Have you ever heard the following said at a gaming convention, game shop, or at the game table?
“The average RPG player is smarter than most people.”
Maybe you have never heard that exact phrase, but phrases that imply the same thing count for the purpose of this article.
RPGs are full of wonderful mental exercises. You must read and usually apply basic math skills in order to play an RPG. RPGs are full of puzzles and logical riddles that require concentration and focus in order to solve them. Role playing even outside the context of a game is a great activity to help one understand the positions of others.
You know what else will help develop your mental abilities? Daily exercise. Spend thirty minutes a day exercising and you increase blood flow to your brain. Add the benefits of a healthy diet into the mix and you are keeping your brain healthy so that it can do what it does best: think.
Is the average gamer exercising daily and eating healthy? All of those jokes about obese guys sitting around a table for hours drinking Mountain Dew and eating pizza did not come from mere myth. The long term effects of a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet might diminish your intelligence as your brain functions diminish due to reduced blood flow that is the result of a weaker heart and blockages in the cardiovascular system. Daily exercise on the other hand will probably keep you mentally sharp as you age.
In other words, if RPGs are coupled with bad habits they can make you dumber.
Hey Benson, you got a point here?
Yes, yes I do. I hesitate to say it for I know it will lure trolls faster than billy goats on a bridge. But here it goes:
We gamers are smart, but not that smart.
All of the benefits that RPGs have in the development of intelligence are also present in other hobbies. Model railroading requires dedication to detail, research, development of techniques, and a great deal of math when recreating structures to scale. Civil War re-enactors role play, devour whole tomes of history, and often learn the skills needed to create replicas true to the fabrication techniques of the original items. My wife easily read enough pages to equal the latest Dungeon Master’s Guide during her last cake decorating class, and she was constantly adjusting recipes to serve more or less people with. Reading, simple math, creativity — most hobbies have them in some form or another.
Other hobbies require the same dedication to learning and the development of knowledge that RPGs do. People of high intelligence enjoy many different types of hobbies. Gen Con does not correlate its schedule with an annual “Convention of Nuclear Physicists, Rocket Scientists, and Neural Surgeons Think Tank” because the people who attend one happen to be in town for the other. There is no evidence (at least no credible evidence that I could find) that RPGs lead to higher intelligence of a vastly greater degree than other hobbies that require the same types of skills and practices.
So why do I hear the “Gamers are smarter!” mantra so often at the table, conventions, and anywhere else where a copy of Tomb of Horrors is located? I hear it because of a particular type of player, and this player is a problem player that cloaks himself in pseudo-logic and self delusion that you my fellow GMs might need to deal with at some point.
Problem player, I name thee “brainiac!”
Many fans of comics know that Brainiac is one of the greatest villains of Superman who derives all of his abilities from his superior intelligence. At the table the brainiac problem player tries to use his “superior” intelligence and arguments regarding the verisimilitude of the game world to influence the game unfairly in his favor. This player is not bringing up the occasional good point, nor is he trying to justify a creative approach. The brainiac is excessively using a meta game in order to takeover the real game.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between an expert and a brainiac. Experts earned their expertise through actual practice, and are recognized by their peers in their field as having accomplished something relevant to the field. Brainiacs merely claim to have the knowledge of an expert. Brainiacs use statements like:
- “Everybody knows that (insert an obscure “fact” here). That is why my character has (insert ridiculous benefit here).”
- “That is not possible, because in the real world you would need (something irrelevant to the game mentioned so as to negate something relevant to the game).”
- “I once (read a book, took a class, spoke to a person, etc.) and that is why (justification for you to change something within the game).”
The problem with such statements is that they sound so logical, and if you as the GM ignore them then you are just railroading the players and not allowing their creativity to have an impact upon the game. Plus these statements are slight variations on what a true expert would say. The Brainiac problem player is like the bull snake, because just like a bull snake imitates a rattlesnake the brainiac acts like an expert and tries to intimidate others at the table so that they do not challenge his statements.
Make a decision even if it is the wrong one.
When an expert corrects you it is just that — a correction. The expert will often point out when something is wrong even if that correction negatively impacts the expert’s situation. A contractor friend of mine who has a degree in Engineering once pointed out as a player that toppling over a dilapidated building in one of our games would still be very difficult for the current party to do even though this obliterated a plan we had for stopping an enemy invasion in game. He was not trying to influence the game in order to favor his character, but instead he was hoping to improve the game experience for all of us by forcing us to think of a better solution.
Brainiacs do not correct you, but instead they try to control the game through statements that you cannot easily disprove unless you stop the game in order to research the validity of the statement. A brainiac is relying on that in order to bully you into reversing a decision or to exploit the setting. The possibility of you being wrong is used to discredit you, while the possibility of the brainiac being wrong is overlooked because you as the GM did not have to listen to the brainiac.
I am here to tell you that it is alright to make the wrong decision. Go ahead and tell the brainiac “I will verify that later, and if you are correct I will find a way to either fix my mistake or to make it up to you and the rest of the group.” If the brainiac insists on you dealing with the situation right then and there offer to do a quick search of some sort to verify the statement if possible, but tell the group that if it cannot be verified quickly you are going to move on regardless.
Yes you will get burned occasionally by doing this, but you will also make it clear to the brainiac that you are willing to call a bluff when you suspect that they are wrong. This effectively turns the brainiac’s own threat against him. Now the brainiac has to really be sure that his claim is sound. Given time they might even abandon the bad habits of a brainiac completely.
Why is this technique okay to use? Because…
Everyone’s knowledge is incomplete.
Being ignorant of a subject is nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes we just do not know the answer. Sometimes even the experts are wrong and we do not know it until new knowledge emerges! It is unfair to expect anyone to know everything.
Yet the brainiac is betting that a social pressure to avoid an admission of ignorance is going to make you comply with whatever he says you should do. If being incorrect endangers someone in the real world you should do your best to research and make the best decision possible, but within the fiction of an RPG you can afford to make serious mistakes on occasion. This is not an excuse for you to be sloppy when running your games, but it is realistic.
Which brings me back to the beginning of this article. We gamers are smart, but not that smart. Do not let geek pride, social pressure, or the fear of being wrong be used as a way to take over your game. That brainiac at your table is probably just as ignorant of how things work as you are, but he is not willing to admit it.
As the GM you lead the game, and every leader makes mistakes from time to time. Go toe-to-toe with those brainiacs not because you want to be right, but because you want to run the best game possible for the whole group and you are willing to expose your own flaws and limitations in order to do so.
And if you want to know what an expert would say about leadership and dealing with brainiacs read this presentation on the leadership techniques of General Colin Powell. After all, unlike myself he is an expert on the subject.
What do you think? Have you encountered a brainiac during your game? How did you deal with it? When is the player an expert, offering legitimate input, or just abusing the situation? Share your comments with the rest of us and let us see if we can all walk away from this a little less ignorant then we were before.
Extremely true. Actually, from what I’ve seen, playing RPGs has pretty much no bearing at all on a person’s intelligence, especially when it comes to mature adults who have already learned basic math as well as they’re ever going to. The players I’ve played with are pretty much across the board from creative geniuses, to guys who take over a minute to re-calculate the DC of a saving throw every time they use the same old spell. Most fall somewhere in between. The girl who can’t figure out the rules to save her life, but entertains everyone with her well-timed character beats. The guy who’s memorized every rule in the book, but solves every problem with the same two attacks. The guy who can talk his way through any encounter, but can’t even remember which one is the d12.
I personally think of RPGs as more of a test of my wits than a learning tool, or worse yet, an indication of an already superior intellect. I love having a chance to think on my feet without facing terrible real-life consequences if I fail. When I inevitably do something extremely stupid, it’s still really fun, bragging rights be damned.
I do, however, credit RPGs for at least giving focus to my Wikipedia binges. The last game I DMed was a reconstruction of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, and I seriously went through and researched every ship that was present (there were 18), and what it’s capabilities were, and transposed them all, to scale, into a more-complicated-than-necessary naval combat system. I can’t imagine doing something like that for any other reason.
In the end, though, it sort of degenerated into an Evangelion reference when the Monitor turned out to actually be a living creature piloted by a helpless child. I can’t imagine that this is the outcome a super-genius would have chosen.
I think there’s Two things here, that can toss this article in a different direction
how you define “intelligence” and also, time frame.
these days Role-playing is practically main stream, and a sample of playes is going to be, well, more or less average people.
travel back a decade or three, and RPG’ become the almost sole province of “nerds” in many area’s, the nerd,s the ones that had the high GPA’s and no friends outside the gaming table. Ok that’s a stereotype and a generalization, but it holds some statistical weight to it, and when discussing the origins of a stereotype, I think its fair game.
Then there’s the factor of intelligence. It can cover a wide range of things. back in highschool, we had a gaming club, not a single member scored below 120 on a standard IQ test, on the other hand, some of the members had the common sense of rock-salt. more than one was gullible, and lacked what one would term street smarts.
I’m not trying to argue that the “gamers are smarter” adage is true, but i think somewhere, in the history of gaming culture, there was a grain of truth to it, more so back when the saying would have been started, than today.
I would put money on the difference between median intelligence of gamers and everyone else being higher in younger (teens) age brackets too.
First, while the physical aspects you mention are still in effect at younger ages, they’re less pronounced. Second, the (given, possibly limited) additional emphasis RPGs put on behavior that stimulates learning will have more of an impact at that age. Further, and perhaps most significantly, the social strata at that age is highly segmented, and the portion of the population most likely to have nothing better to do than read several hundred extra pages of what is essentially textbook, not be balked by it, and convince their friends to play later, is obvious.
Thus, it may simply be that the association between RPGs and high intelligence is correlation, not causal, and hits it’s peak at introduction and goes downhill from there, but isn’t discarded because it’s favorable.
I would actually be very interested in seeing a study of various forms of intelligence testing on self-identifying gamers and non gamers of various stripes and seeing what, if any difference there is. Chances are, given gamers, it’s been done before.
@unwinder – Your example of Wikipedia is a perfect because it demonstrates how one passion can lead to another. RPGs can definitely lead to research, but that is not something that is exclusive to RPGs. Any hobby that a person feels passionately about can have that effect. My older brother didn’t care at all for RPGs, but comic books were another matter and he researched art techniques with a passion.
@theeo123 – Again, I could not find a credible source of evidence that even a decade ago or earlier that RPGs and high intelligence have a correlation.
For one, RPGs are still not mainstream. If they were I would be able to buy them from Walmart. Hasbro tried that with 3.5 and it failed. Not enough interest. Even bookstores like Barnes & Noble has a very limited selection of titles from one or two publishers (WotC and at one time I saw White Wolf titles as well). The hobby might have grown, but it is still not mainstream.
Now as for the “nerds” of old being smarter, well there is no evidence for that. In fact, since pre-school has become the norm for many toddlers because there is evidence that the earlier you have a child become accustomed to a school setting the better that child will do throughout his or her school career it is more likely that the “nerds” of today are smarter than the “nerds” of old.
IQs are one of the touchier things to deal with. An IQ score is really just a rough comparison of a single person to a group of people in regards to their age and problem solving abilities. If your school had an RPG club that suggests the following:
1) Your school most likely had a budget that allowed for clubs.
2) Your school most likely had a faculty member who wanted to help you and your friends develop your hobby through a club setting.
So what is more likely? That you and your friends were already smart and that all smart people play RPGs. No, because that is not true. Many smart people do not play RPGs. Or is it possible that your school was better than many other poorer schools and that your faculty was more involved and students outside of your RPG club were also scoring higher scores and standardized IQ tests? Without additional evidence I would have to say that the second scenario is more likely.
I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t find the evidence to support what you are suggesting. If what you are suggesting were true then RPGs would have been exploited by the booming “educational toys” industry that has been growing steadily since the 80s.
@Matthew J. Neagley – You make a lot of claims there, but where is the evidence? Physical health and mental development are definitely tied together throughout a person’s lifetime. There is a great deal of scientific evidence to that point, so you are incorrect with that statement.
Yes, RPGs include habits that stimulate learning but other hobbies do as well. Before I got into RPGs I was playing with Legos building whatever I could imagine and reading about whatever it was that I decided to build. It drove my folks nuts, but if I was build a rocket I was reading everythign that I could find on NASA. So what you are suggesting there is not exclusive to RPGs.
“The social strata at that age is highly segmented.” Cite your source. Where did you get this information? What does “highly segmented” mean? That there are ten, twenty, one hundred different groups at that age?
I’m sorry guys, but there is no credible source of evidence that RPGs will make you smarter, or attract smarter people, than other similar hobbies do. Model rocket building, bird watching, music, or any hobby that someone is passionate about can also lead to an intense learning experience.
Benson I think you misunderstood, I wasn’t suggesting my belief, or trying to prove a point, only suggesting a possibility.
lets be fair, a lack of evidence showing Gamers as being smarter, is not the same as evidence that they are average.
in my highschool inparticular, clubs were created & run by student, the Teacher sponsorship, was of limited or no involvement, and was irrelevant, half the time he unlocked the door to the classroom for us then went out for the next 3 hours.
I’ll fully agree that IQ test are a marginal at best measure of intelligence, read my post fully, that was my point, was that intelligence can mean different things to different people, and Gamers are smarter is about as vague as it gets when trying to discern such a quality.
You say you found no evidence, what evidence could you possibly look for?
until we could all agree on what “smarter” or “intelligence” is how could you even look for evidence?
assuming we go with a traditional definition, even though there would be mountain of correlateable data available, standard aptitude test,s SAT’s etc. etc. almost none of it, would you, as a member of the general populace have access too.
so of course you’d find no evidence.
that’s like me trying to find evidence of accident ratios for secret government project,s regardless of how much data there is, or isn’t, I simply wouldn’t have a way to get a hold of such information.
also your suggestion of RPGs being exploited by the educational toy industry is ridiculous, I’m a parent, I can go on for hours her,e
those toys are driven by marketing and profit, not success, look at the einstein line of product.s
they were proven, in multiple studies to HINDER learning, yet still outsell most other educational toy lines.
Again I’m not stating a belief, or a fact, because there is no way, that we can verify, 99% of what’s being discussed here, I’m proposing a hypothesis, that’s all. one that sadly, will never, and can never be accurately measured.
I applaud you for thinking rationally, and making logical, non-emotional points, however, I think many of the points your trying to make are based on faulty assumptions and a lack of information.
If you want to claim that RPG players are no smarter than other people who actually have hobbies*, you might be close to the truth. But a lot of people have no hobbies at all, unless you count drinking beer and watching television.
Twoshedsjackson Makes a good point
We’ve been using the word “average” a lot, but average what, average, adult, average, teen, average person in general, average person with hobby, average for a first world nation, average for what country?
I think we all may be making different assumptions about exactly, what the subject group is here.
@TwoShedsJackson – Actually most people do have hobbies. Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and a billion dollar hobby industry proves this which the RPG industry is a small part of.
@theeo123 – Go by people with an IQ of 100 which in many tests is considered to be average. Are you a citizen of the United States, a Western European country, or a developed country in Asia? Congrats! You are already more than likely to have an IQ greater than 100. Because these places are so great? Maybe, but it could also be because that is where the tests come from.
An interesting article. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that most gamers are not smarter than “regular” people. In many of those cases, those gamers were just plain dumb. That’s not an attempt to bash anyone, but simply what I’ve seen to be the case. As such, I try to make my players prove anything off the wall they come up with, as well as being careful to explain to them that just because they come up with an idea does not make it feasible.
@everyone else – Remember, there are whole spectrums of people of every intelligence level in any job or hobby. I’ve met rocket scientists and doctors (traditionally shown to be very smart people) who couldn’t think their way out of paper bags when not dealing with their profession. I’ve also met janitors and garbage collectors (traditionally shown to be sort of stupid) who discuss philosophy and were accepted to MIT. Trust me, what you do in your spare time doesn’t automatically mean you’re smart.
@evil – Thank you. My experience has been the same in some cases. I have met some incredibly intelligent people who were gamers, but I’ve met incredibly intelligent people who were not gamers. The similarity between the non-gamers and the gamers who both display great intelligence that I know is that they are dedicated to the learning in any form.
I believe that the evidence that we do have shows that any hobby that someone is passionate about and willing to put the time and effort into will help them to develop their mental abilities. RPGs included.
@theeo123 – Please call me Patrick, and not Benson. I just used my last name in the article as a way to set a tone. Thanks!
What you said about your school actually illustrates my point – your school had clubs and faculty who were willing to take responsibility for your guys actions. Half the time he wasn’t there, but at no time was he responsible? Under many state and local laws if an incident had occurred he would have been held responsible for your actions. One reason I have been given by my teacher friends that they would not sponsor clubs in some of the poorer schools was because they didn’t want to be held accountable for possible incidents. Non-club members would start showing up to cause trouble, so no teacher would risk the possible problems associated with a club. So either your teacher was irresponsible, or the environment that you were in was not as troubled as other schools and your teacher was able to be less vigilant without greater risk. I can only go by what you are describing in comparison to my own experiences and what I have learned from others, so if I am wrong please provide the details that would explain this.
Now there is a reason that I put “educational toys” in quotes – yes, they are bogus in most cases. Yet the corporations that produce them do keep a close eye on what the scientific community discovers about learning, and if there was a major and credible study that showed that RPGs did greatly improve a person’s mental abilities they would be ready to exploit that. Follow the money tends to be a great way for discovering where the truth ends and the snake oil sales begin. A lot of those bogus “educational toys” were developed quickly based upon credible studies, but the toys were never actually designed based upon what the studies discovered but upon what the studies implied. Reading to children helps them to learn, so books that “read” to children were quickly brought to market. Of course, the studies showed the a parent reading to children made a difference with their learning, but not a machine. Didn’t matter. They sold parents on the assumption that any reading was what helped the child learn. If RPGs were clearly a superior learning tool, well Fisher Price would develop a “Baby’s First RPG!” product line even if the study said benefits did not occur until 10 years old.
I found lots of evidence that people with hobbies who attended to them regularly activated sections of their brains that people with passive activities that could not be classified as hobbies did not seem to activate for as long or as intensely. What I did not find was evidence that any one particular hobby had a greater impact on the brain’s activity. Playing a musical instrument did seem to activate certain sections of the brain that other hobbies did not, but that seemed to be the only exception and that might be related to the parallel hand/eye coordination efforts that are going on at the same time as the hobby is being indulged in.
@Patrick Benson –
regarding youth and health, what I was trying to say is that I assume it to be given that MOST people are healthier when they are younger, than when they are older. This is not universal, but chances are if I was an out of shape kid I grow up to be a MORE out of shape adult, and if I was a kid in great shape, I grow up to be an adult in good shape. I doubt people who were in poor shape as kids make up a significant part of the population of adults who are in good shape. Thus, I assumed that the effects of mental degradation due to physical state increase as most people age, NOT because there’s any change in the correlation (which given your response I think you read what I was saying to mean?), but because people’s physical states generally decline over time. Take a look at these figures (under age and sex differences), the percent of the population that is obese climbs steadily with age. http://www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz/health/obesity.html
Regarding the stratification of social groups during teenage years, I’m of course referring to the various social cliques that we are/were all familiar with. I hold this to be self evident as well.
What I’m postulating from there is that RPGs are more likely to adopted by a social unit than randomly across social units. ie: it’s more likely that one guy gets into it and gets his friends into it than random people getting into RPGs across all social units and then grouping up to play. I think we’ve all seen anecdotal evidence where a lone player in a social group WILL cross social boundaries to play, but I’m assuming that to be the exception, not the norm.
See this paper, page 6, under “discussion” where they show that starting in early adolescence, and waning in late adolescence, social groups have a low permeability. http://www.du.edu/psychology/relationshipcenter/publications/pdfs/Agedifferencesinadolescents.pdf
From there, I postulate that it’s more likely for the kids in the “nerdy” group to initially pick up RPGs, simply because they enjoy reading more and participate in more solo activities (which reading is), thus assuming that that social group is more likely to hold the largest number of RPG players.
Of course, I’m not betting on my ability to find a study that says “nerds like to read” since it’s unlikely anyone doing a reputable study would use those classifications.
You’re right that even if this were all true, it still doesn’t prove that RPG players are any more intelligent than anyone else. It assumes they are because we assume that nerdy social group is more intelligent, but I’m not sure you could successfully argue that either.
Further, even if it WERE all true and there were some teenage segment of RPG players that were more intelligent than other teenagers, that’s not saying that would carry forward.
@Matthew J. Neagley – I still disagree with some of what you are saying, but at this point I think that you have presented a valid theory. Perhaps a socially awkward person might be drawn into intellectual pursuits because of the introverted nature of those pursuits. If we classify RPGs as a more intellectual type hobby then I can see the correlation, but that still allows for other intellectual type hobbies to have people of higher intelligence as well. It still does not make RPGs a silver bullet for discovering people of higher intelligence.
I don’t believe that playing RPGs will lead to higher intelligence. I believe that development of a person’s mental abilities are so much more complex than that. I could be wrong, and the article itself says that with new information what we believe to be true today may be proven false tomorrow. But I am comfortable with what I have written here, and I’ll stand by it.
@Patrick Benson –
Before going into debate on IQ’s and testing, read a bit about them – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iq_test
it’s actually a fairly interesting subject, and I’d love to go into it more, but I’d like to do so with everyone starting on the same page as it were. what someone scores on a online test, with a deviation of 25, compared to a more standardized test with a deviation of 15, make a very very big difference, also there are many many different “standardized” test, some quite credible, some all but mocked out of existence, by the credible psychology community.
Also there’s a lot of debate over most tests being biased, towards people with good ,language, & mth skills to begin with, and the more we learn about the human brain ,and HOW we learn things, the more these tests get changed.
That I think is one of the big problems. Anyone, and i mean almost anyone, can do well in school, on SAT’s etc. that’s more memorization than learning, a test of intelligence, for the purposes of our discussion is what? how quickly one learns?, how well one retains information? problem solving?
As for school clubs, it can get weird. You’re speaking legal reprecusions, but that’s a far leap from “lets make sure they do something educational” to “he somebody got stabbed” and even then, it’s gets awkward, many public schools at least in Michigan where I went are located on Private property. I in fact had to attend a count case involving a car accident on school property, the attending officer, could not legally even issue a ticket, because the school itself was private property. so the legality of certain things becomes very much a gray area.
As a side note, again Patrick I’m enjoying this discussion a lot, or “debate” even if you will, Everyone is staying calm, and rather polite, we don’t seem to be devolving into the blatant name-calling that many online discussions seem to fall into.
If nothing else, perhaps we could say the RPG’s reading gnome stew have better manners than most 🙂
That being said I still think that the truth or untruth of the saying will depend highly on exactly, what we consider “smart”. We all know that anecdotal evidence is practically meaningless, and when talking about “people” in general, we’re talking a group of 7 billion plus.
to try and derive any sort of significant statistical data would require, such a large group of people as to be practically impossible.
I also wanted to touch briefly on a much earlier statement, about “mainstream” gaming.
I might be dating myself a bit here, but when I was gaming in late middle-school& high-school it was the late 80’s early 90’s
Back then, Barnes & noble and other such companies, didn’t routinely stock Gaming books, now they do. Annual Attendance for gencon, and other such events, was a pittance, compared to now.
I think perhaps my use of the term “mainstream” may have come across wrong.
When I was young, being a gamer, meant being called, a satanist, having bricks thrown at you, being physically & verbally assaulted, by people who thought Mazes *& monsters with tom hanks was something that happened every other weekend, that every person with a D&D book was a psycho waiting to explode.
Now the biggest, gaming company, in the world got bought by HASBRO a company, that make, main stream family games.
Coming from that perspective, it seems mainstream to me, but I concede, that our hobby is not as popular as say, Monopoly, I dare say that it’s far far more popular than it once was.
And I think Mr Neagly, touched on a nice, point & you seem to agree, that the Social interaction more than the mental stimulous itself could be a defining factor.
I myself, owe 90% of my math skills to AD&D 2nd editions Horrible THAC0 system *LOL* it’s not so much that thism ade math easier for me, but it put into perspectiv,e How math could apply to really lif,e how every day things could be quantified, and gave me a love of math I didn’t previously have. That initial exposure caused me to go out of my way and learn math not taught (at the time anyway) in my school, learning bout probability math, and physics.
But knowledge, doesn’t always equal intelligence.
and before anyone tags me on my spelling or grammar, just remember
Hookt on foniks wurkt 4 m3
My anecdotal experience has been that RPG players are in general about the same, intelligence-wise, as anyone else – which is to say I see a spread over a range of what I personally rate as intelligence.
Some RPG gamers would probably like to believe that they have a hobby filled to the brim with the ultra-smart, because of complex issues having to do with the imagined stigma that playing RPGs has. There is a popular image of the overgrown teenager playing D&D in a parent’s basement or garage (the TV show Reno 911 had a hilarious running gag riffing on this).
But the truth is that a typical RPG requires no math ability above that of doing elementary arithmetic. It *does* require an imagination, but you don’t need to be super-smart to have one of those.
In fact, one might use the latter day drive to “simplify” RPG rules as evidence that the intelligence of the expected audience is getting lower at every iteration of a game – if one were a trouble-maker.
I pretty much agree with Patrick on this – In my experience, gamers are no smarter than non-gamers of the same background and educational levels.
That said (and this may be more Imp than Gnome speaking), if you measure intelligence by achievement, hardcore gamers would probably come out below average. 😉
In other words, put the books down occasionally and go do something else. Your game will actually improve.
@Roxysteve – It could also be a sign that less complex rules help to provoke the unique imaginative component of RPGs. You really got my brain turning with that one.
@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Real world experience is the greatest teacher. I think that there is a future article in that one. Mind if I run with it?
@Patrick Benson – No problem, but as the Gnome who took nearly a two decade break from gaming, I may get there first.
I think we like to consider ourselves ‘smart’ for understanding complex rules systems, comprehending the cascade of actions when player A performs action B, is countered by character X who is performing action Y to accomplish objective Z; it’s just like how those of us that are avid PC gamers may like to feel some sort of superiority over non-PC gamers.
I think in the end it comes down to something fairly simple, and from my individualized experiences, that would be as follows: like-minded people stand strong as a cohesive group with little to break their ties (other than a TPK), and as people like to feel unique or special, they will band together at the gaming table and mock those who are not present. Why? Because it’s fun, it creates conversation, and it furthers our removal from the real world for that session.
🙂 I normally just comment on facebook, but had to jump in on this one!
Whoops, “understanding complex rules systems and comprehending… *”
@Lelldorianx – That is a really interesting idea. I never thought that the “We’re smarter!” mantra was being used by some people as a way to bond with others.
@Lelldorianx – Your comment make me think that maybe any “superior intelligence” is actually illusory, due to the fact that we’ve immersed ourselves in a complex often esoteric hobby that “outsiders” don’t get. Of course, the same holds true for almost ANY hobby. I still haven’t figured out dog shows (one of my wife’s loves) or football (many a co-worker’s passion).
@Matthew J. Neagley – Just tell those co-workers that you have a wizard with a natural 18 in Intelligence, then flaunt your baubles and doo-dads* at them!
* note: not a pseudonym for phallic objects.
@Matthew J. Neagley – I’d play fantasy football if I could get Gandalf as a linebacker. “You shall not pass!”
As a general rule, I’d say gamer read more than the average person and on various matters (if you play different genres), and therefore might be more knowledgeable than the average person. But it’s not easy to fit everyone in categories. If you compare him to someone who watches tv all day, you still have to say if he watches the history channel all day or the latest mind-numbing reality tv. Just as a gamer is loosely defined: are we talking about the guy who never plays anything else than a dumb barbarian, who never says a word and only swings his sword during combat? Or the wizard who knows the variables of all his spells and can employ them in innovative ways?
I wonder if it would be easier to prove that DMs are smarter than average: they have to be able to plan and to think on their feet more than players…
@poilbrun – My cousin is a school teacher who reads more than any gamer that I know. When I visit with her every year during Gen Con (she lives in Indy) she always has books all over the house that she is reading.
She is not a gamer, and I know other readers who are as voracious in their appetites for literature of all types as she is who are also not gamers. So if what you are saying is true, then gamers are not as smart as others who read more. I am willing to bet that there are many groups out there who do read much more than the average gamer, as well as people who are more diverse in their reading selection than gamers are.
I have never seen any evidence that GMs are smarter than most players. My personal observation is that GMs tend to have more leadership qualities than many players do. This also means that they have many of the flaws associated with leader types as well.
@Patrick Benson – Ah, but then we’re back to the definition of average gamer and average non-gamer. I too know people who read a lot, but it would be interesting to see the breadth of their interests.
My mother reads a lot of novels; my mother-in-law, a teacher of Latin in high school, reads a lot about Antiquity in general and Roman culture in particular, even in her free time; my best friend (non-gamer), an IT engineer, probably has a +20 (in D20) or 5 dots (in Vampire) in Computers!
But as a gamer, I read throughout the years about subjects I would never have had an interest in without rpg: my best example was a Vampire game where the Storyteller wanted us all to play historic figures from the end of the 19th century. That was the first time in my life I entered a public library to find information about the life of Monet, a famous French painter, and that’s how I developped a love for impressionism.
But again, I might not be the average gamer either. And the average people or average gamer I talk about might not be the same you are talking about. I live in an area of Belgium particularly plagued by unemployment and in a small town (10,000 inhabitants), so the average person I meet will probably be very different than the average person you might meet if you are American living in a big city in an affluent area.
Regarding GMs, I think we go back to personal experience then. I have played regularly with 2 GMs and I am the third main GM in our group of about 15 people. That’s a small amount of data to observe on, but I would say they are the “smarter” players when they actually play. They know the rules better, they have more experience with different types of characters, they are able to piece information together better…
That’s just due to their experience as a GM, but I think that makes them smarter at the game table. How do they compare away from it? I don’t really know, but I’d think some of it would transfer outside of the game…