Monday, 12 March 2012

Why does this hobby attract idiots?

Last Christmas I organised a narrative campaign for my local games store. There were 3 linked games, the effect of one having an impact on the other, with a story running through all of them. I wrote background and my brother put together power point slides etc. We had about 12 people participating, and I think (hope) everybody had a good time.

Except me. One of the people who came was an idiot. Loud, opinionated, a know it all and insulting. I overheard him in other games and I played him once. Possibly the worst game of 40k I’ve ever had. He spoiled my day.

Now the detail of what happened is not important – but here’s the question – why does our hobby attract these people? What is it about 40k that attracts the socially inadequate, the dysfunctional and the down right odd? I came late to 40k, I’ve only been playing a couple of years. I have, and have had, other hobbies and pastimes, and the % of idiots is much lower.
I don’t have an answer to the question, but I have a theory (mostly tongue in cheek).

My theory is that anybody over the age of 20 that plays with toy soldiers has a serious case of arrested development – we are all still kids at heart. That’s not a bad thing. But I think the stage at which our development was arrested is very important. The “normal” ones (and I know it’s a relative term), and by this I mean the ones you want play again, and have a beer with afterwards, are arrested at about 7, when kids are fun and happy and enthusiastic (any of you who have kids will confirm this!). The idiots’ development is arrested at about age 14, when kids are obnoxious and annoying.

It’s these 20+ teenagers that are the real idiots.

So – what’s your theory – why does the hobby attract so many idiots?



  1. Actually I think you've maybe hit on something there. I've sometimes wondered myself why there are some players of games (not just wargames) who really can't 'take it' if things go against them and it does seem founded on insecurity.

    Having said that, I used to climb and there is a fairly significant percentage of climbers who are what you might categorise as 'idiots'. Generally though they don't get in the way of enjoyment so much as it's rarer that one climbs with a stranger than plays 40K with a stranger, I think. But they are encountered at the foot of the crag or in the bar.

    I wonder if someone would like to do a study on wargamers and their 'age of arrested development' and how that relates to their character. Could be interesting...

  2. That's interesting - I used to climb too, before family and fat bastardness got in the way. I would say that the vast majority of the climbers I knew were pretty cool. But I think what you say about choosing who you climb with is interesting. The problem with tournis in particular is that you don't get to choose who you play. Maybe there are as many idiots in other hobbies - it's just easier to avoid them!

    And that's a bit depressing!


  3. interesting question, and one which i have vaguely considered quite a few times. I think the reason is quite simply that this hobby exists on the fringes of society. It is considered slightly nerdy at best, even if it is in a harmless way. therefore people who are not quite 'normal' tend to feel at home in it. it gives them something to escape into and it feels safe. instead of being labeled as weird for who they are, they can deflect that into being labeled as weird for what they do, which is much less mentally painful.

  4. Ahh, now that raises an even bigger question - why is painting models and playing with them more nerdy than hitting a little white ball into 18 holes with a stick! Logically there is not reason at all.....except for the people that play!

    So the question becomes - is 40k intrinsically nerdy, or is it simply perceived as nerdy because of the people who play?


  5. Actually I think the reason is because 'toys' are regarded as kids' things. Playing with train sets or with toy soldiers is seen as kids' stuff. Couple that with a fantasy/sci-fi setting (also kind of nerdy) and you have double nerdage. That accounts to the vague sense of shame that still hovers over being known to play 40K, or worse yet, to be seen playing it in public.

    And while some folk who play are clean-cut, athletic and dashingly handsome types like myself, if we're honest, that's not typical. And there are probably a fair number of people who if they are honest know more about 40K background than they do almost anything else, which is, to be fair, a wee bit disturbing (but then when I was 16 I knew the several rulebooks and supplements for AD&D, Runequest, traveller and Cthulhu inside out as well as being at least passingly acuainted with Tunnels and Trolls and other RPGs, so who am I to cast aspersions... nowadays though, while I like to play 40K, I have only a very vague acquaaintance with the background. I wonder if - in some cases - the degree to which one immerses onself in that background has an impact on how seriously one treats the game. I do find that people who over-identify with their army tend to be the ones who over-react a bit when it does badly).

  6. I think you’ve hit on something with your knowledge of the 40K universe point.

    Take Call of Duty for example. Thousands of people will spend an hour or two a night on multiplayer and it’s considered quite normal. If you hear people talking about it at work no-one bats an eye lid.

    Now consider some one telling you that though you could shoot at him with a P90 and kill him in under a second, the rounds per minute of the gun is quite high but the clip size is small and you’ll empty it in about 1.5 seconds sustained fire. Also the reload time is around 2.5 seconds so unless you kill him in one clip he’ll close and knife you. Let’s face it you’d think he was pretty weird.

    To take this analogy into 40k we’ll consider a very simple situation: a tactical marine shooting at an Ork boy in cover approximately 11” away.

    You check the range and line of sight. You declare you’re going to rapid fire and therefore fire 2 shots. You roll your two dice and as you have BS4 will be hitting on threes. One hit is scored. As the boltgun is strength 4 and the boy is toughness 4 you need a 4 to wound. You get it. Both you and your opponent know a bolter is ap5 and will bypass the Ork’s armour. The opponent rolls for his cover save and the wound is saved.

    This scenario would seem quite complicated to the passerby and the knowledge involved in its implementation quit in depth. Yet as 40k players it’s our bread and butter.

    I think the perception of the amount of time you need to invest to gain a good knowledge of the rules not to mention the extra time spent assembling and painting models leads to the majority of people considering playing 40k or table top games in general a little strange.


  7. [1 of 2]

    I think there may be a couple of reasons. The most likely is simply that it appeals to the major drivers of people at the margins of what mainstream culture would consider "normal". It enthusiastically embraces new people, and everyone is constantly exhorted to be fair, welcoming and supportive; if the rest of the world is a little scary, it's like a big fuzzy hug (not, of course, that you'd acknowledge the need for any such thing). It allows you to abandon your little world for a while, and become --- for once --- powerful, and empowered. It has intricate rules that are frequently convoluted, occasionally contradictory, and massively voluminous --- the perfect way to show your superiority and thereby hide the fact that you are desperately craving some sort of validation. And, of course, it has some some maths, charts and enumeration to appeal to wherever you are on the Asperger's Spectrum today.

    It's also extravagantly rewarded in the early stages by worried parents who are just delighted that little Torquil or Lachlan (those are the guys with long hair that wear stained heavy metal t-shirts and insist that you call them "Count Doom" or "Abbadon" during the game) isn't sitting in his room listening to deafening music while injecting heroin into his eyeballs. Just, please, let him grow out of it.

    The other part is age-specific. Do you remember (in the dim and distant past if you're like me) what it was like to be a teenager? If the current research is to be believed, their brains are so pickled in a brine of hormones, pro-drugs and endorphins that it's a miracle it hasn't been proscribed by the Government. Life can be crushingly, excruciatingly embarrassing, and if you're slightly smarter than the average bear (as all wargammers are, of course) all the more so. But something like Warhammer is beguiling. Here's something where you can be smart and not have to be ashamed. Where people won't laugh at you for knowing an obscure rule, or playing with toy soldiers (mainly of course, because they're doing it too!) Where your obsessive reading of the rules makes you a better player that's rewarded. Where you can succeed at something and aren't going to be judged. That would be intoxicating, yes?

    Unfortunately, however, their brain's still pickled. And they have to deal with their insecurities somehow; unfortunately, the primary means of doing so appears to be loudness, or over-confidence, or repetition of Clavenesque factoids. An "idiot", in fact. But underneath, it's still just insecurity. And that should make us compassionate, don't you think?

    1. Sorry to reply my own post, but there should be a [2 of 2] here ... but although it gets accepted, it then disappears. I suspect there's something in it that the blob-bot doesn't like. Could the holder of the master-key have a look in any available sin-bin and see if they can resurrect? It's disappeared into the ether on this side of the connection, unfortunately...

  8. I can (and to my surprise usually do) cut teenagers some slack because some of them will grow out of it. Even some of the less mature 20-odd (I use 'odd' advisedly...) year olds I play. But there's something about a man in his 30s or older who can't either (or both) play fair or (and) who comes across as 'loud, opinionated, a know it all and insulting' about a game of toy soldiers which is puzzling. I often feel a bit sorry for these guys too to be honest (and generally let them bend or break the rules because it's really just not worth getting that worked up about in my view, though it does of course spoil the game) because i don't think they can 'learn' through being stood up to.

    I think you're quite right though when you say it's something about a desparate craving for validation. I think though in these extreme cases the rules are often interpreted in a way that suits the player and he hides (from himself too?) the twisting behind the weight of his knowledge of background and rules.

    1. I believe that hiding from themselves is absolutely essential if they're going to remain more or less stable; ignorance is a survival mechanism. Should we really believe that someone like this is cognisant of how appalling their behaviour is? If that were the case then surely, if they were rational, they would change: nobody (well, almost nobody outside of the residential care ward) actively sets out to be an arse. It's always surprising, however, how many achieve it.

  9. I agree that some teenagers can't help themselves - but is that really a reason to cut them slack for poor behavior. Surly poor behavior should be challenged? As i said in a previous post IMHO, the only way to stop an idiot being an idiot is to say "mate you're an idiot, stop it". Now of course there are some circumstances when that might not be appropriate, but picking up on NCs point - if they don't know they are being an arse, how will they figure it out if nobody tells them?

    I also think the "immersion in the game" is a factor. When it become more than a game of tactics and list optimisation, and people get more and more "invested" in the fluff, it becomes odder!

    And maybe that's the point - when it becomes a complete escape from reality, when you know more about the background than about anything else, you think that it's important, that's when you become a real idiot!


    1. In the ill-fated, and now lost to posterity, second half of the post above, that's kind of where I was going. Except that I don't think it's really optimal to do this in a tournament setting. The sorts of behaviours that you're talking about are deeper seated than one epiphany will resolve. This re-education, if that's not too grandiose a term, is something that I think needs to be a longer-term goal for all of us that would aspire to not be an idiot.

      The other part of the story is the vicious cycle that results from the behaviour of gaming idiots. If you haven't read it, it's worthwhile having a look at the BBC story on Warhammer's 25th birthday (you can readily find it with an appropriate search, but I think the link to the source was what killed my previous post). On a slow Monday, in an obscure story, it garnered almost 800 posts in the 'Have Your Say' section over a period of about 24hr. The replies were pretty equally spread between pro and con, with the cons focusing either on 'sad gits that need to get a life' or the appearance and behaviour of the stranger element that they see lurking in the high-street GW stores.

      I think this says something about the public perception of The Hobby (apparently it's now a proper noun, according to the BBC). Idiots, by their nature, stand out. So they are what the rest of the world sees. And honestly, if you saw them in some other context, it'd raise a little concern for you too, wouldn't it? So we end up with a vicious circle of public opinion that marginalises the game we play, leading to it being more attractive to the root stock of the Common or Garden Idiot, and less acceptable for the rest of us to talk about and demonstrate. Rinse and repeat.

      So maybe there's a bigger picture too: who do we want to really represent us as a public face, and what can we do about it?

  10. I think there are two sorts of player who can be loud and irritating and they can overlap like in a Venn diagram to produce a sort of uber-idiot.

    One is the chap who must win for his own self-esteem - the chances are he must be seen to succeed not only at 40K but in all aspects of his life, or at least be (or try to) convinced himself that others see him as a success. He's most likely to 'forget' a rule to his own advantage, udge his models just a little further than they can move or charge so as to make it into range or contact, and never really give you the benefit of the doubt in a critical situation but will always argue that he should be.

    The other is the background freak. In fairness some of these folk are actually okay to game against so long as they can accept that game performance of units (especially marines) is often much poorer than in the background. I think they're more prone to temper or sulking than rules bending.

    The folk who fall into both categories are the unfortunates who I think really cause the most problems.

    But I'm also not sure that confrontation (even expressed reasonably) is always the best way to handle them because I don't think they're actually open to argument. I think sometimes they might respond better over time to seeing that other people, who are probably more popular as opponents, don't get so worked up. But in a tournament setting there's really no option but to challenge them.

  11. There's another element which is absent in many rather nerdish hobbies, or if present is not so clear-cut. In Warhammer there are winners and losers. One may be an obsessive model-railwayer, say, and know all sorts of detail abouyt GWR and 4-6-0 and things too dismal to mention in decent company. But when you meet a fellow geek then the cpompetition is limited to who knows most or who has the best collection. There's not the Fisher-esque crushing of the other guy's ego that comes with a game of 40K where one can be an uber-geek and yet be trounced by someone who knows little of the background and cares less. In sports you get people who care deeply about winning and losing of course, but they seldom carry with them the nerd-baggage (that's usually left to non-playing fans).

    The uber-geek, being insecure and feeling marginalised by society already, struggles to cope with losing. I think that's at the root of it.