Art, Sport, or Religion?


With games of all sorts finding their way into the public eye more and more often, it's interesting to question how the gamers, world media and general populace view them. Obviously, almost all games have a background as hobbies. Simple pastimes used to while away the hours between work/daily tasks. But gaming in some cases has grown far beyond this.

With games of all sorts finding their way into the public eye more and more often, it's interesting to question how the gamers, world media and general populace view them. Obviously, almost all games have a background as hobbies. Simple pastimes used to while away the hours between work/daily tasks. But gaming in some cases has grown far beyond this.

For example, First Person Shooter computer gaming has become closely tied to sport, with tournaments, teams (clans), fields (maps/arenas), etc. As we all know, this has even led to big money prizes at tournaments and even the possibility of professional gamers, people who actually make a living/supplemental income from computer gaming.

The F.P.S. community seems to strongly push this identity and the wish to see gaming recognized by the mass media just as much as sports are. Case in point: in my home of New Zealand (a country with a small population of about 3.5 million and a very high rate of computer ownership, with most homes having a connection to the Internet) this is very close to being the case. The country's top Quake gamer, Mirage, has been on national television a number of times. While not a household name, he's possibly more well known than players in provincial sports teams, and most back benchers in our parliament.

Other forms of computer gaming have marked themselves out under different banners of course. With the monthly tithes, extraordinary time and commitment required, vast support communities built of almost unwaveringly loyal followers and a seemingly universal attempt to attain unreachable heights of perfection and achievement, you could forgive me for mistaking many Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) for religions.

Now, I don't think this was the intention of the game makers or the communities that play the games, but when you start spouting ideas about fully realized alternate realities, vast communities in which you can play out your fantasies with other real people, all in real time, the comparison becomes quite easy to make. The fact that these games have generated the most noise in the media for their apparently addictive properties may give many people notions of cults and fanaticism, lending even more weight to the view of these games as some sort of religious endeavour.

Of course such a view is extreme, but by the way some prattle on about them you could be confused.

Now what about roleplaying? You know, the pen, paper and dice sort? These games probably have the longest history in the eyes of the mass-media; after all, you can meet someone who knows absolutely nothing about gaming of any sort other than noughts and crosses (Ed. Tic-Tac-Toe to us Americans) and the odd game of checkers, whisper three magic words "Dungeons and Dragons" and confidently expect at least a vague twinkle of recognition in their eyes.

This history in the media generally hasn't been good, with probably much the same comparisons made between online roleplaying games as religions being made to normal roleplaying games. Equal amounts of half truths, myths and urban legends about their addictive properties and end results have been passed around for decades. This at times has caused a lot of bad press for roleplaying and had people with little accurate knowledge, but large agendas of their own, label the games as evil and cult-like.

But roleplaying has a cousin which I think offers a much more accurate comparison than such slander: Acting.

More than once I have described roleplaying to the totally uninitiated as "Acting for introverts." A game where you pretend to be someone else but simply for the enjoyment of you and a few friends, rather than vast halls of people. This is an over-simplification, but it leaves the people I am talking to with at least a reasonably accurate notion of what's going on and no bad taste in their mouths. As such, Role Playing, especially in its finest and most spectacularly clever form, could be called a performance art.

Now, Collectible Card Gaming... this one follows pretty much the same comparisons as an FPS, at least insofar as it being a sport. With its roots in what are most commonly accepted as universal games, that of the pack of playing cards, it perhaps least needs any explanation to the general public, getting by on familiarity alone. It could also be said with the purchasing of cards to attain elusive rares, and the sometime exorbitant pricing, that this form of gaming is simply gambling.

Now, of all the gaming types I have mentioned, the next is the one I find the most difficult to categorize: Wargaming.

It's advertised as a hobby, but like the games above has expanded above and beyond a simple recreational pastime into something much bigger. It has rules and players conduct tournaments much like sports. But it also has a strong feel of the artistic with the painting and converting of miniatures and the creation of scale battlefields, with extremes coming across at both ends of the spectrum. Indeed, there are those who practice regularly to win, attempting to reach the highest pinnacle of tactical knowledge, and those who do not play the games at all but have turned the crafting of unique and individual miniature pieces into an amazing and intricate fine art. In some ways I could even compare it for some to a religion, with strong communities and regular attendance at places of worship (gaming halls/clubs).

Perhaps by retaining all these aspects and not forsaking one for the other, it offers itself up as the most complete and well rounded hobby. Of course, such a thing does come at a price, as it is possibly the most consuming of all the above sorts of gaming, in terms of time, money, effort and knowledge. Oh, and for those involved its possibly just as addictive as MMORPGs.

Perhaps in our high stress, fast-paced environment, we and the media look for greater meaning in even our recreational activities. Are we simply looking to find a supplement to Arts, Sports, and Religion in the games we play? Or is it just me?

You decide.

"Acting for introverts."

I like that. I'm going to steal it for future use in my (many) attempts to explain what roleplaying is :) Anyway, I thought we were up to 3.9 million at the last census?

And to make this vaguely relevant to the article at hand, I know for myself and others Gaming does in fact occupy that part of our lives others would spend on sports, arts and religion. It can be an entertainment, a passion, a motivator and a tool.

Cheers :)


I know that gaming definitely takes up the time other people use to play golf, drink themselves into a stupor or care about sports. 3.9 million? That puts at about 1/3 of the reported number of Mormons in the world. I guess we're starting to become a real society of people. (I only have that number due to a recent article I read.)

Can you remember where the article was?

(Forgive the upfront qualification, but I've been an active RPG gamer for 18 years now and this article rang a pleasant bell for me. Lots to ponder).

I'd like to add to your excellent analogy of RPG gaming being akin to acting. I'd never made the connection. In retrospect, I find it interesting that most of my gaming groups consist of people who are far too shy to act- I myself would never dream of acting and the thought of getting into a LARP game terrifies me. Yet what I enjoy most about playing an RPG is the necessarily spontaneous nature of the experience. A good DM adapts setting, tone, pacing and story instantly; good players react and take action as the moment merits.

I wonder perhaps if actors and actresses, speaking from well-polished and rehearsed scripts, are missing something? A movie is refined in post-production; every facet is reviewed and retouched as needed. A live performance is rehearsed beforehand, and as little is "left to chance" as possible. Perhaps an RPG is a somewhat more pure engagement where a group of people collaborate to create an experience in the spirit of the moment.

Does this extend to FPSs, wargames, and others? I think so. Watch twenty strangers collaborate in a game of Wolfenstein Multiplayer, and sometimes you'll feel a palbable sense of strategy and collaboration.

Pungent Giraffe, actors certainly do have the exact same spirit of the moment. Apart from the obvious things like adlibbing and theatre sports (like the show Who's Line is it Anyway) which are only a fine line away from free-form roleplaying, even in a scripted performance each performance should be fresh and unique, and gain insight into the character that comes from the actors own realisations about said character.

As for the 'spirit of the moment' factor, it certainly does to all hobbies. Wargaming, which takes up most of my time, often comes to the point where sound tactics are totally ignored so that the player can rather encapsulate the spirit of their army. Equally sometimes rules are fudged to allow a comical/clever/heroic situation to play out in such a way.

Ultimately you can find this sort of narrativity in anything, as people strife for order, fun and excitement out of the chaos.

"Acting for introverts."

I've always used "Sort of like collective writing." :)

While I think this article was a subject well worth addressing, I feel it spread itself too thin. While I have little to no experience with Wargamming, MMORPGs or much else outside the realm of RolePlaying by book and dice, I feel the view is somewhat clipped.

For instance, there is the age-old fight between those that feel Roel-Playing should be game oriented with tactics based on the knowledge and skill of the player, while others object with the opinion that it's the 'Acting for Introverts' that should take center stage. I'm of the opinion that it's opinion alone. The game should take shape according to the players, whether that be rule-oriented or interaction-oriented.

That said, I'll make my point: Some games don't categorize as religion, sport, or acting. For some, (as mentioned above) it is indeed a collective writing effort. In my considering this view on gaming, I realize that the majority of my RPG experience has fallen into the game or story genres. Very little acting (because myself and my fellow gamers are far from actors) with a great deal of story to it. We spent most of our time trying to out do each other with clever actions and word descriptions of our doings.

This is the root of the problem. People tend to see this passtime as hazardous because of the time it takes and the amount of attention the participants put into it. To say that it's 'Acting' or 'Just a game' is true and not true at the same time. Some use these RPG's as religion, some as art, some as sport. It depends on the group, making it impossible to classify as a genre. Some D&Der's I know will care less about the result of a role or the definition of a rule for sake of the story, and some Vampire players I know will argue for hours about the semantics of the rules. The result is a demographic too large to be summed up as one uniform identity.


Just saw your post. I was reading the article at

I'd add another word to the vocabulary here : craft

"To make or construct (something) in a manner suggesting great care or ingenuity"

I think this word applies to those who are writing adventures and creating fictional worlds in which players can assume the roles of their characters. In crafting, you have room for the nuts and bolts that are vital to a game, along with the artistic and aesthetic skills and talents that go in making or facilitating a story.

As for the players? I'd call it amusement or indulgence. Play. There are moments where the odd player will exceed the internal assumption of their role, and elevate their participation to the level of performance, but they are somewhat rare. I do recall wonderful evenings of this in Mage, where rather than having players tell others who they were, we all gathered comfortably in a room without a table, and incorporated theater-games. As GM, familiar with their characters, I told them that over the course of the week, they had engaged in many conversations, and that we were about to give each other the highlights of those conversations. To do this, I
facilitated a wicked improv session where players acted out brief scenes from their character's childhoods (sometimes I participated in them).

We started with the "I am" game, where players adopted personas of people significant to their characters, and acted brief snapshots. I played too, showing them people important to the story. "I am Porthos, thundering down the hall in a pink bathrobe, my hair electric, my eyes arcing!"

I gave them the realistic premise that they were waiting in a room talking (just as the players were), and then gave them relevant (to the plot) topics to talk about, as their characters. These conversations would never develop on their own, but with just enough direction, we jumped between the "ums" and silence, making sure we hit all the important points. Some adopted accents. They moved differently. We experienced something very different from the normal game experience of " you're all in a tavern..."

This was the only time I've played where the interior sense of how a character is felt was ever externalized so others could know them too.

Point is, it had nothing to do with the rules of the game system. We did it to enhance our experience. It was part of the evening, but at that moment, we were doing more story than game. At points, people were genuinely moved, including the participants as they discovered their own stories. Perhaps we poked out of the game and craft for a moment, and touched on art or rather, an artistic exercise. Perhaps you don't need a large audience or a permanent artificact to create art.

In either case, those performances informed our characters as we eventually got down to lighter fare, which was playing the RPG. That was more like playing. Structured flow. Some order and negotiation and improv. Very spontaneous.

When we engage in these activities, we are perhaps all these things at one time or another. We come to them for different reasons, and do different things, even within the context of a single session. I'd say the activity is a constant negotiation between craft, art, performance, and game.

Ok, here's my two cents.I'm not a role-player...I'm not even a gamer. I'm a LARPer though. I have an extensive professional theatrical background, on the technical and scenic side. But I've been going to LARPs for eight years. The creative force behind LARPs is all three; religion, art and sport. I spent five months writing a LARP with about a dozen other people. Almost every waking moment of that time was spent thinking, writing or crafting for the game. The art is my favorite part, it's what's held me this whole time.

It's like a scenic iron man contest for me. I've got five days and $100 to build a light up, three man fighting basilisk that's twenty feet long. Where else can you get that kind of excitement. Any body can do what I do with enough time and resourses, but to do it with no time or money or help is why I LARP. My costuming is far better than my mundane clothing, my fantasy makeup kit cost me several hundred dollars, but in the real world I have maybe $20 worth of lipstick and eyeliner. Something that has driven me to this degree of madness must have some religious pull. And our events last friday through sunday, and are held outdoors, with a few cabins for shelter. Hiking, hiding, swordplay, hell even hunting (in game, of course) all take place every event.

The players at my game run the gamut of intensity. Some are amazing role-players, or fighters. Some have spent small fortunes on costuming and make-up. Some just show up to hit things and get treasure. One thing in common is their willingness to pay $50 for two days of constant entertainment.

More exspensive than a movie or a month subscription to a MMORPG, lasts longer than a football game, more monsters than church, I hope. And a lot more fun!