For today’s Ask the Dungeon Master we discuss the psychological peculiarities of geeks:
Is hoarding a secret problem amongst role playing folk? Also, when do you have enough dice, figurines, books, cards, etc?
When I first discovered roleplaying games I was already a complete geek, though I never would have called myself one. I loved star wars, comic books and my NES, and I had bootleg copies of Akira and Vampire Hunter D on VHS when people still called it japanimation. There is a stereotype that exists, which portrays geeks as rather obsessive people. Stereotypes, of course, are usually rooted in some kind of reality. As geeks, we can’t just read one comic book. We can’t just buy that one sweet, new action figure. There is a love too deep within us, which cannot be contained, and must be expressed through obsessive collecting.
I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it a secret problem, as most geeks I know are proud of their monumental collections. I don’t even know that I would call it hoarding, though certain psychologists might disagree. Collecting can certainly border on hoarding, but there is a rhyme and reason to it that doesn’t seem to exist among the crazies they find for reality TV. Geek collections are pristine and virginal, not dust covered and smeared with cat feces.
Crazy Hoarding: Note the lack of organization, and the complete absence of anything that’s awesome.
Admittedly, there is an obsessive-compulsive quality among geeks that they certainly share with their hoarder cousins. There is an impulsiveness involved in collecting. An uncontrollable urge, as Devo once said. You need to own it. Which begs the question you put forth: when is enough, enough?
For most geek collectors, I don’t think there really is such a thing as enough. There’s always some obscure toy, or card, or book that you still need to find. You can almost always top your crowning achievement. There’s higher and further to go, no matter where you’re at. But why? What’s it all about? Why is collecting even a part of geek culture to begin with?
All cultures have their traditions and their customs. Although we have clearly reclaimed the word geek, just like so many minorities before us, it was initially a derogatory term. After geeks were circus performers, but before they were cool, geeks were just a bunch of awkward people without any social skills. If you are the source of ridicule it’s easy to shy away from human contact. It’s easy to find solace in other worlds, stories and games. When I began roleplaying it was a welcomed escape from life. Anything was better than real people.
In the most extreme cases, if a person truly cuts him or herself off from others, they still need something to tether them to existence. The people in movies, books and games, can in a lot of ways, replace actual people. They become the other humans that surround you and keep you company. You feel like you know and understand them. You share in their joys and sorrows, you’re with them during their triumphs and their falls; they become an extended family of sorts.
Of course like any good friend, you want to know them better. You want to learn all you can about them. You don’t just want to read that one book and forget about them. You want to continue their story. This naturally translates into other forms as well (i.e. action figures, t-shirts, posters, etc.), because those are all little pieces of your new friends.
Additionally, there’s a component of competition. We all like to be good at something, and for some people, it’s being good at collecting. You’re competing with yourself, to show how dedicated you are, and you’re competing with other collectors to show everyone how much better you are. Even anti-social geeks have peers, and we all like to be recognized by our peers.
When you feel like the world rejects you, it doesn’t mean (for most of us) that we forsake existence and want to be left alone to brood in the corner. Instead, you seek out a new world; one that accepts you, one that’s full of more interesting people, more honorable people – people without the petty insecurities and judgments of our world. We find it in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons and Star Trek, X-men and Firefly; and when we find it, we want to immerse ourselves in it and make it as big a part of us as we can.
Some people might call it unhealthy, and it certainly can be, but when all is said and done, I still prefer Bilbo and Obi-Wan to most of the people I’ve ever met in this world. I might not ever be able to meet them, but I can still surround myself with stuff and pretend, and in the end, isn’t that really what everyone else is doing anyway? We all buy stuff because we think it makes us happier. Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn’t, but geek or yuppie, hippie or republican, we all pretend from time to time. Some of us are just better at it, and we play Dungeons & Dragons.
Only Slightly Crazy,
The Dungeon Master
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