Common Troubles with the Hobby
Every pastime has its troubles, if you look close enough, and gaming is no exception. The hobby has a broad range of players, from children to those closer to middle age, and crosses the boundaries between real life and online environments. More people and more ways to play also means more ways for things to go wrong, and more people to have to deal with. But after all of the troubles I've faced or heard about in gaming, I have to say that I still find the hobby utterly worth it, and most problems can be solved. Below are some of the perennial concerns that keep cropping up for many gamers.
While there are many more expensive hobbies out there, roleplaying can quickly become a costly pastime. Each game system has at least one core book that everyone needs, and an amazing variety of sourcebooks exists to enrich most aspects of the experience. Many books cost between $30 - 50, with the most important ones being the most expensive. Some games have miniatures that also bring up the price of the hobby. This is most often a problem for younger gamers who aren't working, for gamers with job problems, and for gamers who want more than they're comfortable with spending. I've had this problem myself. I started gaming when I was 16, in high school, and unemployed. I had big ambitions for the books that I wanted, too.
Each gamer develops their own strategies for dealing with gaming expenses. I've had friends who set aside big chunks of their paychecks just for their gaming purchases. While my old friends went a bit overboard, it's not a bad idea to devote part of your budget to entertainment. I've known other gamers who would have their parents foot the bill, but a lot of gamers don't have that option. For myself, I made a list of all of the things I wanted and then prioritized what I wanted the most. I started asking for books as gifts for holidays and my friends came through wonderfully. I also started to haunt various web sites looking for deals. One day I found a guy who was selling his whole collection because he was going out of gaming altogether; he just wanted to get rid of the books and get some cash back. I ended up getting quite a few books, in excellent condition, for less than half price each. A decent number of years later, I still have those books and they're still in great shape.
And that leads me to another point about money: if you're concerned for the cash you're spending on, then do what you can to take care of what you buy. I'm not saying that you should treat your books like glass, nor am I saying that you should be really upset anytime they get dinged. Some wear and tear is to be expected, especially if your books are used a lot. But you can give a little thought to how your books are stored. Gaming books tend to start coming apart and losing pages if they're treated harshly, so just about any bookshelf is better than none. Some mishaps are bound to happen, like the new book I had that just fell apart without having been abused at all. It fell apart in such a way, though, that a hot glue gun made it as good as new and it's remained in great shape since. Keeping your books in good condition generally means that you won't have to replace them - and that means more cash to use on new stuff.
You can also consider purchasing digital versions of your books so that you can refer to those instead. Many, if not most gaming books are now released in PDF, whether they are released in print or not. As long as you have a working device that will open, search, and render the files properly, and as long as you are comfortable with it, you can take your gaming library anywhere with fewer worries. It is a good idea to back up your copies even if you use a service like DriveThru which allows you to download anything you have purchased again, if you lose it. It can also be wise to keep an eye out for sales, since PDFs might go on sale more often or at greater discounts than print versions.
You might also want to reconsider any desires you have to own all of the books for a game line. It is easy to want a complete set or to think that each book is going to have something you will need in it. The reality, however, is that some game lines will be extensive and beyond your budget. And when you look into reviews of the books, you might find that some of them won't be of much use to you. It's okay if you have to pick and choose.
As I said before, I first started gaming in high school. I went to school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many classes I took did not have a lot of classwork or homework, so I had a lot of time to spend absorbed in my hobby. There for a while I gamed every day. Can you imagine? Several hours every day; more on weekends. I wasn't out getting into trouble, getting pregnant or doing drugs, that was for sure - I was having too much fun playing a bloodsucking creature of the night. Time moved on, though, and brought new responsibilities. I went to work and got a computer, only to lose interest in gaming online every day. I went to junior college and wanted to get out more. I discovered that relationships take time and effort.
My days now are fairly full. I run a D&D game when I can, maybe twice a month, and those days can be a problem to pin down. My players work at different jobs with varying schedules. I have to find the time to go over plans and details. None of us are in high school anymore; there are bills and rent to pay. We message each other and try to settle on a day that's best for everybody, and it isn't so bad because my group isn't huge. Three players are easier to track down than eight. I have decided to keep my game small for this and other reasons. I have also tried to schedule gaming along with everything else, so I know when to be where. I go out of my way to make time for my hobby because I love it and it gives me joy. Some people decide to spend their time elsewise when life gets going. I guess I'm just a die hard gamer, after all.
Every gaming group has to decide how much time they're willing to spend gaming. The more that schedules differ, the more important scheduling is. Most groups will try to find a time when an optimal number of players can make it. Some groups don't mind if a few people are missing, while other groups will leave off their session if one player doesn't show. Some players will not be able to stay for the whole game if it runs into the wee hours of the morning or takes up a whole weekend. I know that my group is willing to play on some holidays, but not on ones that are typically reserved for family. My players have spent anniversaries at my game. These things will come up if you form a regular gaming group. It is better to talk about it beforehand than to wait for a day when no one shows up.
A decent portion of the gaming community is underage and dependent on their parents, not only for the necessities but for permission to roleplay. Gaming is a hobby that many parents don't know much about, however, which can cause problems for young gamers. Roleplaying isn't like chess or fishing, which are widespread hobbies with easily defined rules and traditional places in mainstream culture. Since it's only been around since the late 1970s, roleplaying hasn't yet penetrated into the social consciousness - except when it comes to the moral panic of 1980s America and the news reports about violent gamers. Some parents might know about gaming, and others might know the stereotype of the D&D geek. Other parents have only heard bad things about roleplaying, that it supposedly fosters the occult, engages players in demon worship, and even causes players to kill. While these charges have been refuted and are by no means true, if negative reports are the only ones available to parents, what are they supposed to think?
For young gamers, parental ignorance about gaming can be horribly frustrating. After all, young gamers usually just want to play - they don't want to have to teach their parents about their hobby. A little lesson about roleplaying games isn't be bad for parents who want to know what their children will be up to. I'm sure that a few parents will dislike some roleplaying games for their violent content, and that might not be able to be helped. Some roleplaying games are more violent than others, but they all developed out of wargames in which battles were fought through miniatures. Most roleplaying games involve violence in some respect, although the violence is confined to the imagination; roleplaying games do not encourage actual physical violence. A lot of parents will find little threatening about the hobby when they see how most games are played - people rolling dice while they sit around a table.
Some parents will invariably take the old rumors as facts and refuse to seriously consider any information to the contrary. I've seen this sort of situation through one of my early gaming friends and I still hear about it, so I won't assume that it's gone away. Some young gamers have little choice but to give up the hobby until they're on their own. I know that some gamers will continue to roleplay whether or not their parents approve, but that's the rebellious streak in young folks. Rather than argue about gaming, I hope that families find their way to sites like these:
5 Reasons Your Kids Should Play Dungeons and Dragons
A Letter to Parents
A Parent's Guide to Roleplaying Games
These pages are built specifically to educate parents about roleplaying and can help concerned parents understand a lot about the hobby. Some parents will restrict roleplaying regardless but at least with web sites like the ones above, parents will be able to make informed decisions.
When you're in a serious relationship with someone, personal hobbies can become the subject of disagreements and arguments, and even break-ups. That's not to say that hobbies are to blame for people's relationship troubles. But anything that partners spend time and energy doing can become a sticking point, a site of contention, when a relationship is otherwise in trouble. Gaming just so happens to take up a decent amount of time and energy (like any really good hobby), and it involves a unique and distinct gaming culture. This makes it an easy target for abuse and resentment, especially in relationships with communication problems and other issues.
Most couples find ways to deal with hobbies that don't involve nasty arguments. Some couples take part in hobbies together, and being able to roleplay with your partner can be a very happy thing. Not only can a couple enjoy games together, but they can also enjoy talking about gaming stuff whenever they want. Women have been attracted to gaming more often in the last decade and other women have been brought into the hobby due to their friends or boyfriends. For most serious gamers, having a romantic partner who games is ideal - but it isn't always easy, and some folks have problems with dating other gamers.
Gamers date non-gamers regularly and many times, it goes well. The gamer will go off to their weekly game, giving their partner some time alone, and neither partner is upset about it. For healthy and happy relationships, in which both partners invest quality time and effort, this sort of arrangement is not a problem. A good number of relationships are not quite so healthy, however. I've seen some very unhappy gamer relationships over the years, and in each instance, gaming has been present but not at fault. One couple I knew had serious problems on multiple levels and when the stress got to be too much, the husband utterly disconnected from reality by playing games. Another couple I knew would bring their marital arguments right into game sessions, making other gamers witness their quarrels and generally ruining everyone's evening.
Yet another couple had major power struggles erupt over gaming. The guy wanted to game with his friends and even tried to show his girlfriend what the game was like. Not only was she not at all interested, but she didn't want him to be interested either. She would provoke arguments on game night, or call him to pick her up from somewhere during a game, or call his cell phone regularly throughout the night. She didn't care about how rude she was being to everyone else because she was only concerned about getting her own way and asserting her control over her boyfriend. It still makes me grit my teeth when I think about it.
It's one thing to deal with a problematic gamer, and another thing to deal with a gamer's problematic relationship. I was a player in the games with the fighting gamer couple, and they were both personal friends I liked. I tried to get them to take their fights outside the game (and to get help, and to stop fighting), to no avail. Nothing mattered to them but their own anger. It was just as frustrating with the controlling girlfriend and her gamer boyfriend. We just wanted to have a day to hang out and enjoy our game. It got to the point where the sound of his cell phone made the rest of our group see red, and we resented the boyfriend for allowing his girlfriend's rude behavior. It was difficult for us to see that that's the way his relationship worked. It was even more difficult for us to accept that his relationship would continue in the same fashion no matter what we wanted. The control, the disrespect, it was woven into the heart of their interactions.
Gamers who bring their relationship problems to the table leave their groups with few choices. Most gaming groups do not want to be witnesses to domestic disputes but it can be awkward to ask people to leave, especially if they're also good friends. Most gaming groups also do not want to put up with controlling spouses, but are not likely to find much help from partners that are being henpecked. Gaming groups don't always know how to deal with these issues; they're certainly not covered in any roleplaying book. Through my own experiences, I've found that a limited number of options are available. You can address problems head on, but the group risks losing players and friends if the troublesome gamer or couple takes offense. You can ask people to leave but that always comes with the risk of hurt feelings. You can also put up with the disfunctional relationship and its effect on the game, if you can bear it. Some gaming groups don't like to game with couples because of the nasty things that can result. That's always seemed a bit extreme to me, and I've had some great gaming as a couple and with other couples. But I can see why some gamers are wary.