Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Word or Two About Gaming Discussions

I've added a little "mission statement" to the upper-left hand of the page. I think it states pretty clearly what I want my little blog to be about - fun discussions about gaming without emphasis on "this school" or "that school" or how "3tards" suck or "4ons" suck more, or how the Grognards got the shaft/whine too much.

There is way, way, wayyy too much negativity out there in gaming-land. Especially among the ranks of older gamers who feel the younger generations "just don't get it" anymore.

Case in point.

Young gamers today are "too soft" and have been coddled by newer games, because they can't handle (or don't enjoy) dungeon crawls that are "like (expletive deleted) VIETNAM"?

First off, you know what? Gaming isn't like Vietnam. I know this was just some sort of macho chest-thumping analogy meant to make "old school dungeon crawls" sound badass, but it's actually pretty damn insulting.

No gamer wakes up with nightmares every night for forty years about their best friend turning into a bloody mist after stepping on a land mine.

No gamer has to live with the horror of walking through an incinerated village filled with the charred husks of women and children because he called in a napalm strike on the wrong map grid.

No gamer lives homeless on the streets because he returned from a war he never wanted to fight and discovered that his own country had abandoned him when he needed comfort and understanding more than anything else in the world.

(Edit: It is possible that you might have Vietnam vets out there who played "old school D&D", and although a remote possibility, there may be some who even agree with the sentiment. I won't discount their opinion, but I will also maintain that they would be the ONLY ones who have any right to make such a claim. The same, these days, would to a lesser degree hold true to Iraqi War vets, although despite what some people say, this current war is NOT Vietnam, and shouldn't be compared as such. Here endeth the lesson.)

If you think I'm over-reacting a little to that thread, I am. I know people who fought and bled in Vietnam, and you probably do too. Comparing some little make-believe fantasyland to that Hell just makes me a little bit sick. But this "Hey FNG, you weren't there back in '79 when eight of us went into that dungeon and only TWO of us came back out alive, so go back to suckin' on your momma's teat and leave the REAL gaming to REAL men, Cherry!" BS permeates what could otherwise be some really fertile grounds for discussion.

And as an aside, the "macho dungeon-crawl adventure", while still fun, is not the end-all, be-all of old school gaming, and really wasn't even back in the day. I keep seeing this disconnect over and over where "new gaming" seems to boil down to MMORPG-wannabe 3.X/4.0 D&D complaining. Even by the late 70's, you had a number of games that stepped away from the dungeon-crawl mentality. You're looking at around 30 years of gaming that has nothing to do with the "dungeon-crawl", and yet it always gets pointed to as the bastion of "old school" gaming. What about Traveller? Gamma World? Call of Cthluhu? Top Secret?

I'll stop now before this stops being an admonishment and plunges headlong into a rant.

Too late? My apologies.

Anyhow, back to happier topics of discussion...sooner or later.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Badelaire. Sorry my old post struck a negative chord with you. I totally agree with you that it's inappropriate to compare real wartime trauma with the experience of a tough dungeon. What I was trying to do though was characterize a certain mindset that people used to learn when playing RPGs - the "Vietnam" metaphor was to indicate a certain kind of player caution/tactical and strategic sensibility/paranoia that led to fun play for some of us sometimes. (Also, both Vietnam and old-school D&D in some sense invoke the seventies, at least for me, though they're not quite contemporaneous.) I'm sorry if that came off as insensitive, and I absolutely did not mean any disrespect to those who served in Vietnam by it.

In retrospect I also agree with you that there's too much negativity in gaming discussions, but back then when I posted that, I think I like a lot of other people were slowly discovering that the ground had shifted under our feet, and that the games we were buying were no longer supporting the kind of play we had grown up with. Thus the high level of thumos.

Keep fighting the good fight, and let's both try to make positive contributions in the future!

Best,

Calithena

Badelaire said...

Calithena,

Hey, no hard feelings. I know what you meant, in the end, and you weren't trying to belittle "horrors of war" or anything like that.

I happened to have remembered that posting from way back in the day mostly because it struck such an over-the-top chord with me. Yeah, hardcore dungeon crawling is like being "on patrol" - traps, ambushes, danger all around etc., but it also comes off as being yet another "Get off my lawn you durn whippersnappers" grognard rant, only with the added touchy subject matter plastered on.

So again, sorry if it sounded like I was picking on you. It was just a really...ripe is maybe the word, example of the sort of vitriol I wish people could move away from.

Thanks for coming on and commenting though - much appreciated. See you around the DF.

Jeff Rients said...

Can I be a total wuss and agree with both of you? I'm totally onboard with being positive about whatever cool experiences people are having playing whatever games. However, I agree with Cal that a certain style of play that was once popular is diminishing with passing years. Maybe that style involves a lot of macho chest-thumping, but that's part of the appeal to me.

trollsmyth said...

I remember my utter shock when I read that the 3.0 CR system assumed that the average encounter would eat 25% of the party's resources.

I mean, can you imagine that? I don't know about others, but when I crafted encounters back in the day, my NPCs either assumed they could chew the party up and spit them out, or they beat a hasty retreat. Nobody but the mindless undead and maybe some enchanted automatons were willing to sacrifice themselves in the hope of nibbling away a quarter of the heroes' strength.

So I can absolutely understand the shock and disorientation that comes with peeling away the curtain and taking a look at the back-stage workings of the latest crop of RPGs. The fragmenting hobby can be very annoying, especially when you discover that the people in your group are drifting towards incompatible preferences.

- Brian

Badelaire said...

Quote:However, I agree with Cal that a certain style of play that was once popular is diminishing with passing years.

I suppose because of my age and experiences, I find myself on the border between the two camps. On the one hand, I learned to play RPGs with a copy of "Basic" D&D, but it was the Big Black Box of the early 90's, not the older versions a lot of you learned with. AD&D for me was 2E, and although I played that for a number of years, only three years into my gaming experiences I was playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse, then Rolemaster, GURPS, Paranoia, Call of Cthluhu...

I guess my point being, while I can enjoy and appreciate the older games, and have no quarrel with those who prefer them, I can't wrap my head around this constant idea that anything that came out after 1981/1986/1989/whatever arbitrary date someone gives is "garbage" or "unplayable" or "not real gaming".

Quote:Maybe that style involves a lot of macho chest-thumping, but that's part of the appeal to me.

Gamer pride and bravado, that's one thing. This constant "Damn Kids Get Off My Lawn!" crap is another.

Frankly, a lot of even "veteran" gamers out there who've been gaming a decade or more have never even touched D&D. Why would they have? There's literally dozens of major published RPGs on the market, and to be blunt, the ranting and raving of the Old Guard just reinforces the stereotype of fat bearded middle-aged nerds still living in their mother's basement, playing out over and over the same modules for 20 years while listening to Rush on their record players, bemoaning "coddled MMO fanboys" who "just don't get it". Someone who cut their teeth on Vampire back in the mid 90's, then went on to play 7th Sea, Ars Magica, Jovian Chronicles, FUDGE, Sengoku, and Savage Worlds is going to see that stereotype and steer VERY far away from any invitation to try out "Old School D&D".

Quote:I mean, can you imagine that? I don't know about others, but when I crafted encounters back in the day, my NPCs either assumed they could chew the party up and spit them out, or they beat a hasty retreat.

Understandable from your point of view, and I know what you mean. Even a semi-intelligent monster has some sense of self-preservation. But, two things. First, "encounter", as you can imagine, doesn't mean wiping out the NPCs to the last man. One might argue that there's not THAT much difference in the appearance of a party of four 1st level PCs and a party of 3rd level PCs, but that band of half a dozen 1 HD bandits will find the latter MUCh harder to take down than the former. They might initiate their ambush, only to see the folly of their ways, the couple of remaining survivors fleeing. That's "beating the encounter", but the bad guys didn't all mindlessly throw their lives away either.

Second, you have to remember that the designers were also talking to (in their writing of the rules) players and DMs who have never played a game as "resource intensive" as D&D before. Hit point tracking, depletion of spells, scrolls, potions, etc., a lot of that doesn't come up in other RPGs. Not necessarily an excuse, but perhaps an explanation.

Quote:The fragmenting hobby can be very annoying, especially when you discover that the people in your group are drifting towards incompatible preferences.

You know, this is both sad and funny at the same time. Other RPGs go through edition changes, and some people have trouble with the changes while others aren't bothered at all, but this idea that the hobby is "fragmenting" strikes me as so odd. When you say "hobby", I can only assume you mean "Dungeons and Dragons", because for someone who plays, say, Call of Cthluhu, the game hasn't changed much in what, 25 years? GURPS is something like 22 years old, and although there have been a few approach changes to the way they are handling vehicle building rules and the like, it's still pretty much the same old GURPS.

Out of curiosity, beyond the D&D line, have you had much experience with other RPGs in the last 15 years or so? As in actually playing them, not just flipping through them or hearing about them via the Internet grape vine? I ask because there ARE a lot of cool games out there, and perhaps if you tried something that had no association with "D&D", you might grow to like it or at least appreciate it as something other than "garbage".

Geez this is a long reply...

trollsmyth said...

Oh, don't get me wrong. I don't think the modern games are garbage. I've played 3e, one of the later versions of Earthdawn (don't ask me which one, I couldn't tell you), Alternity, Tribe 8, Mythic Roleplaying, and the latest incarnation of GURPS. I think all of those are younger than 15 years, but I may be wrong about a few. I was in college in '93 and wasn't paying very close attention to the world of RPGs.

My personal issue isn't with the games, its with the style of play. (And yeah, some games are built around particular styles of play. I could rant and rave about all the things I don't like about Dogs in the the Vineyard, but why bother? It's enough to say that game ain't to my taste, though I know a lot of people love it and more power to 'em.) Lots of people play differently now. Of course they do! They have different models, different ideas of what the game should be like. This is nothing new. Back in the day, there were people who just accepted high mortality rates as a given and didn't name characters until they got to 3rd level. Others of us husbanded our characters with the utmost care, named them from day one, and gave them detailed backgrounds.

The difference is the increasing amount of divergence in play styles. Part of this is the increasing variety of games you can play. People are exposed to many different new ways to play RPGs and learn they have preferences that go beyond classes-vs.-point-buy. Part of this is thirty years of different generations, each of whom bring different backgrounds and assumptions to the games. You can almost classify the generations by their backgrounds and expectations: wargamers vs. high fantasy lit vs. CCGs and CRPGs. Part of this is the mixing of different national and cultural backgrounds on the net. There are certainly other factors as well.

Most of these styles can play together just fine. Others just seem to talk past one another. CR is a great example. It's a system designed to maximize the fun. You always know what your party can handle and you can really tweak the pacing of your adventure using it. But it's based on some rather heavy-handed restrictions (the PCs need to have acquired certain magic buffs by certain levels, etc.) and strict adherence can result in some bizarre play where otherwise "chaotic" minions sacrifice themselves fanatically in order to to do the appropriate amount of damage before retreating or being slain.

I'm not saying the CR system is "broken" or "stupid". I am saying it requires certain assumptions and priorities be in place for optimal utility. Your group might enjoy those assumptions, or they might abhor them.

I'm not saying that the cranky grognards don't need to mellow out a bit. I am saying I can kinda understand where they are coming from.

- Brian

Badelaire said...

Quote:I'm not saying that the cranky grognards don't need to mellow out a bit. I am saying I can kinda understand where they are coming from.

I think this sums it all up.

For some of the cranky folks, they have a lot invested in the hobby, mentally and financially, and hate to see that lose its value.

Others (hell, probably a LOT of them) are going through your typical mid-life crisis, and it it wasn't RPGs, it'd be Harley-Davidsons and Trophy Wives.

I'm not going to say their complains are without merit, but I will say that this attitude that it's the "fault" of any one organization/interest group/generation is uncalled for.

Did computer and console games change gaming? Yes. Did Dragonlance change gaming? Yes. Does the Internet change gaming? Yes. Did the creativity of other people making different sorts of games change gaming? Yes.

Should we point fingers at them and claim they "ruined" RPGs? I don't think so.

James Maliszewski said...

Others (hell, probably a LOT of them) are going through your typical mid-life crisis, and it it wasn't RPGs, it'd be Harley-Davidsons and Trophy Wives.

I can only presume you didn't mean this to sound as dismissive as it does, right?

Badelaire said...

Quote:I can only presume you didn't mean this to sound as dismissive as it does, right?

Dismissive? No. True? Yes.

Found this little blurb on Wikipedia. It's as good a listing of the characteristics of a mid-life crisis as any.

For the approximately 10% of middle aged adults who go through an age-related midlife crisis, the condition is most common ranging from the ages of 35-50 (a large study in the 1990s[5] found that the average age at onset of a self-described "mid-life crisis" was 46).

Hmmm, 35 to 50, meaning right now people born early 70's to late 50's. People who, as teenagers and young adults, would be the perfect age for people who started playing D&D during the "Old School" time frame.

Symptoms?

* search of an undefined dream or goal? Sounds like the "lets get gaming back to where it should be" discussions.

* a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished? Probably exhibited at least in part by many people now trying to "revive the hobby".

* desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness? "Man, those were the days back when we were going through Temple of Elemental Evil for the first time..."

* need to spend more time alone or with certain peers? Hrmmm, like...getting together with other "Old School" gamers in person or in online communities?

* conspicuous consumption -- acquisition of unusual or expensive items such as clothing, sports cars, jewelery, gadgets, tattoos, motorbikes, etc.? Do we even need to explain this one? Replace all of the above with "Out of Print RPG Products"...

So no, I'm not trying to "dismiss" anything. A mid-life crisis can be extremely destructive - trust me, I have first hand observational experience of this.

But the sort of behavior we're seeing is just about a textbook perfect example. Cranky, hostile attitudes towards a younger crowd that is currently enjoying something that the older individuals used to experience and enjoy = older gamers feeling disconnected and neglected by a hobby focusing more on a later generation of players.

I'm absolutely not trying to make light of this. I just think that for a big portion of the population we're dealing with, these negative feelings meet practically all the conditions of what a mid-life crisis entails. It's not like someone is immune to this phenomenon just because you prefer role-playing games to motorcycles and hanging out gaming to going out on the town with your friends.

So, take that as you will.

James Maliszewski said...

I guess I'm just not seeing the kind of behavior you're talking about. I suspect most of the crankiness has to do with watching something a certain group of people enjoy fade away, not just from the popularity it once enjoyed -- that already happened long ago -- but, more importantly, from memory. Watching people forget or, worse yet, not even care about the past in always a cause for crankiness. If that equates to a mid-life crisis, then the term has no meaning and it's just a rhetorical trick to dismiss the concerns of people whose opinions one doesn't share because they might be expressed intemperately.

But, seeing as I'm one of these guys, what else would I be expected to say?

Jeff Rients said...

Crap, I've been going through a midlife crisis since my early twenties!

Badelaire said...

::shrug::

I guess it's just the behavior model I see. I'm not saying concern/negativity is necessarily unwarranted, but the patterns of attitude and behavior are very closely related.

But hey, right - some of us (and I do include myself very much here) are just cranky and grumpy and complain-y by nature.