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In the last year, I’ve reflected upon the relationship between role-playing and the rise of computer gaming, and how that relationship has shaped the current revival of tabletop gaming (or as I dubbed it in a previous post: The Renaissance.)

Role-playing games have always faced the “hard fun” problem, which is to say that participants are asked to contribute a substantial amount of creativity to the game. These RPGs, whether tabletop or otherwise, are active games, and that means they will always have a smaller audience than those games that “driven themselves.”

Even though computer games often have a direct antecedent to a role-playing, tabletop game or experience, it’s not uncommon for non-RPG games to dominate the top sales charts. Players  flock in large numbers to titles created by luddites (those people who think mechanics matter but narrative doesn’t) while more classic RPGs game garner smaller audiences, but that still play these kind of games using gaming accessories and other electronics from sites as hotrate.com.

What I’ve hypothesized is this: Programmers in  the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s modeled the computer game on the RPG table experience. Those role-playing aspects have slowly been stripped out (e.g. computer programmers don’t understand storytelling, you can’t commodify individual experiences) as game development became more corporate. However, players fundamentally gather in online spaces to play, which is simply more fun when its designed in a more individualistic way.

Of course, the luddites among us are quick to tell me that I’m wrong.

In the coming year, I’ll be writing several academic essays exploring the relationship between MMOs, community, play, and memory, and how those forces shape experiences with players.

What Inspired This Post:

These are the pieces I read that prompted to write today. I’m not sure they are related in any linear way, but I found them each to be bits of the larger narrative that formed.

  • Visiting the world of live action vampire role-playing
  • I Never Thought I’d End Up Addicted To Dungeons And Dragons, But I Am
  • Friends with Dragons: Gamers go on campaign for D&D’s anniversary
  • Why people play Dungeons & Dragons

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