Game Over

Well, it’s a weird title but I needed something that would connect to video gaming. I wrote last Friday about the amazing experience of seeing the National Symphony Orchestra perform the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. And I was struck by something. I can never – really – be a part of this. There are experiences in this crowd that – a strange kind of shared experiences – that I will never be a part of.

I’ve written before about one of the aspects which draws me to table-top gaming is that pen-and-paper, traditional roleplaying games “age” better than video games. The graphics are in our imagination, and even if we play will tablets and laptops at the game table now, we still have the experience of sharing a game, with friends, using rules that might have been written last week or thirty years ago and it really doesn’t make a difference. I mean, I love Battletech, and it’s more than 25 years old at this point but it’s fundamentally the same game it’s been since I started playing in the early 90s.

But I was really struck by this during the concert. They were displaying all these scenes from the game to accompany the music and I was surprised by how much it bothered me that, you know, some of those games are the same age as Battletech but I couldn’t even play them now if I wanted to. Technology marches on – consoles get replace, and games you used to be able to play just can’t be played anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s changing in some cases — I actually love playing Streets of Rage on my PS3 – but when I think about the shared experience of Zelda, or Halo, or the recent media/fan reaction to the end of the Mass Effect storyline… I’m sad because those games, those experiences are very beholden to time and place — in a way that tabletop RPGs are not.

And this reminded me of something I read once (and no, I can’t really source this because I can’t remember where I read it) that really made sense to me — that the original series of modules for D&D/AD&D were such a wonderful thing because they created a sense of “oh yeah, Ghost Tower of Inverness – we did that,” “Slavers, yep,” “Ah, Isle of Dread.” You know, players and GMs could compare notes, share the experience of being a part of those adventures when they got together.

But those old adventures are gone too. WotC is sitting on them. Like classic children’s movies stuck in the Disney Vault, those old adventures only see the light of day in updated and changed modern versions… “Return to…” It’s not the same. I’d give a lot to see WotC give me the chance to fill in the gaps in my B-series of modules. I’d love to do the B-series again for a group of new players. It’s why I still drag out my old collections of Dungeon from time to time and dust off an old adventure.

Anyway. I’m reminiscing. I know it’s boring. I just — I don’t know, I hate to see old games disappear forever. It’s why I’m grateful to the OSR folks even if I’m not currently running an OS game. It’s why I love how all the old White Wolf games are all up on RPGNow and I can fill in the gaps in some of my first ed collections of OWoD. Now I just need to see Wizards get on board with this and I’ll be set. Keep sharing.

Thanks for reading.

PS – I was trying to think about games that are still active, still current, that are long-time runners and still very closely resemble what they have been all along and all I could come up with were Battletech and Call of Cthulhu/BRP. What am I forgetting?


10 responses

  1. There’s definitely a sort of “shared experience” that’s been lost. I think it’s more a generational thing than anything else; back in the late 1970’s, DMs had to run G1-3 and the Judges Guild modules because there wasn’t anything else. Today, there’s a plethora of options, which dilutes the experiences which are shared by game masters (and players).

  2. I suppose we could list Tunnels & Trolls and Palladium as being in that age category, still around, and relatively unchanged.

  3. @ Greyhawk Grognard
    That’s a very good point. And by way of illustration, I never ran any Judges Guild – but I did get to play in several JG modules — and hearing them mentioned still brings a smile to my face.

    Taking the video game industry comparison a little farther, there are several stand-out experiences – the Uncharted series, the Mass Effect trilogy, etc. I wonder if traditional Paper gaming can still have those stand-outs or if it can only really happen in subsets?

    In a way, I think the Pathfinder Adventure Paths have something of this “shared experience” style to them… I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of that in the actual post.

  4. Yes! Tunnels and Trolls and Palladium are awesome examples. Palladium did briefly cross my mind but I realized that I had no idea if they were still all that active… I completely forgot T&T. Thanks!

  5. I would add Champions/hero system

  6. I think that a lot of this has to fall to individual responsibility. I love savage worlds and deadlands reloaded, but a lot of the chaps and chapesses I’ve been gaming with for years still keep on at me to drag out my original rule books and run it old school. So I do, and it keeps the game alive for us.

  7. […] The Rhetorical Gamer has an interesting article about how the original modules and games of the past helped to evoke a sense of shared experience in the hobby. His contention that today’s games are flowing by us into history without helping to connect us to each out as touchstones is an excellent one well worth your time to read. […]

  8. HERO system would certainly count. I wonder if GURPS could fit in as well?

  9. It depends on whether or not you mean setting or system. If you primarily mean setting, I’d say Warhammer’s still kicking as it used to be, but the rules have changed drastically in 3e. On the other hand, 1 and 2e both have pretty vocal communities, too.

    One of the interesting things FFG is doing is rewriting one of the classic “old school” Warhammer campaigns. I suspect it won’t be at all the same, but it does have newer converts to the community asking questions and going back to find the original material. I appreciate that the WFRP community (both company-sponsored and independent) has tried to bridge those gaps so that we can ALL share a kind of experience, even if we prefer different systems for accessing that experience.

    And incidentally, I’m not sure those things are entirely beholden to time and place. Like pulling out old rules systems, people will go back and pull out old games. I know a group of teenagers who are slowly playing their way through all the Zorks together. 🙂

  10. I didn’t really make a setting/system distinction – I think you could go both ways… I think I really did have system in mind in the post, but setting is a really valid point too.

    And it’s true – some older games have managed to linger or be re-released in different forms. Heck, I’d love to be playing Zork right now!

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