The Game Age — Getting Older, Wiser?

So, this post was going to be about how I took a break from my blog because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with it and trying to figure out the direction for the future. I’ve realized that I don’t enjoy writing about “The Industry” or “How to Make a Better Game” or “The Nine Varieties of Dungeon Masters.” I don’t want to offend anyone who does like writing that — or those who enjoy reading such material — more power to you, but it’s not for me.

I have a special aversion though to writing/ruminating about “The Industry.” I think for the same reason that I have a special aversion to philosophy. We all know about opinions and what they’re like — and the Web has plenty of both. More importantly, today, I came across this post over at The Red Box Blog and I realized (at least in part) why I don’t enjoy this kind of thing…*

The Industry, (and I’m including all those wacky Indie Kids in this as well) has become self-conscious.

Not Self-Aware

Self-Conscious. In a bad way.

I’m just stating my opinion here (and we know how I feel about that) but every time I see one of these things, or read some of the more indy-games, or get drawn into reading Mike Mearls’ blog, or have to discuss an edition war issue, or a million other annoying things, I just have this creeping feeling that we are all staring into the abyss wondering what’s staring back.

We have websites dedicated to “naming” everything in our little niche. Why do we need to codify everything? To what purpose? We have long-winded conversations about old school or indy, FATE or 4E, balance and structure or sandbox and sandblast, and that’s all fine and dandy, but I keep asking myself why? And what I keep coming back to is the idea that we, as a community, have become excessively aware of ourselves, not only of our “image” but also of our goals, desires, and importance. Part of this is inevitable. Gaming has to grow (and “grow up”) like any other culture, but, for me it’s become increasingly difficult to see that growth in a positive light.

I think this is where Edition Wars come from — the idea that we have some way of ‘objectively’ stating that one game or another is really better. I mean, yes, Edition wars also come from twelve-year olds (or those with a similar level of maturity) who argue on message boards, but… then, we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t on the Internet… myself (definitely) included.

(As an aside, my personal opinion is that the forum/boards communities are at the very heart of what’s wrong with gaming. I learned to hate 3.5 D&D — a game I once enjoyed — because I spent too long on the D&D forums. I’ve never met a forum community that didn’t eventually fall to the weight of entropy in posting. But that is a rant for another time.)

I think this is where the need to “justify” our gaming comes from. We all have this worry that we need to make gaming acceptable, or cool. So games need to be sleek, or fancy, or indy in some way. Games should just be games. I mean, maybe I’m crazy — I could be — but I’ve just been more and more frustrated with the sheer amount of words spilled on meta subjects involving gaming. Who really cares if your game is balanced, or if you play Labyrinth Lord, or 4E, or Talislanta? You should — and your group should — and beyond that, so what?

When I think about Old School, what hurts me is not that we aren’t all playing a retro-clone, but that games were just games. Games came out, games disappeared, games didn’t have to justify themselves in some way, if people liked them, they played them. I also recognize, even as I say this, that I could go back and rummage through my collection of 1980s Dragon Magazines and see the old equivalent of the same things I’m deriding in the “Forum” but I liken that to the Board problem. Ultimately though, gate-keeping behavior is exclusive behavior, no matter what you play.

RPGs need players, not pundits. RPGs need GMs, not professors.

I kinda feel like I do every time my girlfriend watches the Food Network or my friends talk about bands… Iron Chef is not reality. And I don’t care about how “scene kids” feel about Coheed and Cambria. I’m really not interested in seeing gamers become the equivalent of TV Foodies. The thought scares me.

So, what do you think? Am I crazy? Do you, readers, enjoy a lot of “Meta” talk when it comes to gaming or is all that just a thought exercise that doesn’t really impact your table?

As always, Thanks for Reading.

*Please note that I am not (NOT) calling out Red Box Blog or saying the writers there are somehow wrong or bad. That post just happened to be the one that finally solidified my resolve to write about this feeling I’ve been having. That’s all. I mean, it was a well-written and interesting post. Just, not for me.


8 responses

  1. Mike, I think the key word is “industry.” Like it or not, a major component of gaming is being able to sustain itself with money. Therefore it must justify its own existence and importance enough in the gaming community to be supported monetarily.

    In the food analogy, it’s one thing to be a connoisseur who enjoys great food and the artistry of cooking. It’s another to run a restaurant and justify your existence, brand and uniqueness when setting up your business next to a college campus.

    The meta talk is similar to talking about the menu and ingredients and personalities involved in the restaurant business and who’s doing well, who stands to become the next popular franchise, etc.

    It’s a much different focus in conversation than, “So what do you want to have for dinner tonight?”

  2. Well perhaps using the industry term was too restrictive. I’m really talking about the whole community — including the folks putting out free RPGs. Not just businesses.

    And the meta talk I mean is not comparable to “who’s the next popular franchise,” the meta talk I mean is stuff along the lines of the Story Gamers forum, or the in the food analogy, objectively (eh) discussing whether one type of spice is better than another (in every instance).

    But I have little patience for people discussing the “artistry” of food either… so maybe I am the crazy one… but then again, I guess my point isn’t the “artistry.” I mean, I appreciate a well-done mechanic as much as a well-made meal. The problem for me is the obsessive categorizing and codifying and justification. That’s not really a problem most foodies seem to have. After all, being a foody is cool already, right?

    1. Well, considering the target demographic, how many gamers are very introspective and awkwardly self aware especially in a public forum where they display their heart and soul? 🙂 Gotta give some of these folks some credit.

  3. While I applaud your intent, and I think you’re right to call out the community on some of its meta habits, I think you’re battling human nature. We divide the world into “us and them” by habit and instinct. Social maturity comes about when you’re able to get past that instinct and hear what “they” are saying.

    I like to read blogs about other players sessions and experiences. It opens my mind to other gaming options, or allows me to connect with like-minded gamers.

  4. […] Oh My! Posted on March 9, 2011 by The Red DM Morrisonmp over at The Rhetorical Gamer made a post yesterday somewhat inspired by my post on creating a more marketable rpg. Morrisonmp wrote about […]

  5. I think you’re dead on. Very well put.

    “RPGs need players, not pundits. RPGs need GMs, not professors.”

    That sums it up well.

  6. @anarkeith
    No, you’re right. It’s human nature, and I myself break my own rule sometimes. Who doesn’t indulge in little light hypocrisy from time to time… But occasionally the frustration just builds to the point where I find myself up on my soapbox — exactly where I don’t want to be.

    @Dungeoneering Dad
    Yeah, I should have just written that. That would have been better than all my other words and I could have quit there. And that part I completely stand by.

  7. cauldronofevil | Reply

    Unfortunately the origional post is gone.

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