A Response to RPG Parents and the Elephant in the Room (Part II)

The author of RPG Parents and the Elephant in the room has posted a response to the comments he received about his article.  My original response is here.   My response to his response follows.

This lack of clarity seems to account for other misunderstandings.  For instance, it appears the post is being taken as ‘thinly veiled bigotry’ against people who are overweight.  I was serious when I was including thin young people who are inactive and out of shape as part of the issue.  Even if someone maintains a body weight that comes out as a normal BMI on some chart, if they are inactive they are going to suffer health and lifestyle consequences in the long-term.  As I said, it is not weight per se that matters, but activity and fitness.  There was a reason I used the words ‘inactivity’ and ‘fitness’: I was concerned with health, not just body weight.

First, I apologize for using the word ‘bigotry’.  I hesitated on using that term, but couldn’t come up with a better one.  More accurately I should have used the term ‘predjudiced’, as bigotry implies hatred of a group, which is something I don’t believe that the author holds.

However, to correct the author, I believe the original post is pedjudiced not against overweight people but of RPGers.

It’s pretty blatant.  The author is hesitant of introducing his children to RPGers because of ‘their culture’.  He has no evidence beyond anecdotes that there even IS any culture of ‘lack of fitness’ in the RPG community compared to the general population.  That is exactly analogous to fundamentalist Christians not wanting to introduce their children to homosexuals or atheists because of their ‘culture’ of ‘lack of morals’.  The evidence for lack of morals of homosexuals or atheists is just as poor as the evidence for an excess lack of fitness of the RPG community compared to the general population.  “Well, that’s just my observation of them”, the fundamentalist would say.

The author is hesitating introducing his children to a group of individuals solely based on the fact that they belong to a certain group.  That is predjudice:

a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge

We have in this hobby, a long history of predjudice against us.  Either just because we’re ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks’ or ‘satan worshiping witches’.  So yeah, we’re not going to like it when it happens.  If the author had worded it as, “I’ve met some RPGers locally, but I’m not sure I want to introduce my children to them because they don’t seem to take fitness seriously,” no one would, or should, have had an issue with it.  We might have then said “Well, look for some other RPGers who do”.  Instead he tarred an entire community, and that’s what we’re angry about.
As to his point that he wasn’t targeting overweight RPGers, but those who where unfit, I acknowledge that he did say that.  However, one of his two sources of his feelings that the proportion of unfit RPGers is higher than the general population were online photographs of convention RPGers.  How exactly is he determining their fitness from photographs but from the appearance of being overweight?  How can he possibly determine that the thin or ‘normal’ RPGers are fit or not? How can he possibly know their attitudes about fitness from a photograph?  The answer is:  he can’t.

He could have tried to do something like pick multiple random photographs from a variety of conventions and then compute the proportion of overweight to thinner people.  However, if  he did that it would bely his contention that he was worried about fitness, not whether or not they were overweight.

Onto discussing RPG podcasts:

Some people objected that I shouldn’t have blamed RPG bloggers and podcasters for not talking about kid’s fitness.  For me, this was the hardest objection to understand because I really don’t feel I did this.

The context of the post was about the increase in discussion around RPG playing parents getting their kids into the hobby.  I gave examples of such instances when the topic was directly addressed.  Somehow my writing was translated into me blaming podcasters for talking about how to speed up 4e combat.  The point was that even when the discussion is happening about kids and RPGs on the podcast or in a blog, no one is addressing kid’s fitness even when it is a huge societal issue.  I’m going to have to accept that I didn’t make this clear enough.

Regarding the impression that we got, I don’t know about other people, but it directly is from this sentence in the original post:

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.  [my emphasis]

As soon as the author wrote that, he expanded his complaint from those posts or podcast topics regarding introducing RPGs to children to the RPG blogging and podcasting community as a whole.  He may not have intended that, but it’s what happened.

However, even accepting that the author intended a more narrow focus,  even if the topic is discussing introducing children and RPGs, why should we be talking about fitness?  I turn again to similar situations.  I wouldn’t expect to hear that about blog posts on introducing children to chess.  I wouldn’t expect to hear that about blog posts on introducing children to novels.

So what if child fitness is societal issue?  These aren’t political blogs.  They are gaming blogs.  When people write about children in the context of RPGs, that’s exactly what it is.    You wouldn’t expect a podcast discussing children and sport to discuss gaming, would you?  If this is an issue to the author, he should blog about it.

This certainly shouldn’t be used as evidence that the RPGer population doesn’t care about their fitness or the fitness of their children (at least beyond the same proportions as the general population).  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

The author then addresses external influences on children:

I think this is a really important issue.  As others have said in the comments, parents are the biggest influence on their kids when they are young.  That influence wanes as kids hit their teens.   I really do feel that the environments that they will be in, especially as they age, are going to have an important influence on them.  For instance, what if the topic was swearing/cursing.  Not a particularly serious issue, but swearing a lot would be considered by many to be a bad habit.  Not very high stakes, but maybe it would influence how people treat you at work and other social settings (note: swearing a lot is clearly not an issue in some situations).  Now, if the local gaming shop was filled with people swearing a lot, do you think it would affect your kids if they hung out there a lot?  Those people may swear for all kinds of reasons.  Maybe they’re longshoremen. Maybe they’re angry a lot.  Maybe they just like to swear. However, even if you told you kids not to swear, and you didn’t swear at home, don’t you still think that hanging around with people swearing a lot is going to affect how much your kids swear? I sure as hell do ;) .  Is this guilt by association? I guess I’m not clear what ArcaneSpringboard is getting at, because the issue is that environments outside you home will affect your kids.

I’ll address the final point first.  Guilt by association is a fallacy in which “qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association.”  Specifically, if we take the premise that “RPGers do not care about fitness” to be true (and I do not concede that) then those people the authors meets at the FLGS don’t care about fitness, just because they’re RPGers.

The example of profanity and the possibility that it would be used in earshot of children at a FLGS just illustrates what I said above.  He’s talking about a specific group of individuals at a specific store.  Not the RPGer population as a whole.  That is not what he did in his original post.  In addition, this new example involves these individuals actively doing something that he finds undesirable.  Even the author hasn’t claimed that RPGers are sitting around a table at a FLGS and saying, “Hey kid, I don’t think you should be running or swimming or playing basedball.  You should be just sitting at a table all the time and playing games.”  I don’t think you’d find many who would have an issue with you not wanting to associcate with those individuals.  But that’s the key:  they are specific individuals, not a population.

To continue the analogy what the author is actually saying is that he wouldn’t want his children to be exposed to a sub-culture of gamers who don’t actively take a stand against profanity.  The mere fact that the vast majority of RPGers don’t use foul language wouldn’t matter. They have to actively discuss their opposition to profanity or they’re not worthy of his children being exposed to them.

That’s ridiculous.

The author continues:

Also, I don’t think that it is fair to equate my post to someone who is railing against homosexuality or atheism.  Here’s why: There’s no evidence that homosexuality or atheism are bad for you. I think inactivity is a bad habit that has bad long-term implications.  Don’t you? If not, why not?

 

It’s absolutely fair to compare prejudice against RPGers to prejudice against homosexuals or atheists.  There isn’t the same degree of hatred, but it’s absolutely analogous. There is also no evidence that playing RPGs is bad for you, or that RPGers negatively influence the fitness habits of children.  The author’s anecdotes do not constitute evidence, no matter how he feels about it.  Just like fundamentalist Christians, he incorrectly attributes an attitude or behavior he doesn’t like (the lack of belief in God for athiests, same-sex intercourse for homosexuals, lack of concern for fitness for RPGers), to the entire group, and then make a choice based on that.

It is totally fair to say I relied on anecdotal data for my post.  Man, I wish I had more than personal observations (and I wish I had spent more time explaining why one weak study means almost nothing, but I thought that would be more boring that it was worth) because anecdotal data sucks.  Which is why I admitted as much and invited feedback that would contradict it.

Essentially, I felt I had to begin somewhere.  The hard data doesn’t exist.  I wouldn’t have gone ahead with this, though, if I didn’t feel pretty darn strongly that my basic premise was sound.  I based that on my experience and from what I’ve seen written by gamers and non-gamers alike.  Arguing that there are RPGers who are in great shape doesn’t negate it.  I took pains to make it clear that I was writing about there being a larger proportion of inactive and unfit people in the RPG community. Of course there are many RPGers that are active and fit. But, is anyone going to argue against my initial assertion?  Saying that anecdotal data is weak is fine, but beyond saying that you are or you know fit RPGers, do you think that my observations of the community are incorrect?

YES!

Or at least the initial position is to say, “I don’t know.”  That is the starting point he should have used.  What amazes me is that he acknowledges that anecdotes make lousy data, but then he uses them anyway. Then to make matters worse, he uses that lousy data to attribute an attitude to the population of RPGers.  He uses lousy data and then follows it up with lousy reasoning.  Even if he was right, and that there is a higher proportion of unfit RPGers compared to the general population, that does not excuse then attributing a culture to the population of RPGers.

The author’s ‘feelings’ do not constitute evidence.  This is why data is gathered.  This is why double blind studies are used to determine the efficacy of drugs.  What he should have done, before writting his blog post is to realize that he does not know and then go on from there.

I also do not know.  However, I’m willing to state that up front and apply my reasoning based on that.  That is why I conceeded that he very well could be right, but that by correlation not meaning causation or by attributing the attitude to the population of RPGers,  it doesn’t matter if he was right.

Even if large numbers of RPGers don’t care about fitness, that doesn’t preclude any subset of individual RPGers that you meet caring.  You’re tarnishing those individuals with the same brush that you paint all the other RPGers.

That’s prejudice.

Although I believe that he and other people read too much ‘blame’ in my post, I really appreciated Dave the Game’s comment about doing something about it rather than just writing about it.  My original post would have been much stronger if it had offered solutions.  I believe there is an issue here.  I’m going to have to admit that I don’t know what to do about it.  Not a particularly satisfying conclusion, but it’s what I’m left mulling over.

Here’s the thing.  What was the actual purpose of the blog post?  It seems to me that it was mainly trying to gather information about whether there were any groups, either online or offline, that combined RPGs with fitness in some way.

What would have been much better would have been to crowdsource the request.  Pewterpeter could have gone onto Twitter, Facebook, or onto one of the various forums and simply asked:  “Does anyone know of any groups that combine RPGs and fitness?”.  It wouldn’t have taken too long to get many responses.  Then at that point he could have written a blog post  starting as:  “I want to introduce my children to RPGs.  However, I also wanted to find groups that combined fitness with RPGs in some fashion.  This is what I’ve discovered.”

I don’t think there’s a single person who would or should have complained about such a post.

 


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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3 Responses

  1. I expressed many of your misgivings in the Comments, but just posted a much longer response with actual data.

    The primary problem I have is that hard data DOES exist that relates to this topic. No clear-cut answers, but I summarized some of the studies I found here:

    http://theiddm.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/move-action-are-gamers-unfit/

  2. RPGers are unhealthier than average. I promise. They’re also more socially awkward on average, make more money than average, get better grades on average, and have a higher percentage chance of having dude-pony-tails than average. And I love them all the more for it.

    If you can’t see this reality, you really must not go to many conventions or dabble in multiple gaming groups. Yes, hard evidence is best, particularly in convincing obstinate folks of what is plain to most people. But it’s not helpful to turn a blind eye to reality of the situation just because you find the anecdotal generalizations offensive.

    Some parents, like myself, want to enjoy gaming with our kids, participate in gaming culture, and help them be healthy. What’s the best way to do this? That’s an interesting question, so please don’t hate on it.

    • I don’t really want to revisit it, but you have missed the main point of my complaint. My main issue wasn’t whether or not someone was claiming that the gaming population was unhealthier than average. I challenged him to give evidence for it. TheIdDM did a good blog post on that subject, and the question at best is uncertain.

      My main point was that even if true, not wanting to introduce your children because of a stereotype of gamers was prejudiced.

      But back to your point. The fact is that stereotypes exist, but may not be true. And if you’re going to claim something, you’d better have some facts and evidence to back it up.

      That evidence is lacking.

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