I’m sitting in a café with four of my closest male friends. I roll a pair of dice and declare loudly that I’m seducing my mustachioed compatriot. No one at the table bats an eye. It’s weird; I’ve never really been close to other men and this may be the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with them. Actually, this may be the first time in my adult life I’ve had a close group of male friends.
Maybe that’s because I don’t like talking about sports or drinking beer. It’s weird to write that; the beer-sports-thing seems like one of those stereotypes about men I think is bullshit. But then I wind up at a party where some guy hands me a Budweiser and asks me about a starting quarterback for the Lakers. Those are the kinds of situations that make me so uncomfortable I sink into the crack of the sofa hoping that I will be sucked between the cushions into a dimension where men do other things besides drink and watch TV together.
But it’s true. Men do watch a lot of TV, about three hours a day on average. It’s the number one pastime in the U.S. Maybe it’s because men, especially my age, tend to be married, and are expected to budget their already limited time off with family. TV is at home and it’s passive, so you can do things like watch a game while taking care of your kids. Men also tend to play sports and exercise, but on average its way less than TV: just 19 minutes a day. Maybe its indicative that Americans call the time they relax in, “Sports and Leisure.” Watching sports probably goes beyond convenient and more is more of male cultural identity. They’re also activities that men can do while being part of their family or with other men, and beyond that there aren’t many activities that fit those criteria.
Some of us men do come together to do something besides sports. But we’re far from the average in terms of activities though. To an outsider it probably would seem pretty odd. Four or five men sitting around a table, mysterious polyhedral dice, books of lore and strange pieces of paper with cryptic numbers and crude maps scribed on them.
We loudly talk about weird things in coded language. We joke about the lives of fictional characters we personally have created. It’s an adult game of pretend. If you think that sounds a little immature, you’re wrong. These aren’t the men that never grew up; they’re men with careers, families, ambitions and full lives. What’s amazing to me is how intimate the pretending can be despite our natural tendency to act like… well… men.
I’d say that we’re difficult creatures; we challenge each other about everything, we cover our mistakes with bravado and machismo and point out each other’s faults. I think that’s healthy and necessary. It’s part of having higher levels of one hormone than the other.And for someone who has never been athletic and stand-offish about other men it’s nice to have a place where if some shit comes up during a game we resolve the conflict there. Our friendships extend outside our gaming too and we build community and communicate about our lives.
Some of us roll some dice and have sex with another player’s character and that’s not weird, it’s male intimacy and expression. The same way we pretended to play Star Wars with our friends when we were young. It’s helping us understand and teaching us that other men aren’t only our rivals despite our natural tendencies to view this kind of communication as something immature or unmasculine.