Friday, February 18, 2011

Opinion, Fact, and RPGs: Part 2

You can read the first part of this series here. To continue:

Why am I “concerned” enough about some people’s apparent inability to discern the difference between opinion and fact? So concerned that I felt the urge to write this two-part post? Well, first of all, I think there’s a potential irony here. Meaning, the harsh critics of the RPG realm may actually contribute to the “downfall” of the hobby that they often seem to predict. The critics may not see that they themselves—not some huge impersonal publisher or a bunch of old grognards—are more of a detriment than a force for positive change. Instead of helping to foster efforts to keep the hobby of roleplaying diverse and dynamic, their insistence on merely criticizing may lead to the stagnation they claim to see happening all around them. Put simply: self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not saying one can’t feel passionately about one’s hobby. But just be aware of yourself. Does your passion have to manifest itself in negativity? Why can’t it be the impetus behind something more constructive?

I’ve read many “kerfuffles” (I despise that word, BTW) in the gaming blogosphere in the past year and they all made me wonder, “Why don’t people put this energy into actual gaming? Why don’t they turn this energy toward creating “better” gaming materials, for instance? Why can’t they try to be a part of the solution?” We need to stop wasting time trading barbs in an imaginary place (the Internet) about a hobby that is based in the imagination.

Here’s some thoughts for Malcolm Sheppard: Stop simply throwing “controversy bombs” out into the ether in order to attract attention. Using inflammatory language to get a visceral response instantly polarizes your readers. It undermines what you are trying to do: persuade people to consider your ideas. Some who agree will flock to your side, but you run the risk of instantly alienating others. And is that what you really want? If you want to truly be persuasive, then avoid being outrageous…avoid grandstanding. And understand that, no matter how well you research and how well you write, there are those that will never agree with you. And that’s ok!

I think Mr. Sheppard and Leo Grin would do better to make less attacks. They make themselves irrelevant and, worse, unheard due to their vitriol. They need to resist that urge within all human beings to preach to the masses. We seem to tend toward trying to gain footholds in the thoughts of others. Both Sheppard and Grin would be better served by trying harder to come up with solutions, rather than attacking and—as it seems to me—waiting for others to do the hard work of bringing about the creative change that the authors seem to crave.
At one point in his rant, Mr. Sheppard uses the phrase “Do better.” I think he needs to take his own advice.

I’ve read blogs that complained that the mainstream RPG industry, which includes powerful publishers like Wizards of the Coast, is a monstrous and evil entity. Others attack the old school renaissance for its supposed curmudgeonly members who are often seen (mostly erroneously) as resistant to change, victims of “negative” nostalgia.

Then there are the incessant Dungeons & Dragons “edition wars.” Look, is D&D 4th edition like the older versions? No. But does that really mean that it’s “not D&D,” as so many (including this guy, starting at 2:40) have claimed? No. Sorry guys, but it has the official name. Call it the victim of a corporate conspiracy or whatever, but 4th edition is now the “public face” of the game. But that’s just WotC’s vision of the game. Good old OD&D exists wherever gamers are playing it. And no matter what “evil” things WotC has done the D&D brand, the true game will still exist in spirit in the place it should exist: in gamers themselves.

Look, right now I’m playing Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. But when people ask me what I’m playing, I say “Dungeons and Dragons.” I made some home-made DM screens, and on the front I put images of the old iconic Red Box Basic set cover. Because, in spirit, that’s what I’m playing. No game company or ranting blogger can change that.

Maybe we all need to realize that the entire RPG industry could be utterly wiped from the face of the earth by some supernatural force, but people would still, somehow, be able to roleplay! They wouldn’t need all the stuff that’s ever been published to do so. Just the power of imagination!

I would argue that if someone depends on the creativity of others (i.e. game publishers) to give them a roleplaying experience that is unique and original and brand-spanking-new, then that someone needs to get a new hobby. Because part of the genesis of roleplaying stems from collective storytelling. And when you get a group of people together to tell stories, more often than not something unique happens.

I would also argue that there is a majority of players and gamemasters out there that would say “what are you talking about?” or “who cares?” or “no kidding!” if someone came to them saying “dude, the big corporate monster/little self-publisher guy lacks creativity and is putting out rehashed stuff! BEWARE!” Because this majority does not depend on the creative (or non-creative) whims of some distant producer of products. Most gamers are a resourceful lot. They are, if nothing else, some of the most creative people you may ever chance to meet.

And regarding any supposed downward trend in the hobby that many believe exists, I would also argue that roleplayers would make the perfect fertile ground for a “grass roots” effort to keep the game alive where it should be: in the “trenches,” in actual play sessions all over the world.

It’s all about personal preference, people! Look, I don’t know what version of D&D is being referred to when someone says “Moldvay” or “Mentzer.” And I don’t have to know in order to enjoy the game. And I don’t fault the guys or girls who enjoy that level of detail. That’s how they enjoy the game. And I would expect mutual respect.

There are a lot of gamers out there, folks. If we just used the Internet, and specifically the blogosphere, to unite with each other rather than take pot shots at each other, we can ensure the continued life of the hobby. We shouldn’t be hoping and praying for some company to keep it alive.

We gamers, especially the older generation that grew up on the earlier D&D editions, don’t have to be the stereotypical grognards who just complain that the kids these days don’t know “real” D&D. What is real? Reality is subjective, but that’s so easy to forget.

Instead of being an anti-social old gamer, introduce younger gamers to the older editions. Don’t alienate yourself and the older editions by being standoffish, and don’t make the older editions some arcane thing to be hoarded and kept out of sight.

Speaking of new gamers, those just coming to the hobby might benefit from the dreaded “rehashing” of old roleplaying tropes. Maybe they’re the ones to which all the same old stuff is being marketed, since to THEM it’s not “the same old stuff.” It’s new stuff! They might benefit from being exposed to the good old classic dungeon crawl where there’s just a dragon waiting below, crouching greedily over its treasure hoard. That may be boring to RPG veterans, but to someone like the child of a gamer who is being introduced to RPGs by their parent, they’re experiencing that for the first time. And the parent may take some joy in seeing a child experience that wonder at something so simple and classic.

I’d also like to add in a reality check by reminding one and all that WE ARE ALL TALKING ABOUT A HOBBY! A GAME! Arguing over RPGs makes outsiders to the hobby think of us as not just the regular nerds they took us for, but UBER-NERDS! My wife is unfortunately one of those people, because I tried to tell her about this whole “O vs. F” thing, and she wondered out loud why adults were arguing over what she basically considers a game of pretend. But consider that maybe those people who think of us as supergeeks are right in this instance. So please, everyone, let’s all try not to be the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons! ;-)

It’s okay to have vigorous debate about a game. But when debate crosses over into dogma, well, it’s just not fun anymore. And isn’t that the point of our hobby?

Play and let play!

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to any comments you may have!

Postscript: I think I need to write a standard reply to posts that seem to confuse opinion and fact and/or posts that make me think the author should do something positive for gaming. Then I can use it when I comment on such posts, instead of rewriting my thoughts from scratch all the time.

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