Too often we use our hobbies as an excuse to exclude others. If someone can’t speak “leet” or doesn’t know the batting order of the most recent World Series champions, we consider them unworthy. Everyone needs to feel important, but using hobbies to exclude others leaves us unhappy in the long run. No two hobbies better illustrate this than gaming and sports. The similarities between the two interests are staggering, and yet fans of one will often exclude fans of the other.

Retelling the stories of past experiences, complete with sound effects and swooping hands, is an exciting and powerful part of both hobbies. Reliving those moments with someone else not only allows you to enjoy the emotions of the moment but to form bonds connected to the memory. I remember acting out previous missions from Falcon 4.0 with my GM just as fondly as I remember sharing the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series victory with a neighbor.

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Very few of us can be barbarian warriors or all-star power forwards – I personally want to be an all-star barbarian power forward warrior – but we can all enjoy being a part of something. Gaming and sports engage the mind and imagination and allow us to partake in a communal experience, whether it’s through your guild membership or the logo on your shirt.

Part of what gamers enjoy is the rule sets and statistics inherent in gaming systems. Gamers often invest huge amounts of time to learn the minutiae of the games they enjoy. I’ve read rulebooks of games I have no intention of playing and then argued their merits with others. This is similar to the sports fans that learn the rules and trivia for their favorites, like the precise batting order of World Series teams.

With so many things in common, why is it so hard for gamers and sports fans to be friends? I suspect it’s rooted in our childhood. When we’re young, we tend to gravitate toward people with similar interests and don’t develop the skills to interact with people different than us until we get older. So we evolve into primitive groups, like “geeks” and “jocks.” For a lot of us, the groups we join at an early age are so rigidly defined we tend to conform to them even when we’re older, and the stereotypes we form about other groups when we’re young often stick around.

But that’s just defining the problem. Let’s instead talk about how we can solve it. I was a scrawny kid, but I liked team sports and played several of them. I was the slowest kid on my soccer team. I tried out for the neighborhood basketball team and, while I was applauded for my enthusiasm, didn’t make the cut because I was uncoordinated and couldn’t make baskets. The little league baseball team I played on for three years gave me the “Best Sportsmanship” award each year, which translates to the “Worst Player that Plays Anyway” award. The mix of self-pity and rejection pushed me firmly into the geek group in my school,and I was proud of that membership. I spent lunches in libraries playing games and reading. We put down the jocks, just as they made fun of us. For years, I only remained friends with a select group of other geeks.

As an adult, I held onto the base assumptions I had made about myself and didn’t expand much beyond my high school gaming and sci-fi hobbies. I never even noticed the limitations I had placed on myself. Then, one day I realized I had no friends in my neighborhood and wondered why. After some soul searching, I recognized I had given up a part of myself as a kid. It’s silly to conform to a stereotype based on a fear of rejection.

I accepted that I still liked team sports and began to watch and participate again. I joined a recreational softball team. And, if they gave awards, I probably would have won “Best Sportsmanship” again. I loved playing, but I was still awful. But this time it didn’t matter, because I could see that we all liked the same things about the sport, regardless of our individual abilities. As I continued to play ball and enjoy other sports, I found I satisfied the same needs I did when I played games.

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Now, I’m a happier person. I have geek friends, and I have athletic friends, and I enjoy being with each group. I’ve even found places where these groups’ interests overlap, and they’re all making friends now. I enjoy meeting people more than I had before because I’m more likely to find common ground.

Not only that but, I’ve found my new outlook has affected my friends. My gamer sweetheart now asks for updates on the Jazz when they play, even in the middle of tabletop games. I share sports scores with gamer friends and recent gaming experiences with sporty friends. My children are learning to have fun at sporting events and at gaming nights. I have built a bridge between both lifestyles, and I am a better person for it. I may never realize my dream of being that barbarian all-star power forward, but by accepting both my competing interests, I’ve made more friends, and had a lot more fun.

Recently married to his game group sweetheart, Bryan can be found participating in games of all sorts, cheering for the “wrong” team in his hometown, cooking up a storm, or playing with his two boys.

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