This past weekend I spent three days and two nights at a hotel across town playing board games at the local semi-annual gaming convention (not to be confused with gambling, despite Las Vegas' attempts to hijack the word, or with videogaming, which is only a single subset of gaming and one that holds little interest for me). Personally I can't think of many things I find more enjoyable than settling Catan, building railroad lines across Europe, slaying dragons and defeating the Axis.
Is gaming escapist? It can be, I suppose, but it's also a hobby that sharpens the mind and teaches good sportsmanship (to name two qualities that seem to be slowly vanishing from the world). And as I've become a 'regular' at the local cons, I now have a circle of friends (or at least friendly acquaintances) there among the other regulars. People there know me by name and they respect me for my gaming skills. I lose a lot more games than I win, but I can at least give the top players a run for their money more often than not.
For the most part these aren't my close friends (apart from two individuals that I first met in another context), but it nonetheless occurred to me this past weekend that I'd sooner spend any amount of time in a hotel conference room full of diehard gamers than even an hour in your average evangelical church or gay bar (and no, I don't apologize for pairing those two otherwise disparate venues). Not just because gaming is more fun, but because I feel more at home - and less judged - there.
Most people at a gaming convention don't care about your politics or your sexual orientation, and it certainly doesn't matter whether you've got washboard abs and a pretty face. For that matter, it isn't all that important how good a player you are, as long as you're reasonably well-behaved and willing to play the game. And at a gaming convention the game playing is straightforward, the rules apply equally to everyone and the losers get a warm welcome if they come back for the next round. If your average church was that humble and friendly, people would be beating down the doors to get in.
Even so, I don't want to overgeneralize; not all Christians are shiny happy hypocrites, and not all gay men are shallow and image-conscious. Not by a long shot. Likewise, gamers are just as flawed and fallible as everyone else and no more or less human; I've met a few along the way that I'd just as soon permanently avoid. Yet there's something about the sense of fair play that a person has to have to enjoy the hobby that makes gamers, on the whole, a group I'm not embarrassed to associate myself with, despite the 'geek' stigma that still sometimes clings to it.
At the end of the day I'm still a Christian, I'm still gay and I'm not going to dissociate myself from either of those widely diverse groups. Heck, if I could find a local group of gay Christian gamers, I'd jump right in. But I have to wonder how much I'd be harming my own growth by hiding behind all of those labels. Conformity is comfortable, but it only takes you so far in real life.
Hmm, I think I've just mixed together several partially-developed points, and I'm not quite sure where to take them from here, but hopefully they're not muddled beyond recognition.