July 30, 2013

How High-Tech Competition Has Helped Tabletop Gaming

Last week there was a nice article extolling the virtues of D&D and rpgs in general. It was titled After 40 years, popularity of tabletop gaming rises despite high-tech competition. It went on to briefly examine the origins of rpgs and looked to answer the question of why tabletop rpgs are still popular (or even rising in popularity) despite the fact that video games are so prevalent. One thing not mentioned in the article, but one I feel is a key factor for tabletop gaming's continued success, is the fact that there is "high-tech competition". High-tech video games have actually helped tabletop gaming rather than hurting them.

Back when D&D first came out it was seen as a game for nerds. You were weird for wanting to live in a fantasy world, even if it was temporary. Fantasy was also seen as this new thing that no one understood. For some people it was too hard to grasp. Times have changed.

Video games have become main-stream. Everyone, at least in most countries, have played or seen a video game played. In some ways, video games have become the new national past-time. It has replaced time spent and investment that people used to spend in sports, book reading and other pursuits. Along the way, video games went from being a thing computer nerds played to something every kid plays.

In many ways, modern day video games are rpgs. There are the obvious games that are rpgs, such as Skyrim or Mass Effect. Then there are the less "obvious" ones such as SimCity, which allow people to pretend to be someone else. Even first person shooters involve some playing of a character, even if its just playing the "guy-with-the-flamethrower". MMOs have expanded this concept into a perpetual world wherein personas are played, bringing the concepts found in tabletop games even more to the forefront.

The concept of pretending to be someone else while playing a game has become main-stream. The high-tech competition has made rpgs popular. No longer is it just nerds that play rpgs. In one way or another, everyone does it. This has made playing tabletop games easier to understand and more socially acceptable. The high-tech competition (video games) that once was feared as the deathnell of tabletop gaming may actually be its greatest aid.

July 23, 2013

Gary Who?

When I first started gaming Gary Gygax was the man. He was the man who started it all (at least as far as bringing rpgs to the public masses) and everyone hung on every utterance he made. His rules supplements were studied, his modules the epitome of how to create adventures and his Dragon articles were considered canon. If he gave an interview it was scrutinized as additional material on "how to play the game". Even second hand hear-say ("I once played with Gary at a convention and he said...") was given credence as words from the wise. But I have to ask...

Is Gary Gygax still relevant to the modern rpg gaming community?

Many of the gamers coming into the rpg hobby have never heard of Gary Gygax. Players no longer come into the hobby through Gary's creation, D&D; many have come into the hobby through other games. They thus base their perceptions and attitudes on what makes a good rpg on the game that brought them into the hobby. Sure, it's likely that the "new game" is based on many of the things Gary once espoused but there have to be inherent differences and divergent game design from D&D, otherwise it would just be D&D. This new generation of gamers either doesn't know who Gary Gygax is, or don't care.

To me, this is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that Gary actually had a lot of really good advice for playing and running role-playing games...

"The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience."

"There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you're involved in, whether it's a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things."

"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."

"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules."

However, it is never a good thing when the viewpoint of one person dictates what is right or wrong. Too often I see comments like "What would Gary say about this?", "What did Gary think about edition X?", "That's not what Gary would do." Too many people have put the words of Gary up on some sort of holy pedestal and any deviation from those words is a form of heresy. This is unhealthy and does no service to the rpg hobby. To focus in on one person's viewpoints of what is right and wrong in something as diverse as rpgs can be detrimental to gaming. There is no one-way of running and playing an rpg. The greatest strength about rpgs is that it is possible to play them in many different ways.

The best-case scenario is that people remember the words of Gary Gygax, but then make up their own minds as to what makes a good game.