Are Gamers "privileged" ?

My fiancee and I are trying to garner interest in each others hobbies, so we can get each other into things we’re passionate about and aren’t one of those couples where each person has polar opposite interests and can’t compromise on anything.

One thing that she pointed out was that folks with nerdy interests tended to be in a position of privlege. She argued that people into a lot of nerdy things grew up with families that had the disposible income to indulge them in their hobbies (video games, computers, plastic spacemen, LARP…um…stuff, fursuits, etc). Because her family were poor immigrants, her, and none of her peers really got into it. Due to their background/upbringing, their hobbies tended to be more practical, like bargain shopping, cooking, jogging, etc.

I argued that I saw a lot of poor nerdy people, but she pointed out many of these people have a support system that can indulge them. So what do you think? Is being nerdy a privilege? In other words, are you nerdy because you can ‘afford’ to be?

There’s this insinuation in a lot of discussions of “privilege” that people without privilege somehow have moral superiority. I find that smarmy self-righteous connotation to the word “privilege” so irritating that I won’t entertain a discussion of it unless there’s a good reason to do so. And there very rarely is.

If you rephrase the question, asking whether most gamers come from the middle class, in my experience they do–if you’re talking about non-video-games. They also tend to come from families with a high level of education, and I think that’s a higher correlation: nerdy hobbies tend to appear in nerdy families, and nerds tend to value higher education.

If you’re talking about video games, the children I know who play the most of them are very often children who live in public housing and receive free/reduced lunch. I doubt there’s a significant correlation between video games and (yuck) “privilege”.

There’s probably an element of that, sure. Guys who spend 8 hours a day playing WoW probably couldn’t do that if someone else weren’t helping feed and house them, or if they didn’t already have fairly good jobs.

OTOH, my husband grew up quite poor, and is a nerd through and through. He saved his paper route money to buy an Atari 800 and learned to program on it when he was 10. His brothers saved their earned money and got gaming stuff. They were usually getting food assistance and such, and they got basically nothing for Christmas, but they managed to get some nerd stuff for themselves by earning the money.

My brothers also had to earn the money for their gaming/video game stuff; my parents certainly weren’t paying for it. Maybe that’s why my brother collects Atari 2600s? But we did have a house and enough to eat.

I can’t stand it when people talk about “privilege.” Especially “white privilege” and “male privilege” and “white male privilege.” It’s the domain of pretentious, obnoxious, shrill Che Guevara T-shirt college trustafarian types, or minority radicals who want to “off the pig.” It drives me up the wall.


The guys I game with are a mixed bunch, but some of them were dirt poor in high school. Gaming is something that it takes dice and imagination (and one friend with the rule book - or sometimes one friend who has been exposed to the rule book this one time…) Science fiction books are easily acquired at the library. And both gaming materials and SF books are passed around.

I think the amount of money required to be a nerd is being wildly overestimated (by the OP’s fiancee). It might correlate with certain other classes that are generally considered privileged (white and male, perhaps), but the idea that there’s causation, rather than just correlation, at play is in my opinion highly dubious.

That’s the privilege talking. Say fifty 'Hail Guevara’s and donate ten percent of your income to the local Process Church and you should be right as rain for a running dog lackey of the ruling class.

I think Dangerosa is right: It’s entirely possible to be geeky and poor at the same time, even while you’re in high school. (Or even especially while you’re in high school: Poor kids don’t have stuff like vacations and sports taking up their time.)

So you’ve agreed to try to take an interest in each others hobbies, and she starts off by telling you that a) your hobbies are stupid, wasteful and decadent, and by extension, b) you’re a spoiled brat? Going well right out the gate, then.

While it’s true no one buys more crap than geeks with money, most geek hobbies don’t require that much money if you try to do them on the cheap. Even a serious D&D habit can be maintained with less than the cost of a couple of bar drinks a week, for instance.

It is possible that she doesn’t know that, and under the circumstances, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. While the iconic gamer might be a white dude with a huge anime and comic book collection, that is hardly universal. That is what we “priveleged” people usually refer to as a stereotype.

While the majority of the tabletop gamers I’ve known have had a middle class background and at least a bit of college, (which would presumably qualify them as “privileged”) that still leaves a fair number who had access to neither. And geekdom has considerable variation. While Live Action Vampire The Masquerade (do they still do that?) is probably almost entirely middle class, online Modern Warfare certainly isn’t.

“Privileged” in the context used here, is a way of dismissing opinions, arguments . . . and people. As one of the people in question is yourself, I would find that . . . worrying.

And for the record, jogging? Jogging is the most yuppie of non-squash-related forms of exercise!

Well, WoW and other MMOs are some of the cheapest entertainment known to man if you consider how many hours most people play that game and figure the per hour cost compared to just about anything else. I played WoW for a while and there’s almost as much trailer trash there as at a NASCAR convention.

(yeah, you still need a computer and a 'net connection but we’re talking about America-poor here, not Azerbaijan-poor)

As others mentioned, my childhood D&D habit required only a couple books, some dice and a lot of imagination. I suppose a bit of graph paper was involved.

I eventually got a Commodore computer when I was 11 or 12 but, even then, a lot of the games were illegal copies that got traded around. Also, a bit of time spent programming by hand or copying programs out of computer magazines.

I agree that making a hobby out of dirt farming or making blankets out of scraps of rags isn’t any more noble or praiseworthy than building computers or painting miniatures.

You also need time, which can be a pretty big deal if you are working to contribute to family finances or taking care of siblings/sick/elderly family members. There are very few gaming hobbies that you can fully take part in with just a few hours a week.

But I think the bigger factor is not resources, but attitude. A parent who is comfortable with computers and feels confident their kid may succeed in the technology job market will be more likely to raise children in a way that is conducive to computer gaming. A parent that thinks computers are a waste of time and doesn’t see how their kid could enter that market is not. A parent who thinks their child is going to get a liberal arts degree and then maybe go to law school is going to be more amicable to LARPing than a parent who thinks their kid’s best bet is becoming a mechanic right out of high school. Kids pick up on these attitudes as well, and internalize these ideas about what are and are not wastes of time.

In my experience poorer people do tend towards more “practical” activities. For example, I’m in an International Development school, and the place is about as lily white and trust-funded up as it gets. A few doors over at the business school, however, you find a lot more diversity.

Let’s cut back on the defensiveness a bit. Nobody is saying that being poor is better than being comfortable. There has to be some way to talk about these things, because our different backgrounds do play a significant role in our lives- and this role grows larger the further you are away from the cultural “default.” It frustrates me a lot because America is such a class-phobic society that we don’t have a good vocabulary for meaningfully discussing these issues, and so it immediately goes into reaction and defensiveness. For some of us, these experiences are really pretty darn significant, but it feels like you can’t even bring them up without everyone accusing you of class warfare. You end up having to deny or ignore what may be a big and unresolved part of yourself.

Older dopers will probably remember I used to have a pretty big chip on my shoulder. Well, that chip didn’t go away, I just learned to shut up about my experiences and my perspectives, and to basically never tell anyone what it means to me. In other words, to “pass.” I finally figured out that I had no way of expressing this without getting people riled up and angry at me, so I just pretend like its not there and that I’m just like everyone else, or that poverty just rolled off my back and contributed no more than an interesting bit of color to my life. I hope one day we will all develop the capacity to talk about class in American in a constructive way, because pretending like a part of you isn’t there is exhausting. I’m not angry any more, but I sure do wish I could relate my experiences and how they’ve affected me without immediately being told they are invalid/irrelevant/offensive.

Having nerdy/geeky hobbies doesn’t HAVE to be expensive. Yes, it’s quite possible to throw tons of money into a hobby, but it’s also possible to scrimp and save on most of the traditional nerd hobbies. I started playing D&D when I was quite poor, and part of the appeal was that I had almost no ongoing expense, other than a Big Gulp of soda once a week. All I really needed was some notebook paper and a pencil. Other people were happy to let me use their rule books (back then most players only had the Player’s Handbook) and even dice. I saved up for a few months and bought my own book and dice. When I was growing up, we didn’t have any computers in the family, though the year after I moved out, my parents bought a TRS-80 (and boy was I pissed about that). Before computers and D&D, I played a lot of games, mostly card and board games. I still know a lot of versions of solitaire.

I grew up in a family which did NOT indulge my hobbies, other than by playing board and card games. And a deck of cards is about as cheap as you can get. I think that the OP’s fiance is way off base.

I suspect some of this is based in history.

It wasnt that long ago that owning a computer or videogame meant middle class or higher by definition, as well as reasonable education prospects.

D&D in NZ when I grew up pretty much meant you knew someone who travelled overseas, which again put you into an education and/or higher income bracket.

There will always be exceptions, but as a general tendency it fits with my general experience. I also dont have any particular problem with saying growing up white educated middle class and male meant I got opportunities many others dont and the leisure and opportunity to play RPGs would fit into that.


One of the immense advantages of tabletop RPGs was their cheapness. What else could six to 60 of us do with just a bunch of dice, a notebook and a box of #2s, for 3-8 hours straight, on any weekend afternoon? And as Mom famously pointed out to Dad after having “come to Jesus” (or, in her case, decided that an occasional “by Thor’s hammer!” did not mean her children were joining the ranks of norse paganism): “would you rather have them there yelling ‘awrite, that’s one Very Dead Orc’, or out getting drunk and being offered drugs?”

As for the BFF’s bro who had that much-envied Spectrum, their mother was a SAHM and their dad a Shift Foreman in a factory that made electronic components, and that guy is now a tenured university professor in Computer Science. The year he got the Spectrum he didn’t get any other gifts for Christmas and only a token for his birthday (April).

Some of the stuff you mention (LARP, fursuits) wouldn’t have been available, or not at the levels at which they are now in Parts Abroad - I’ve heard LARP the way I played it in Spain way back when, and the way I understand most people play it now, called “LARP Lite”: people would wear clothes they already had, orcs could be detected because they hunched up and made faces and wore nametags saying “ORCO”, this one guy who’d found a green witch mask in a joke shop got to be the orc commander by public acclamation.

I do know that the people I knew who were into those had one thing in common, or at least those for whom I have data:

there were books at home. For some of us it was both parents; for some, only one (“Dad doesn’t even read the sports pages, Mom had to leave school at 10 and she reads my Spanish Lit books to get recommendations of authors she may like”). But in any case, books and the self-directed learning they imply were present. In this we were, indeed, privileged over those (from our socioeconomical class or not) whose homes contained only their own schoolbooks and the White Pages.

I was hardly in a strong financial position as a child. Single income, single parent household in a lower socioeconomic part of Sydney. My aunty bought me a computer when I was eight (in 1986), but before then? No computer, no Atari 2600, no VCR. I played board games, built with Lego, read the encyclopaedia, read puzzle books and played one-person RPGs. Oh, and read science fiction and fantasy, and wrote my own stories.

Geeks will make do with whatever is at hand. Geekiness is a disposition, not a class designation. Sure, once I had access to more money I got into Sega and programming and all sorts of more expensive hobbies, but even before then, I played with cheap circuit-board kits, etc.

Hell, a library card is all you need at most to indulge geeky interests. The idea that you need all the cool toys in order to be part of the geek club only sets out to further marginalise those of us who were of like mind to other geeks yet less well-off.

In short, your fiancee is wrong.

Got it in one. As a child, I was encouraged to read and learn. No matter how tight the budget was, there were always books around. And learning and play were strongly associated from a very early age.

I almost put into my post that the one thing all tabletop gamers I know (PC gamers are a different breed) is that they have an above average command of English and good reading comprehension. Same with most of the people I know who suck down SF/Fantasy. So I’m willing to bet that first generation immigrants are less often games/SFF readers - its a hard hobby to master if English isn’t your first language. And I don’t think first generation immigrant is usually considered a privileged class.

I don’t think it has much to do with money. As someone said “poor in an American sense” often still means you have a PC/internet connection and/or gaming console. "

Agreed. It annoys me no end, especially because it’s been my experience that being a White Male is now a disadvantage in many respects, especially in searching for employment.

And so often it turns into a contest over who has more–or less–privilege. And I can see why being rich or middle class would give you more opportunities. But I don’t feel less privileged for not being white or male as some apparently seem to. Or stuff like privilege for being thin or attractive. It just gets out of hand after a certain point.

I wonder if the geeky boys of the 70s and 80s were more likely to grow into the middle class? Lots of those guys ended up programing and did very well in the 90s, and can now indulge the hobbies they used to do on a shoestring.