Is Gaming In Danger?

I wrote a letter to a friend of mine recently which I have decided to excerpt (in a slightly altered form) below. Enjoy.

‘Just saw THAC0, and it was very entertaining. At some point, I encourage you to check out the Midnight movie I told you about (I think it’s still on instant play) as well as the film The Wild Hunt. I cannot say that the latter is a terribly insightful film (I think it has some pretty deep problems, in fact) but it is a very satisfying film as far as mood and visuals go. Very professional looking. I like that in THAC0 they are playing 1e D&D rather than some later variant. BTW, I’m DM’ing the next series of 4e Encounters down at Roll of the Die. I’m pretty excited, all things considered. You asked me a while ago whether I thought that the RPG hobby was in danger of falling by the wayside; your apt metaphor was the model train hobby. I’ll tell you what I really think—I think that we actually have it all backwards. Watching the THAC0 film has led me to believe that perhaps the era in which D&D (and all other RPGs) was in most danger is past.

‘…it seems that the hobby always attracts those who have a mincing, mediocre interest in the experience of the fantastic and an overwhelming interest in tactics and mechanical manipulation. I do not mean players like ----, who is a good and honest player as a Gamist, and perhaps more honest than many Narrativists and Simulationists I’ve played with. I mean that there are always plenty of people who are more willing to embrace gaming as a means to satisfy their egos than their sense of fun with a community. This is what 4e is designed for—how people who don’t know how to play the game can play with people like these. That is why folks like ---- consider it to be a tremendous success, since they are self-aware enough to recognize that there are those that suffer at their hands. But what the OSR really means in the long run, I believe, is that gaming is being taken back by people who embrace experiences rather than rules.

‘But I shall not limit this to the OSR. I feel the stirrings of this elsewhere, a renewed interest in what made other games worth playing in the era before the search for the Grand Unifying System that fractured and defeated us all. Microscope has been mentioned by many, as has Dread and some others. I think that, while the OSR has an expiration date, the spirit of the Revolution will triumph in the end. 3e gave fuel to the fire of people who made this hobby a niche interest—people who are uncomfortable outside of their niche. 4e turned its financial interest to n00bs, the unimaginative, and those who play MMORPGs (not that these things are consonant). In doing so, they alienated older players and presented a conundrum: why do we play the games we play? What do we want from them? Why not take up a system that is more ‘evolved’, more ‘accessible’, or just ‘new’? It was a paradox, actually, with no clear answer. If we wanted ‘balance’ or a ‘user-friendly’ system, this was it. But…we apparently didn’t. The truth was, 4e was not built for us. So we had to find ourselves elsewhere.

‘Please excuse my colloquial use of ‘we’. But I think that this is a more transformative era for us gamers than we realize. It is the period where we set down the fears and attitudes of the past that forced us to account for the malcontent and the miscreant at our gaming table, and decided instead that this was a social game, a game of give and take, where not everyone would be satisfied but all would be welcome. Where we let the dice fall where they may, and let no two games be alike—since we realized finally that they could not be.'

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