I can spot other gamers, but I like to think they can't smell it on me. I'm a casual, intermittent gamer cloaked in good manners, eloquence, and worldliness. I've enjoyed games of many varieties, though I prefer the kind that involve paint, pvc, and bodices. But gaming is only one of the MANY MANY things, both normal and aberrant, that I enjoy doing. Given the option, I'd always choose good conversation and a porch swing or street music and a beer over dice, dungeons maps, and dexterity checks. But variety is my preferred spice, so there's very little I won't try once.
As with most things that vie for my time, I'm picky. Snotty. Elitist. If you want me to stick around for a many-month dice-bag campaign, it had better be a phenomenal game with an engaging story, unique characters, and minimal dice-rolling. Come to think of it, the game is probably my least favorite part: the story and the interaction are what keep me coming back.
So, to the etiquette question: I was standing in line at Kroger, listening to the cashier and the bag-boys throwing gamer insults at each other. I asked which one was the WoW addict and which was the DnD'er. I was enveloped into the banter, but within seconds the DnD guy behind the register asked me what DnD character I'm playing.
Me: "You mean, ever? It depends on the year and the campaign. I've played a lot of different things."
Him: "No, I mean right now. What character are you playing?"
Me (assuming at this point he means what class I'm playing): I'm not in any campaign at present. The last tabletop I ran was a very short-lived Feng Shui game."
[more discussion 3.5 and 4th ed, explaining what Feng Shui is]
Him: "I'd love to play in a game. How often do you play?"
Me: "Not much lately."
[more pointed questions by him and attempts by me to distance the conversation]
Him (handing me paper with his name, number, email, and myspace page): "I'd rather play, but I'll run a game for you. I play with no less than three players, no more than six. I only run in Ravenloft."
Me: Have you tried the gaming group on [Ole Miss] campus? They meet once a week and drum up all sorts of games. I've heard it's a good group.
Him: "No, I haven't heard of that. Remember, Ravenloft only, three min, six max."
Me: "Ok, thanks, I'll tell some of my friends."
The conversation had switched quickly from a fun, casual, "Ping! I'm a gamer, too!" to "Hey, hey, totally come over to my house and game." I don't know why, but I am always a little unnerved by that. It happens a lot, and every time it stops being friendly and starts seeming awkward. Perhaps it was the air of desperation or the subtle hint of dice-jockey-mook that stuck in my nostrils.
Perhaps there is something wrong with me that I am weirded out by someone merely asking about starting a game. If it had been an invitation to a party or a bar or out for coffee, I would have considered going. It would have seemed like someone simply trying to make a new friend. But an invitation to tabletop, even though I DO tabletop, came across as desperate.
I am considerably more comfortable gaming with strangers in a larp setting than I am in a table-top. This is partially because I prefer larping, but I also think it's due to the larger player base of larps. If someone is particularly annoying, there are dozens more people to hang out with. No sole person is responsible for keeping the game interesting. I don't want to table-top with a stranger; it's almost too intimate. A table-top group is so small (and it has to be) that it is imperative that each person is witty, dynamic, and creative. Since there are fewer people, each person has to pull more weight to keep the game entertaining.
So, I think from now on I will keep my discussions with strangers about gaming to a minimum until I've gotten to know them better. I don't want to hang out with someone just because they're a gamer; nor do I want them to hang out with me for that single reason. Maybe if I never say anything about the gaming we have in common, I won't have to sidestep desperate pleas for gaming nights.