A Response to RPG Parents and the Elephant in the Room

I’m not sure I want my children to play RPGs because RPGs make people fat.

That’s the thesis of the blogpost that recently went up on D&D Dads:  RPG Parents and the Elephant in the Room.  When I read that blog post, it made my blood boil.  The post is full of stereotyping and logical falacies and in fact sounds a lot like a similar arguement that was made in the 80s when D&D first was becoming popular.

Here is how I sum up pewterpeter’s arguement:

I know RPGers personally who are unfit.

I have  observed in photographs of cons some RPG players are overweight.

Therefore, RPGs make RPG players unfit.

 

RPGers in general, RPG bloggers and RPG podcasters don’t talk about making physical fitness a priority in their lives.

Therefore RPGers don’t care about physical fitness.

 

If I introduce my children to RPGs, they will be exposed to other RPGers.

Since RPGs make people unfit, and RPGers don’t care about making physical fitness a priority in their lives, RPGers will override any influence I have on my children’s physical activity.

Therefore my children will become unfit.

This is frankly, bullshit.  Here’s why.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

Let’s address his first arguement.  He bases his argument that RPGs make people unfit based on his observations of people he knows personally and through online photographs of RPG conventions.  Although he takes great effort to not imply that being unfit means being overweight, I don’t know how he can possibly determine whether or not people in photographs who are not overweight are unfit.

The problem with this is that anecdotes are not a substitute for data, of which he admits he doesn’t have much.  In fact, the only example he uses is a study by New Scientist (though with online gamers playing Everquest II) that concludes that the BMI of gamers is actually better than the average person.  He then derides the study for being self reporting physical fitness.  However, although I can’t read the study directly, the conclusions are based on BMI, not on some quantity of physical fitness.  He additionally argues against the study by stating that it ‘goes against previous (but not particularly impressive) data’.  He doesn’t actually refer to this data but then falls back on his personal observations.

The reason that data is vastly superiour to a collection of anecdotes is that it avoids confirmation bias.  That is, pewterpeter believes that RPGers are unfit in general and therefore will discount examples where he sees RPGers that are fit, and will preferentially remember those that aren’t.  Worse, if the thinner RPGers don’t talk about physical fitness being important, he will fit those people into the ‘unfit’ category.

But let’s just say that the stereotype for RPGers is true, and that the correlation between RPG playing and physical fitness is there.

This still does not imply that playing RPGs makes one unfit.

This is a classic case of the fallacy that correlation does not imply causation.  While RPG playing and lack of fitness may be correlated, this does not mean that RPG playing causes people to be unfit.  Instead, a third cause could result in both of those aspects.

I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that most RPGers also partake in other ‘geeky’ activities: playing computer games, playing video games, reading books and watching TV shows and movies.  A bit more out on the limb, but reasonable I think, many RPGers have rather sedentary jobs. In addition, when growing up, I suspect a lot of us avoided the physical extracirricular activies in school.

It’s the entire combination of hobbies and lifestyle that causes a lack of physical fitness, and certainly not a hobby in which you probably spend at most about 5 hours a week.

Interestingly, in the comments the author states that he’d orginally included speculations about other reasons that RPGers could be unfit, but edited them out.  This is understandable as it would have weakened his argument.

The bottom line though is that his conclusion is not supported by evidence.  However, then he states that this doesn’t actually matter, what matters is the the RPG ‘sub culture’.

Arguement From Ignorance

Now let’s examine pewterpeter’s 2nd arguement.

Frankly, though, I’m not so much concerned here with unfit RPGers getting healthy and active. It is an important topic, but not for this post. I am concerned with my kids entering an unhealthy sub-culture; I’m very concerned that with all the recent excitement about RPG parents teaching their kids about RPGs, I have not seen a single mention about the health or activity of kids. Not a single mention of taking kids out for a walk. Not a single mention of engaging in sports. Nothing. Not once.

I have read nothing about this in any RPG blog, nor heard about this in any RPG podcast, even when the topic is specifically about RPG parents and their kids. I am familiar with many of the discussions surrounding child-rearing in the western world. Activity and physical fitness are consistently an important topic. For kid’s physical fitness to not come up in RPG discussions just does not fit the patterns established elsewhere. Parents who are actively committed to their kids’ long-term health are engaged in the topic. It comes up in discussions. But not when RPG parents discuss RPGs and their kids.

He then gives three possible reasons for this:

1.  RPG blogs and podcasts are specialized and thus wouldn’t discuss topics like this.

2.  There exists a podcast or blog that has discussed this, and he hasn’t found this.

3.  RPG parents don’t take their children’s physical fitness seriously.

The answer is #1 (though it could be #2). Why would we discuss topics not related to RPG playing in RPG podcasts or blogs.  Here are some other things I don’t discuss in my RPG blog posts:  the importance of financial planning, the importance of vaccination, the importance of critical thinking, how awesome the Canucks are this year, how this winter was annoying to me as a meteorologist, or how cool it is that my son can pronounce ‘parasaurolophus’.

Chess blogs don’t talk about physical fitness either.  Nor do financial blogs.  Or movie blogs.  Or novel blogs.

All this would be fine if the author then didn’t assume that #3 was in fact, the reason.  This is an arguement from ignorance.  The author doesn’t know why RPG blogs don’t discuss physical fitness, but he concludes that it’s because RPGers don’t care about physical fitness, or worse, their children’s physical fitness.  Translation:  He thinks RPGers are bad parents.

What makes this arguement infuriating is that he explicitly states that a  reason RPG blogs don’t discuss physical fitness could be that they’re specialized and authors just wouldn’t talk about such things.  Then he completely discounts that as a possiblity.

Guilt by Association

At this point pewterpeter takes his two incorrect conclusions as premises for his final arguement.  By introducing his children to RPGs, he will expose them to a sub-culture of individuals who are unfit because of RPGs and that don’t care about physical fitness.  This will then make his children not care about physical fitness, overriding any influence he has over them.

This is guilt by association.  He is stating that because RPGers have a negative quality, introduced to them via playing RPGs, that if his children also play RPGs that they will also gain this negative quality.

This is no better than saying that he doesn’t want his children to be exposed socially to homosexuals or athiests because they are ‘immoral’.

This is also analgous to the witch hunt during the 80s in which fundamentalist Christians campaigned against D&D on the basis that it promoted witchcraft and devil worship.  That was completely irrational, and so is this arguement.

All or Nothing Fallacy

Finally, the author seems to think that he cannot have his children play RPGs and instill an interest in physical activity.  This is classic ‘all or nothing’ thinking.  Yes, playing RPGs is ‘sedentary’ in that it involves sitting around a table.  However, that activity only takes up a minor amount of time in a person’s week.  There isn’t anything stopping people from getting 30-60 minutes of exercising per day and playing RPGs.

I appreciate the author’s attempt to connect with a community that he desires.  In fact, I applaud his attempt to do so.  However, it was completely unneccessary to fling mud around at people who enjoy this hobby while he did so.

Addendum

Just before publishing this, I noticed this comment from the author:

2) This is essentially Greg’s point (though he probably puts it better than I will). My argument doesn’t rely upon identification of the root cause. The correlation IS the problem. I believe the RPG is constituted of a greater proportion of inactive and unhealthy people. I’m still going to teach my kids D&D; I’m not worried that playing D&D with me will lead to poor health for my kids because, as you say, it only takes up one small fraction of our time. My concern is in getting them involved with the community. I think there are lots of benefits to engaging with a community with similar interests to you (e.g. breadth of ideas, support), but I can’t ignore the negative influences that it might have (no matter the underlying cause).

First off, the correlation is not the problem.  Correlation requires data.  All pewterpeter supplies is an anecdote.  He admits this, but then marches on with his arguement anyway.

And now he states he’s not worried about his own children becoming unfit due to playing RPGs. He’s just worried about introducing them to the community.  He doesn’t know the reason, and he admits that the reason doesn’t matter.  He just is.

Frankly, that’s even worse.  In my opinion, it’s thinly veiled bigotry.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd


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About Arcane Springboard

I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd
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21 Responses

  1. Great commentary. You inspired me to leave a comment on there, and likely, I won’t be visiting that site again. (To be fair, it’s not a subject I would normally read about anyway.)

    Your analysis is spot on. I particularly agree with this part:
    “Here are some other things I don’t discuss in my RPG blog posts: the importance of financial planning, the importance of vaccination, the importance of critical thinking, how awesome the Canucks are this year, how this winter was annoying to me as a meteorologist, or how cool it is that my son can pronounce ‘parasaurolophus’.”

    We’ve decided to write about some subjects that are controversial. In responses, we see comments like “this isn’t a big deal, why aren’t you writing about ending poverty or stopping domestic abuse instead?”

    I also can’t tell you how much it annoys me to see a lot of the gamer stereotypes rampant. And to further imply those of us who blog about it just don’t care about that- and by implication, any number of other issues? We need to get beyond this and realize there are lots of blogs out there that cover many topics, and each one can’t cover them all.

  2. Well, thanks for the response. I’m going to put together a response post when I get a chance to sit down to it, hopefully by tomorrow night. There are clearly places where I did a lousy job of communicating my thoughts, and there may be other things on which we’ll just end up disagreeing.

  3. Awesome response to a post that once again try’s to find fault for unfit lifestyles in activities and interest and not on choices each individual makes and how that is tempered by how they were brought up. There is so much more a persons fitness level and their enthusiasm about fitness in general than what hobbies he/she chooses. I know plenty of sports fanatics who are unhealthy and unfit. I know doctors, and business men alike who are unhealthy due to life style choices and on some level genetics. I won’t try to stop my kids from being doctors just because I know some unhealthy physicians.

    These kinds of fears are often based off of personal and public biases. Psychologically if you believe that gamers are all fat and unhealthy then you will tend to see gamers who are of that type.

    This kind of article belongs in the Boston Herald with all the other sensational and un-scientific stuff they post about D&D. If one wants to see gamers who are very enthusiastic about getting fit one only needs to look at the +5 Cha movement and all the people who are taking part in it.

    Pewter Peter I really hope that you don’t truly believe what you have written, or you have bought in to an age old stereo type that has plagued the gaming community for years and will persist until we wake up and realize that the hobby we enjoy has nothing to do with the Twinkies we eat and the exercise we avoid.

  4. Not much to add but my agreement…

    I want to get my kids into gaming – and intend to blog about it as and when – but I also take them out to the park and encourage them to be active. Kids who are going to get fat will do it watching tv, playing computer games… etc. … or whatever.

    Gaming won’t hurt them one bit.

  5. Can’t agree more with the correlation issue. “Correlation doesn’t imply causation” was pounded into me at grad school, even though one of our most senior profs published study after study touting correlational results DID imply causation. Frustrating.

    I posted a comment on the original cite, and tried to illustrate why the post was problematic. It reinforces stereotypes and ignores the one piece of scientific evidence in the article. You are right on with your response.

  6. I agree completely! Gaming is the hobby we talk about in our blogs and such, just because we don’t mention fitness doesn’t mean we don’t keep in shape and have healthy habits. I actually find that gamers tend to be more outgoing if anything! Ever heard of Larping? Or Magiquest? There’s lots of ways to get young gamers to enjoy fitness :-)

    Also, if we’re going by anecdotal evidence, I bet all gamers look like the FragDolls :-P

  7. @Dave: Hey, don’t abandon a whole site for one post you don’t agree with. Just to clarify, the purpose of the site is to give ANY geek father a place to say what’s on their mind, carte blanche. It’s like saying you won’t go to Facebook again because someone posted something there you didn’t like….well except that there are only 3 of us posting there at the moment (but all are welcome).

    I stand by Peter’s right to post whatever is on his mind and what his concerns are as a father. Ultimately, I guess I don’t particularly care who visits the site in the future since the site is intended to serve the author more than the reader. :-)

    • I think Dave does not read much about being a dad and gaming since he isn’t a father. At least that is what I took from his comment.

  8. Hmmm.

    Well, let me chime in a bit. I was raised in a household where no one was a physical fitness nut. My parents married in 1950 and that entire thing wasn’t really anything like as big in that generation as it would become later. While Jack Lalanne began the excercise culture (and good on him) the much greater penetration didn’t come until a lot later.

    Neither of my parents ran, or swam or did any kind of daily exercise for exercise’s sake. Both worked and my dad’s job was physical and required strength but not a lot of cardio/aerobic stuff. My mom worked in a cafeteria and was on her feet much of the day, but that was it. So I didn’t grow up with a lot of ‘fitness’ at least for fitness’ sake. Neither my brother nor I played sports nor much cared about them. My dad’s big hobby was model railroading and his secondary one was carpentry/renovation stuff.

    Why is this relevant? Well I grew up perhaps less ‘fit’ than I might have been. Long before D&D etc. was invented. I did bicycle about everywhere, sometimes even in winter.

    Once I took up RPGing it really just subbed in for things like reading, or watching television. But it got me involved in hobbies like American Civil War re-enacting and eventually competitive fully armored sword fighting. It led me to join the military too.

    Far from making me ‘unfit’ it had the reverse effect exposing me to activities that made me MORE fit. As a result of sticking with some of those activities I am MORE fit now than I was as a child – and more fit than a lot of my contemporaries. And that’s after some thirty YEARS of RPG gaming and associated activities.

    I think of many of my friends and their kids that they game with and it’s similar. The most obvious is a friend who has two boys both of whom game with him. One of them plays goal for his local hockey team – and is quite good at it. The other is a swimming champ and track star and does youth tri-athlons.

    Do those come up in discussions about gaming? Not really. They are off topic. Just as much as my training for a half marathon this summer is off topic in a gaming discussion and something I’d be unlikely to mention unless someone specifically brought up fitness such as in a post like this.

    Not bad for a 47 year old who is also a published RPG author wouldn’t you say?

  9. I find the whole conversation very interesting, and a worthy one to have. I don’t feel like pewterpeter was as definitive or damning as you suggest, but you raise a number of valid points nonetheless. “Correlation does not prove causation” is 100% accurate and true.

    I am curious about one thing regarding your dissenting view, and that is, doesn’t it matter who we surround ourselves with? I think we can agree that gaming does not cause people to be unfit, but he’s not really off in his observation that there is a general culture of unfitness within the gaming community, right? Somewhere in there is something worth thinking about.

    Taking gaming out of it and ask the question again. If you generally observe any undesirable behavior in a group of people, wouldn’t you think twice before encouraging your kid to hang out with them? If you observed that the neighborhood kids who got together to play soccer every Saturday were cliquish and mean, or foul-mouthed, or disrespectful, would you encourage your child to go and join the game? Soccer provides great benefits for your child, and playing soccer didn’t CAUSE them to be mean or foul or rude, but isn’t it just possible that you’d hesitate to introduce it, or at least seriously consider how you go about introducing it? I’d think you would proceed with some level of caution.

    I think it’s an interesting conversation to have.

    • Here’s the problem. He’s not looking at a specific group of gamers. He looking at gamers as a whole. If we were to use your soccer analogy, he’d be telling his kids not to play soccer with people who are part of soccer culture. So it comes down to playing only with people he’s handpicked for them. Not exactly how you grow and learn more about the sport, or about the game, depending on which one you look at.

      Now, I’m not suggesting he let his kids go out unsupervised at a young age, but you wouldn’t do that with any hobby. As they get older, they should have just as much freedom to explore gamer culture as they do sports culture, because they both have their upsides and downsides, and one can learn a lot from both.

      Obviously, I can’t tell him how to raise his kids, but frankly, when he singles out rpgs for their potential downsides without acknowledging all activities have potential downsides, it strikes me as still not quite understanding rpgs in the way we understand other recreational activities.

    • Eclipse made my point regarding the difference between worrying about a group of specific individuals (which is what you’re talking about) as opposed to a population as a whole (which is what pewterpeter was talking about).

      That said, I’m not willing to concede that he’s even right about the RPG population being more unfit than the average population. Are there individuals who are? You bet. But is the proportion statistically significant compared to the rest of the population?

      You need data for that, and he doesn’t have it.

      As I said in the response, if you don’t use data, confirmation bias WILL set in.

      Could he be right in the end? Sure. But then the rest of his arguement doesn’t follow anyway.

      • It’s a simplification, but the soccer kids comparison holds up. In that hypothetical, a parent is still evaluating a group (though a small one) and making a judgement on his or her child’s involvement in that group.

        Maybe it’s as simple as the author’s experience with gamers is that they are typically unfit. If that’s the only experience he has, then maybe that’s unfortunate, but he is still looking out for the best interests of his kid.

        Many commenters here and elsewhere seem to me to suggest that the author says that gaming makes you fat, which he didn’t. He just acknowledged this reservation and aired it. I don’t get the need for the vicious Internet nerd dogpile (another stigma that we would do well to fight off).

        • Actually, the fact that a soccer teams is small makes a judgement about them completely different about the whole population of soccer players.

          That team is a competely definable set of individuals. You could put a name to exactly each one and state why you’re opposed to your child associating with them.

          PewterPete would have his child not associate with ANY soccer player, based on the actions of one team.

          That’s prejudice, and that’s wrong.

  10. Absolutely agree. RPGs can be a great way to *encourage* social development, and from there it can be easier to get into other group activities, some of which can be physically active. I know military folks who play D&D, and believe me, they’re fit. The two high school students I play with (their parents are in my groups) are incredibly sociable with their peers and physically active; if anything they’re models of what you’d want your kids to be like. One of the things I’ve loved, in fact, has been getting to watch one of them over the past three or four years develop from a hyper kid into a remarkably level-headed guy with an incredibly strategic mind. I know a kid who loves D&D and MMOs who’s also an Eagle Scout. I know one who does horse-jumping events. These aren’t things I expect from a “fat kid living in his parents’ basement” D&D stereotype.

    How your kids develop emotionally and physically has nothing to do with whether they play D&D. It has a lot to do with how you teach them to interact with people (and model interpersonal interactions for them). You can even use D&D to teach some of that.

  11. As a result of RPG’s I used to walk an extra 21 miles a week to walk across the town that I lived and back to go to game sessions and to hang out with the RP group (3.5 miles each way 3+ times a week). But I guess real people don’t count when it comes to biases…

  12. My current gaming group is a bunch of in-shape hotties with incredibly active social lives. Most of us go dancing about as often as we game. But I’d rather not game with close-minded illogical people, so I’m perfectly happy if the author of that article would rather stay away from us.

  13. I’ve taken time to post about this on my personal site (which covers my RPG life, motherhood, breastfeeding, geek life, & my art) and on my gaming group’s site. You can get to them both here.
    http://lordsoftyr.com/content/dddads-crazy-fitness-dad-insites-rpg-community

    I think the discussion that has occurred is interesting. I’ve been passionate about introducing my children to table top gaming since we were pregnant with our first child. Then we were pregnant with twins and the prospect of eventually having our own little gaming group of kids became a reality. I am grateful to the people like Newbie DM, ChattDM, Ben Garvey and others I don’t event know of yet, who are working relentlessly to bring RPGs to kids in a safe & healthy way.

    The truth is we RP with our kids every day minus the pens, paper & dice through pretending & nurturing a wild imagination (at least I do). I can’t wait to see what my son will come up with next. My favorite words are, “Mama, I have this great idea…”

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