Friday, 10 April 2015

In Praise of Hobbies

Gaming is, first and foremost, a hobby. That's important. Or, rather, hobbies are important. I'm a great believer in hobbies, whether it's train spotting, mountain climbing, surfing, boxing, painting toy soldiers or renovating vintage cars.

Hobbies have three main functions. First, they allow you to express yourself, usually in a creative and/or physical way. They aren't passive: you aren't just digesting. You're using your passion, your talents, your innate drive and determination to either put something into the world, or improve on yourself. TV rots the mind, robbing us of hour after hour, year after year of human potential, because all it involves is sitting and absorbing. Hobbies are the cure. Hobbies are your opportunity to do. Hobbies are your chance to act, create, achieve, and then sit back afterwards and say to yourself "Yes, I am pleased with what I did." Not, "Yes, I just spent two hours on the sofa eating Doritos watching other people make pretend. What a thing it is to be alive."

Second, hobbies are an opportunity to meet people you would never normally meet through work or social circles. Thanks to gaming, sports, and other activities, I've met some amazing people. I've also met some fucking weirdos. But I've met them, and meeting other people is an enriching thing, especially when they're from different age groups, social classes and backgrounds. One thing that worries me about British society - although I'm sure it's true of other developed countries in general - is not so much atomisation as stratification. Middle-class people meet other middle-class people. Working class people meet other working class people. Left wingers meet other left-wingers. Right-wingers meet other right-wingers. Academics meet other academics. Business people meet other business people. Teenagers meet other teenagers. OAPs meet other OAPs. This isn't a good thing: it diminishes our horizons horribly. Hobbies let us break out of that negative, restrictive tendency we have to congregate towards people who resemble us.

Third, hobbies are social and usually regular - or at least, have the potential to be so. And that shouldn't be underestimated in staving off things like depression, anxiety, social awkwardness, etc. This doesn't apply to me because I'm the picture of happiness and charm, obviously, but I watched my father's mental health deteriorate over the course of a decade after he retired because he didn't have regular opportunities to get out of the house and be around groups of new people. For extroverts like him, in particular, that lack of regular sustained social contact with people outside one's immediate circle can ultimately be crippling. It can turn the confident into the shy, and turn the shy into the downright agoraphobic. Humans are social animals. And in an era in which humans on the margins - the old, the mentally unwell, the lonely - are losing their opportunities to be social, hobbies have to fill the gap. At the same time, for those of us who are very sociable, it's a way to do what we enjoy, which is meet others.

What I like most about gaming is that it very easily and efficiently encompasses all of the three benefits of hobbies. It's the opportunity to create and do: to sit at a table after a long day at work and, rather than watch a bunch of actors running around Northern Ireland pretending to be in Westeros, get a pencil and paper and bring something into the world. It's an opportunity to expand your horizons and meet people you never normally would - some of whom may be crypto-fascists who smell of cat piss, or loony-lefty social justice warriors who've never met a sense of humour in their lives - but "even the dull and ignorant [have] their story". And finally it's just a chance for lonely or depressed or shy people to get out of the house and enjoy themselves and be around new people they don't see every day - or a chance for the sociable to gab and have a bit of limelight. What a brilliant thing it is.


  1. The social stratification of the British society, that you mentioned. It is very much a feature of the D&D scene in the US that I have been privy to. A (very much suburbanite and middle class) group of friends forms. They choose to play D&D. If they weren't playing D&D, they'd be playing chess or poker or something else. Purpose-formed clubs that I came across in the schools and libraries, do not last beyond one or two game sessions. When I ran the second iteration of my campaign, I got a group of D&D players that transcended the boundaries of social and economic class. There was a strain along the economic fault lines, I saw it for what it was, got rid of the trouble-maker, who was networking the rich players vs the have-nots, and I got rid of that person. Later on, the group fell apart along the same socio-economic fault lines. I will put together another group when I am ready for Season II of my campaign, but that has been my experience so far.

  2. Sorry, I still can't stand the little blighters

  3. Hear, hear! Well said, noisms.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with your praise of hobbies in general and the RPG hobby in particular. I consider forcing myself to take a turn DMing to be one of my major (adult) steps in my growth as a person, as silly as that may sound to some people.

    One point of contention: I feel you're a little too hard on TV. Yes, passive reception of entertainment is a waste, and a lot of programming is designed in a way that facilitates "mind rot." But it doesn't have to be passive: TV (and movies!) can be watched critically. Consider the growth of TV review blogging as a genre of writing, in which people watch an episode and then discuss aspects such as its themes and characterization. Some shows, like PBS' "Mystery!" program (here in the US), are even intended to make the audience think.

    It may be easier to use TV in a way that rots the mind, but let's not damn an entire medium by over-generalizing - especially when so many RPG fans are also fans of this or that TV series.