Explaining roleplaying games

A little while ago I wrote about defending my LEGO hobby, and how hard it is to explain to others that you collect something that most people consider to be a child’s toy. This past week, however, I was reminded of something that’s even harder to explain to non-geeks: roleplaying.

LEGO does have the advantage, in that just about everyone knows what it is. I’ve yet to come across someone who has never actually heard of LEGO. Sure, most of them don’t understand why anyone would collect it, but they at least have a point of reference in their minds.

Pen-and-paper roleplaying, on the other hand, is something that very few people are familiar with. While video games, comic books and other geeky interests have become fairly well-known in recent years – thanks to TV shows like Big Bang Theory – roleplaying has not. Even Big Bang Theory only features Dungeons and Dragons in a single episode in their first 5 seasons.

I’ll admit, it’s a bit of weird thing to discuss in public: talking about demons and magic and combat in a random queue is bound to get a few odd looks at the very least. But I’ve found it difficult to explain to non-geeks as there’s nothing to really compare it to. Even explaining roleplaying video games is tough when you have no frame of reference whatsoever.

I always give the explanations a try when people do ask. You never know when that person may be genuinely interested or might even want to give roleplaying a try. But generally the response is confusion; clearly I’m not explaining it well enough.

I’d love to hear how you explain roleplaying to others, or even your thoughts on why it’s still a strange and obscure thing to many people.

3 thoughts on “Explaining roleplaying games

  • May 20, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I think this comes heavily down to by-who/to-who the explanation is delivered. Personally I like to steer away from the more technical aspects and instead emphasize that it is a social game played with friends, where fun and the ability to rewrite Lord of the Rings are in the forefront. The roleplaying aspect is only really mentioned in that players play a character and interact with a world presented by a game master.

    • May 20, 2015 at 10:58 am

      That is pretty much how I try to describe it, but I must admit I often still get that baffled/’are you an alien?’ look from people 🙁

      • May 20, 2015 at 4:02 pm

        I think this is a manageable problem. Back when I was in school I had to submit my Das Schwarze Auge (German roleplaying game) books to our one teacher as she wanted to examine them for satanism (a remnant of the 80s D&D satan scare). She kinda took the old scare reports at face value, but fortunately was rationale and upon reading the DSA rules realized that they are completely safe.


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