On Gamers, Gambling, and Spectator Sports

by Darius Kazemi on June 25, 2006

in Uncategorized

So, yesterday I attended a gaming night. It was about a dozen people, only three of whom I knew pretty well. The rest were friends-of-friends. Everyone was a hardcore gamer geek.

At one point in the night, one of the guests started complaining about her coworkers.

“Oh, my coworkers are all so stupid. They talk about the Red Sox all the time, and they’re constantly gambling! If there isn’t a sports event for them to bet on, they’ll make something up and bet on that instead.”

I hate this kind of attitude, and I hear it all the time from gamers. Let me get this straight. You think your coworkers are dumb for two reasons.

Talking About Sports

First, like many people in Massachusetts, they talk all the time about the Red Sox, a Major League baseball team. You disapprove of their behavior because they talk about a game all the time. Waaaaaiiiit just a minute. You, Joe Q. Gamer, talk about games all the time, too!

But wait! Some of you gamers might claim that it’s different, because they don’t play a Red Sox game, they watch a Red Sox game. They’re talking about a game they aren’t even playing, whereas gamers discuss games that they actually interact with. Fair enough–except for one thing. Gamers will talk about games that aren’t even released yet, at length. We haven’t actually played these games. We are mere spectators to their development. I reject the notion that talking about a spectator sport is dumber than the kind of banter you commonly see between gamers.

Prejudice Against Gambling

Then we come to the second argument: the disapproval of gambling. Gambling is just another form of play. Allow me to bust out some words from the play scholar Brian Sutton-Smith, from his excellent book The Ambiguity of Play. He breaks up play into seven rhetorics (forms of expression, you could say), one of which is play as fate.

The rhetoric of play as fate [...] is usually applied to gambling and games of chance[.] It is probably the oldest of all the rhetorics, resting as it does on the belief that human lives and play are controlled by destiny, by the gods, by atoms or neurons, or by luck, but very little by ourselves [...] It contrasts most strongly also with those modern theories of leisure that argue that the distinguishing feature of play is that it is an exercise of free choice.

Gambling is often disparaged as a primitive form of play, particularly by the modern gamer. Building off of Sutton-Smith’s words, I would argue that it is old, and that it is essential.

Some gamers disparage gamblers as wasting their money. I see this as flawed in several ways. Gamblers surrender their money to fate: that is their chosen form of play. Gamers surrender their money to other forms of play. Gamers might claim that they’re getting more for their money, that the person throwing $50 into a World Cup pool at work is an idiot. Yet video games require quite a time investment.

Let do some math.

Jane spends $50 a week on a new video game, and spends 12 hours each week completing that new game. And let’s say she has tons of fun playing each game–I’ll make up a unit of fun, just to make the math easier: she experiences 1000 Kosters per hour of fun. I will ignore extra costs, like Xbox Live subscriptions or cheese snacks.

Joe spends $50 a week betting on a sports event, and spends 3 hours each week watching that sports event. And let’s say (for the sake of argument) that he has just as much fun as Jane does, clocking in at 1000 Kosters per hour. I will ignore extra costs, like beer or cheese snacks.

Jane, in 1 week: $50 / (12 hr * 1000 Koster/hr) = $0.004 per Koster.
Joe, in 1 week: $50 / (3 hr * 1000 Koster/hr) = $0.016 per Koster.

It may seem as though Jane wins. She experienced 4 times as many Kosters as Joe, and paid less money per Koster. Except for one thing: Joe now has 9 hours of his week free. To like, go outside and ride a bike. Or whatever.

I’m not saying that Joe wins in this case. I’m saying that neither party is dumb. It all depends on what your personal needs are. If you can’t allot 12 hours a week to gaming, then maybe betting on a baseball game gives you a decent return on your investment, in terms of fun.

A great gamer can play decently well in any FPS, RTS, tabletop RPG, CRPG, MMO, wargame, and so on. In other words, a really dedicated gamer is someone who is literate in many forms of play. So, gamer geeks, if you wish to be true to yourselves, you should embrace gambling as just another form of what you love most: play.

(I also want to make clear that I’m not defending gamblers with an addiction, who spend thousands of dollars a week, or more, on their habit. That sucks, and people like that need help from some place like the National Council on Problem Gambling.)

Sports Fans and Gamer Geeks

While I’m on this subject, I want to point out that sports fans and gamer geeks aren’t that different. To me, there is very little difference between a girl who knows the batting average of every player on the New York Mets and a guy who knows the spell resistance of every Kobold in D&D. Sports fans and gamer geeks like to talk about games incessantly. Gamer geeks enjoy playing their games, but many also love to watch others play (rhythm games and fighting games come to mind). And many hardcore sports fans seek out ways to “play along” with their beloved teams: some gamble, while others participate in the INCREDIBLY geeky pastime of fantasy leagues.

You’re not that different! Stop disparaging one another!!


solipsistnation June 25, 2006 at 10:48 pm

There are more sports fans than video game enthusiasts, and they are typically the people who beat up the video game enthusiasts in grade school.

Thus, sports fans suck while video game enthusiasts are cool, and I deeply resent your insinuation that deep down inside we are all the same big family with the same interests because we are cool and they suck.

Also it is somehow acceptable to talk very loudly about how cool the frickin’ Red Sox are at work all the time, while it is somehow less acceptable to talk about how great, for example, Half-Life 2 is and how cool Episode 1 was and how cool Episode 2 will be in a million years when it’s finally released. Why? Because the sports fans are used to talking more loudly (they have to shout in their sports arenas, while we have the gain on our headsets turned up so we can mutter and be audible) and do so at work all the time while the video game enthusiasts lurk about feeling justifiably superior.

The point here is that there’s a deeper psychological divide than the simple sports vs. computer games dichotomy would seem to imply.

I guess it’s good that video games are plowing headlong toward the mainstream. Maybe one day it’ll be people complaining about how those damn WoW5 players always talk about their raids at work all the time, but nobody cares about how I just passed the Test of Acrobatics in ATITD7. Jerks!

Craig Perko June 26, 2006 at 9:10 pm

While I agree with you, Darius, your “efficiency” counterexample is really flawed. You’ve basically stated that we should be happy to pay more for fewer hours of fun, because it leaves time free.

Ehhh? Why not play the game 3 hours a week? Or buy a cheaper game that only lasts 3 hours? That would be the same amount of time spent, but still a more efficient money expenditure…

I have nothing against people enjoying their sports, but flawed statistics? Nobody seems to enjoy those but me.

Ian Schreiber June 29, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Wonderful post on another blog entitled, “My passion is awesome, your passion is lame.”

It goes into the human tendency to disparage other people’s hobbies while seeing one’s own as being perfectly fine. It’s a more general case of the instance you’ve observed here.


Oh, and gamers will always have a grudge towards gamblers because they insist on calling their hobby “gaming” ;-)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: