Save vs. Illusion (our hobby)June 3, 2008
Watching gamerdom go into the usual frenzies about this week’s upcoming release of D&D 4th Edition is… making my head hurt. As much as I like D&D, and like the design thinking they’ve shared behind 4th edition, I need to break some illusions about D&D, and our hobby.
D&D will never usher in a new renaissance of roleplaying
This isn’t because D&D is a bad game, nor because it’s “hack & slashy”, or that kids these days can’t use their imaginations. D&D will never become the gate it was in the 80’s because it’s out of touch with kids these days.
D&D has fallen out of touch with what kids want, and never developed a strong name brand. While some were hailing Eberron as “innovative”, steampunk and magitech ideas were pretty much standard fare for kids playing videogames in the early 90’s (FF6 anyone?). D&D sits halfway between the uber GRIM of Warhammer and the PRETTY of anime, capturing neither audience really. The sad fact is, the strongest product element to come out of D&D is a character named Drizzt whose appearance is problematic to say the least.
D&D has long since stopped being the way in which kids learn about roleplaying
Sounds insane, doesn’t it? Only if you imagine that roleplaying is limited to rolling dice on a tabletop. Most kids learn about roleplaying, and engage in it, online, via chat, forum games or MMOs. Roleplaying is happening all the time, it just happens to have left D&D behind years ago. The game that figures out how to tap into that market, to produce a set of rules that work in a compelling fashion greater than what can be had by unstructured group consensus (as Vincent pointed out), that’s going to usher in the new wave of roleplaying.
Videogames are a 6 billion dollar industry. There’s a reason for that.
“ZOMG! D&D is becoming a videogame! There’s no room for the imagination anymore!”
Tabletop roleplaying has a strength that videogames can never match- the power of group consensus- if everyone wants the game to work differently, they simply agree on it, and off they go. Much easier than hacking a videogame. Just the same, this advantage has left the tabletop hobby in a bad place in terms of innovation, for the most part, being very slight adjustments to rates of reward/advancement, or odds of success/failure, and little in terms of actual structure of play.
Meanwhile, videogames have nothing but rules. They’ve been doing this 30 years as well, and they’ve looked at tactics, choices, reward cycles, learning curves, player feedback, and a ton of things which, ultimately has made stronger games. And yes, this is more than just better graphics.
To me, it is literally INSANE to think of designing any kind of game these days without looking at videogames (and probably CCGs and boardgames too). Why would you not loot hard earned lessons?
I mean, I’m excited for 4E and would like it to do well. But if people want to ask why tabletop roleplaying stays a marginalized form of gaming, especially since there’s so many more people into games overall than any other time in history?
Imagine if videogames still framed their aspirations and their hobby around Pong, even awesome Plasma Pong? Yeah, exactly.
Gaming is so much bigger.