Yesterday I finally watched The Fellowship of the Dice, a sort of mockumentary about a group of people who play RPGs, and their experiences with a new player who knows nothing about RPGs who is a 20-something girl who has nothing in common with the group. Intermixed they showed interviews with gamers at a Con, who all share their insights on the various aspects of gaming, from gaming food, to in-depth explorations of why people get kicked out or banished from a campaign.
First, a couple of disclaimers: growing up I played a lot of roleplaying games. Mostly superhero-based games, with a healthy amount of D&D too. There was a Vampire phase for a while, I went to a couple of LARPS (didn’t like them much), and did several SCA events. As I got older, I met some people that liked to roleplay AND listen to cool music, drink beer, and (here’s the kicker), knew some girls that liked to play, too. However, I eventually stopped making time for it several years ago, despite the fact that I had a good time playing and liked the people I played with. I guess it was a sort of midlife crisis or something, but I started to substitute RPGs with going to shows and trying to meet girls.
Second disclaimer: I met two of the cast members and another person involved with the movie a while back at KPSU, when they came through to do an interview on-air to promote a local gaming event that they were showing the movie at. They even took me and Ranger Mike out for Thai food, and they expensed the entire meal. (Thanks again!) They were all really nice, really friendly, and while Aimee Graham wasn’t exactly able to role with my RPG jokes (Jon Collins knew everything I was talking about), they were really friendly for soulless Hollywood types.
Now, here’s the bummer: while the interviews at the Con are note-perfect (and well worth seeing, as I think I might have met every one of them in my years throwing dice), the mockumentary portions of the movie are sort of painful. At first I wasn’t exactly sure how to articulate it, but I think I’ve been able to percolate on it long enough to attempt to put my finger squarely on the issue: the reality of the life of a gamer is 100% more interesting than anything you could make up.
Not that they didn’t come close. The dynamic of a gaming group is a really strange thing, and I am convinced that all of the actors (minus Aimee Graham) were probably pretty familiar with RPGs and the people that play them. However, they are all ultimately actors, and even the guy who is extremely dense and is supposed to have facial tics comes off as handsome & funny rather than nerdy and uncomfortable. The quiet, shy girl who chews on her pen for the entire movie (and who pulls a Silent Bob near the end of the film) was almost spot on, if it weren’t for the Hollywood Hot makeup job she was given. (She was one scene away from taking off her glasses, shaking her hair out of the librarian bun, and posing like Farrah for her glossy 8 1/2″ x 11″.)
There are at least two points in the film were Aimee Graham’s character stays to finish the gaming session beyond the point of reason, and if we ignore the fact that she just up and agrees to follow a nerdy disquieting stranger (who has been hitting on her) to meet his gaming group (without any protests or questions of any kind), the film borders on fantasy in more ways than one.
It begs the question: why not just film an actual group of gamers actually gaming? Obviously there is a certain Christopher Guest homage that you wouldn’t be able to obtain without having a few people in on the joke, and certainly some gamers might not be able to “stay in character” with a slew of cameras filming every dice-role and rules-argument. Still, I feel that a larger injustice has been made against gamers: we aren’t all like this. Some, most definitely, yes. Some, I’m sure, are even more extreme. But many are people who love gaming also love their friends, and love to get together and play.
I would be ignoring the ugly truth by saying that arguments don’t break out during a game, and some of the observations were not that far off. (Before it happened in the film, I kept wondering when they were gonna order pizza, or show a passive / agressive DM “suggestion”; the player shouting out, “Shouldn’t we roll inish?” during a conversation was a little too close to home for me, too.) But ultimately, I felt like most of what we saw on screen were the negative aspects of gaming. Much of the plot revolved around personality clashes, arguments, and misunderstandings, while the stuff that kept the group together – the friendship – is only hinted at near the end and mentioned in monologues.
Media doesn’t seem to know, exactly, how to portray RPGs, and when it does it is always shown comically, in a negative light. (Freaks And Geeks has a wonderful roleplaying episode, but still couches the entire game in terms of it appealing to only “geeks” and, on rare occasions, a freak.) In many ways, its easy to see why TV and movies show it the same way every time: gamers are weird, gamers are quirky, and everything about gaming seems comical on the surface, from the vocabulary and diet of gamers, to the very premise of gaming itself. (“Okay, you use paper, pencils and dice to recreate a fantasy world where the group, together, makes up the story through taking on personas and characters… wait, where are you going?”)
I would like to see some positive images of gamers in media. Obviously, there is room for ridicule in every subculture, and I can’t suggest that we ignore the funny, embarassing, or even uncomfortable realities entirely. But occasionally, I’d like to see a realistic portrayal of a gamer as a functioning member of our culture, who has a lot of the same dreams, goals, and desires as everyone else, who has a job and a girlfriend and a life outside of gaming, AND… on top of all of that… also happens to wield a pretty wicked battle axe when you get down to it.
Until then, I’ll keep dreaming.