The more time I spend with geeks and gamers, the more fascinated I become with some of our overlapping subcultures.
For one, gamers and sports fans isn’t as out-there a combination as every 80s movie would want us to believe – in fact, it’s a match made in heaven, for reasons others have already enumerated. It’s not difficult to see similar parallels with the rising pro-wrestling fandom among gamers and comic book geeks. And then there are cases of straight-up symbiosis, like the gamer/knitter paradigm. It’s much quieter than idly rolling dice, for one thing.
So it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that there’s also a decent amount of overlap between the gaming community and the kink community.
(Those of you still reading are either already familiar with this particular Venn diagram or are morbidly curious about how leathermen and leather armor overlap, so I’ll get right to the particulars)
Naturally, all subcultures have a degree of intrinsic harmony with each other simply by being sub-cultures, no pun intended. Beyond that, both gaming and kink share a troubling dichotomy of being taken seriously in private while often being played to extremes for laughs in more public settings – even by their own members.
Outsiders often feel more aware than they actually are of what both hobbies entail because of the prevalence of caricatures presented as reality in places where people feel less safe getting into the gory details of ball gags and hex grids. The sheer volume of cringe-worthy crime drama episodes alone dealing with either gaming or kink is simply staggering, and frequently depressing. Gamers have a slight edge there – awful as it was, our movie was still not as bad or harmful as Fifty Shades of Grey.
But the most specific parallel between the two cultures is how the GM/player relationship so closely mirrors the domme/sub relationship, both in how it functions when it’s healthy and in how common misconceptions about it can lead to some very unhealthy alternatives.
For the unfamiliar, the core to any healthy D/s relationship is trust, and the most critical tool to making it fun for all involved is strong communication on both sides and being honest about what you want out of it.
Like D/s, tabletop gaming centers around an interesting and often misunderstood power dynamic between the GM and the players. Ostensibly, the GM is all-powerful – an oft-cited oversimplification wrongfully attributed to Mr. Gygax – and the players are at their mercy. But any GM who’s trying to run an enjoyable game will quickly tell you just how much it feels like the reverse.
The GM is responsible for pushing the players, for providing resistance, for mucking with their plans and getting in their way – but just enough that they enjoy it, never too much or too little.
Complicate this further by the fact that, while the game is underway, there’s a certain code of silence about asking for exactly what you want as a player. Players trust the GM to have paid enough attention before the game or between sessions to anticipate what they want and deliver it in a way that seems spontaneous and authentic, despite having been carefully orchestrated.
Players have to believe their characters’ plans could fail, that their characters might die, even if the GM won’t let that happen. The illusion of it, the threat of it, creates the emotional effect that gives the game a lot of its impact and makes it more than just something to do while chatting with friends.
The players have control – but not complete control – and the GM is trusting them to communicate what’s working and what isn’t as the game goes on. It’s a give-and-take that may be equitable in the long-term but is rarely balanced in any immediate moment. Players surrender immediate control but still have some governance over the direction of the activity as a whole, and GMs are on the hook to use that control to give the players what they want – which starts from knowing what that is.
So it should be no surprise that there’s so much overlap between the gaming and BDSM communities, since many of the core principles of the interactions are the same and may scratch the same mental itch. Done well, with good communication, trust and mutual respect, everyone involved is going to enjoy what happens.
Then there’s the mutual use of dungeons, but that’s a topic for another time…