I have now had the chance to role-play with gamers from 3 nations – Japan, Australia and the UK – and I’ve seen a lot about American role-players online. From my experiences I’ve begun to get a bit of a sense of the politics, class and background culture of gamers in these 4 nations, so I thought I’d give my judgments here and see what representatives of the countries in question think. Note the word “judgement” in this sentence, it’s hard to do anything but generalize when you only met gamers in London for 18 months, for example, and they were mostly wankers. So, let’s be at it…

Australian Gamers: Obviously the group I have most experience with, I would characterize Aussie gamers as largely middle class, from managerial or professional backgrounds – IT professionals, managers, public servants and the like – with only a small sprinkling of “working class”[1] professions like gardeners or factory workers. This is unsurprising given that Australia is a largely middle class country, but interesting to compare with, say, Japan. I suspect Aussie gamers tend to focus only on the most popular overseas games, as we’re few in number and quite isolated – often in Oz you have to construct gaming groups from friends rather than experienced gamers, and gaming shops are few and far between. The lack of interest in gaming reflects, I think, our historical distance from the US and a strong anti-intellectualism in Australia during the growth of the hobby that held us back from developing in the same way as the UK. I haven’t lived in Oz for 5 years now so maybe this is changing. Gaming in Australia also seemed to include a high proportion of goths.

British gamers: were largely a pack of wankers in my limited experience, but otherwise similar to Aussies[2]. I met my British gamers mostly through pub-based gaming groups in London, and I suspect this is not the best environment to meet nice people, since it tends to attract the kind of people who strangely seem to never be invited to games at other peoples’ houses. Also, pubs are an aggressive and unpleasant socializing environment, and good gaming behaviour requires a supportive environment (e.g. where you don’t have to yell just to be heard). So maybe I didn’t see anything like a representative cross-section of British gamers. I also think the gaming scene may be stronger in the midlands and further North, where I believe it developed historically (I think Grenadier miniatures, GDW, and the major early gaming stores all started in the midlands, which is also where The Elfish Gene is set). So London gamers were middle class, mainly, played a wide diversity of games (though there was a heavy D&D focus in the club I joined) but seemed to have a lower goth-factor, and perhaps less students than Aussies. They were also old, I think – a good half of the club I played in would qualify for the classic stereotype of the 30-something fatbeard (and my God did those fatbeards plumb historical depths of know-it-all bastardry). I note that this gaming in pubs thing is at least partly reflective of housing in London (appalling) and public infrastructure (weak), so that people had nowhere else to play. I once went to a pub with a friend for a drink at about 10pm on a Friday night, and there were 3 guys doing their regular D&D session in amongst the revellers, which I don’t think you’d see anywhere else on Earth. Also, they weren’t being beaten up by the other punters, which would surely happen if you did anything that nerdy in an Aussie pub[3]. So this indicates both a poor availability of good gaming spaces, and a generally more accepting attitude towards nerdish pursuits in the UK than in Australia. Which probably explains how the UK was an important site in the development of modern gaming, and has a larger scene than Australia.

Japanese Gamers: Seem to be from noticeably poorer backgrounds than those in the UK/Australia, with a higher preponderance of factory workers, service workers and the like. They seem to be much more concerned about money and economy than Aussies or Brits, and the gaming industry here seems to take this seriously, releasing most games in an expensive and a cheap format. One of my players doesn’t have a PC, and another has a second hand iBook (6 years old!) which indicates a much lower interest in computers and/or less money. Their online presence is often entirely mobile phone based, largely around the social networking site mixi[4] and they don’t seem to blog much (except for the organizations, such as the club I’m part of). They’re quite formal and very nerdy, and there is a much, much lower level of both rudeness and know-it-all behaviour than one would see in Aussie or British groups. Also, there is almost no culture of home-based gaming, but a very good public infrastructure supportive of public gatherings so no need to visit peoples’ homes. Interestingly, the University I teach at has no gaming club, which would be unusual by Australian standards. Japanese gamers play a wide diversity of games – there are a lot of local games, and then also a reasonable range of translated games. My convention group seems to have a widely varying range of available games, and there is not much D&D focus – one GM is obssessed with Pathfinder but the others seem to change regularly. In fact I detect zero interest in 4th Edition, largely for cost reasons, and little interest in 3.5 because of its splatbooks. Pathfinder is available online for free, and that’s a bit part of its allure, I think. Again, this is partly related to the strong concerns Japanese gamers seem to have about money. I don’t know if Japanese RPGers are different to other parts of nerd (otaku) society here but it’s worth observing that Japan is much more respectful of nerd life than Australia (or even Britain) seem to be, and so I expect much more mixing occurs between nerds. There’s also less evidence of any feeling of exclusivity or reaction against ordinary non-gamers, which one sees a bit of in Australia.

Another noteworthy point about Japanese gamers is that there are a lot more women in the groups here than in the West. I think this is because of the lack of exclusivity of nerd culture here, and its old pre-RPG pedigree.

American (online) gamers: Based on what I see from the internet, American gamers seem to be largely middle or lower-middle class, though with perhaps a wider diversity of classes than in Australia. The thing that interests me most about the US gamers I see online though is that a lot of them seem to be military. One almost never meets an Australian or British soldier-gamer, but they seem quite common in the US online RPG scene. I wonder at three possible reasons for this:

  • Americans are much more likely to be in the military than Aussies or Brits or Japanese, and thus so are gamers
  • US soldiers are much more likely to be gamers than Aussie/Brit/Japanese soldiers (certainly true for Aussie soldiers I think)
  • Self-selection: US soldiers are much more likely to travel than non-soldiers, for longer periods, thus much more likely to have a strong online presence and less likely to have a game going; thus more likely to have a blog about the games they can’t play

I appeal to my American reader(s) for an explanation! Also, another thing I notice about US gamers is they seem to be very white, which on the balance of probabilities probably shouldn’t happen. Is this because the class that gamers are drawn from is largely white, is it because games generally don’t appeal to black Americans, is the internet a primarily white space, or is it that the RPG world is actually quite white only? I think a little of each, and I’ve said before that I think the early history of fantasy and science fiction sets a cultural standard that drives black people away – they can read between the lines the same way a woman does when she enters a workplace and finds it full of girly calendars. It’s not the naked breasts that offend her, but the message it sends her that this is a place for men. I think that a lot of the fantasy canon sends this message out.

It’s worth noting that this racial exclusivity also occurs in Australia to some extent (Asians and migrants are underrepresented in gaming) and the UK, which has a large black/South Asian population (particularly in London!) but you just never saw them in the gaming groups I was part of. In fact, I suspect that the Japanese gaming scene in my country town contains as many foreigners (me) as the club I went to in London had black Britons. Interesting, that…

A few political similarities across nations: It’s hard to find a strong political theme in gaming, with some gamers quite likely to be strongly “left wing” or “statist” (or even anarchist) while some are quite right wing or libertarian. But some properties that seem to be quite common amongst the English-speaking gamers are:

  • Civil Libertarians: Whether from the “statist” left or right, or more libertarian in politics, English-speaking gamers seem to be strongly pro civil liberties. In the Aussie case this is obvious, since most Australians are generally civil libertarians (though pragmatic – Australians are quick to ban something if it’s dangerous). In the British case this is perhaps more unusual, and I can’t comment about the American case because it’s all so topsy turvy over there. I think this civil libertarian streak is driven by…
  • Strongly pro free speech: For older gamers the 80s D&D scares were a major incentive for us to reject censorship in all its forms, since we all saw first hand how nasty it is when it is misguided, and how easily it is misdirected. I think newer gamers have experienced a lot of angst and worry about the “social consequences” of computer games, and so are also generally pro free speech. Obviously for Japanese gamers this is a non-issue, since Japan has extremely liberal (though occasionally contrariwise) rules about what you can publish; but for the English-speaking world this is an important problem, especially in the modern “child protection” ethos that has developed since the mid-90s.
  • Suspicious of “political correctness”: Again, not so much an issue for Japanese gamers since polite language is part of their upbringing, but there seems to be a strong fear of political correctness in the English speaking gaming world, and a lot of confusion about the difference between censorship and being asked not to say bad things (or, as I have found in my theme on racism in fantasy, criticizing the things you love). I wonder how much this suspicion is to do with the origins of a lot of modern political correctness in US feminism, and US feminism’s historical political connection to the religious right, who are the worst enemies of free speech and gaming.

These are just impressions, so please dispute at will.

fn1: Australia has a strong and excellent history of unionism, but to characterize modern manual labourers in Australia as working class seems a bit simplistic. They’re often quite well-paid contractors, and often tradesmen. Australia’s industrial working class is small and even its historical unionism is based in rural and mining industries as much as industry. Those industries are a highly lucrative and protected area of the economy today, and I’m not sure if their employees see themselves as “working class” in any traditional sense.

fn2: This just begs a joke doesn’t it?

fn3: I exaggerate, but gaming in a pub in Oz would definitely attract attention, which would be mostly just interested and slightly confused, but would nonetheless be unwelcome.

fn4: Mixi is, btw, vastly superior to Facebook.