even imagine what playing with strangers would be like, but I’ll be very interested in observing at the next con I can make it to!

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    1. Nick Mizer

      Sorry about the delayed response here–I’ve been in Lake Geneva doing research at Gary Con, a convention held in honor of Gary Gygax. You bring up a good point with those two experiences: that gaming relationship isn’t a sure thing with every group. There’s a unique kind of closeness that *can* develop, but it’s by no means a given. There are also some fairly unique kind of dysfunctional relationships that I think can develop. In both cases those get tied up in the games that serve as a medium for the relationship. One thing that has come up as I talk to people about various games is that I might ask them about their opinion of a game and they’ll respond by talking about their personal interactions with the creator of the game or with people they’ve played that game with. The people and the game get intertwined.

      As for con games, someone here at Gary Con pointed out to me that it’s kind of like rolling the dice: sometimes you end up with people that you can bond with really well, and some great lasting relationships can come out of it. Other times quite the opposite can happen.

      You’re definitely right about the less virtual aspect of relationships in tabletop gaming, but I think that part of what you see if you look carefully at that is that *all* relationships are mediated through the activities that serve to build the relationship, and what exactly is mediating it shapes the nature of the relationship. In a certain sense, all relationships are “virtual” or “mediated” because the interpersonal sharing that we experience with others is always partial.

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