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.
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