So my friend Dan over at Dan on Games has asked me the following in the requests page…
“Here’s a question I’d like to hear your thoughts on: with the incredible popularity of video games now how do you feel that’s affected tabletop RPGs? I’m totally out of the tabletop scene so I don’t have any idea. Are people more power game-y/dungeon crawly/Diablo-ish nowadays, or are there still good role-players out there? (Not that those are mutually exclusive but you know what I mean)”
It is a good question but, I think it bears a little elaboration. Just so that readers know you can find a summary statement near the end of the post. Very much a TLDR, cause I ramble. I think that video games overall have had an impact on table top RPG players and publishing. However the specific types of impact vary from gamer to gamer and their experience with what types of video games.
The simplest answer to Dan’s question is that there are still good role-players out there. But just as there is a difference with what makes a role-player ‘good’ there is a difference in expectations as to what makes a ‘good’ game session.
I know this sounds like a bunch of blather, but what I am trying to say is that I feel like Dan’s question is looking for a very basic answer to a bigger question. Let me see if I can break things down from my personal perspective.
Video Game Impacts –
Video games have definitely had an impact on table top RPGs. But it is not simply possible to say that video games as a whole have had a specific impact. Lets take a look at a few of them as I see them.
- Fighting Games – (Negative) Even as far back as the arcade game ‘Karate Champ‘ fighting games have been raising the bar for the level of description that can happen in a fight in a table top RPG. (Positive) Strangely that negative is something that also positive. The drive for more detail in what is going on can really help a story develop. While these are obviously not true for all players the ones who get into combat role-playing want more detail, about how you move, how you hit, what gets hurt, and more. This is also true from the rise of the FPS type of game.
- Side Scrollers – (Negative) Action and adventure games galore come in this format. For the role-players who want to get to the finish these games have given the impression that there has to be one and only one path to the ‘finish’. (Positive) On the plus side the fact that timing maters gets a nice bump in stories. Again not things that happens for everyone. But true for some.
- Tactical games – (Negative) Sadly the impact here is not what I would have liked. The real impacts here are that all of your enemies are stupid, or can be over powered if you ignore them long enough to grind through side events so you can just bowl them over. (Positive) For some the exact opposite happens, and they figure out that out thinking a foe can be just as if not more effective than raw power. Again not everyone has this impact but it is the one I see the most often.
- RPGs – (Negative) So this is kinda strange. There seems to be two impacts here. The first is the that you always can fall back to a save point and try again. So if you dont like something, restart or hack it. (Positive) The opposite can also happen. Learning that choices mater. That each thing can have an impact on the story and the other players.
- MMO RPG – (Negative) The main thing that seems to come out of these games is that you can be an @$$ to everyone else in the game and it does not mater. (Positive) However if you are not in that group of players you may have figured out that team work is a big thing, and that what you say can have as much of an impact as what you do.
So just to recap, those are all really extreme views. They comprise the most obvious impacts to players. There are thousands of more subtle things that have happened to players over time too. So dont think it stops there for good or for ill. Now lets take a quick look at publishers.
- The lure of money – Video games have raked in billions. So there is a temptation to license them, replicate their mechanics, and follow the herd so that they keep a bigger fan base. However all these things have a tendency to rebound on the publisher in the long run.
- The urge to be unique – For the publishers that dont jump on the bandwagon, you usually see them make other alterations in their mechanics to try and force them to be different from what ever video game is popular enough to pull customers away.
- Reverse engineer themselves – In trying to turn themselves into video games they usually face the disappointment of their fans. To date there have been very few successful adaptations of a table top RPG into a video game. Now then this is not saying that the games have been bad, many of them have been awesome (I am looking at you TSR/WOTC, and waiting with baited breath RTalsorian/CDPR) but that awesomeness does not mean they have replicated the table top games mechanics, or the setting in a way that matches up well with the published work. It makes the game something that was ‘based on’ a table top RPG, and not an ‘adaptation’.
Now then again this is going to feel like some rather extreme comments. And they are. They are calling out the largest visible impacts. Not the thousands of little details that vary from publisher to publisher and game engine to game engine. It would be impossible to put them all into a simple statement, or even a really complex one.
Now then comes the bigger part of the question Dan asked. Are there good role players still out there? The quick answer is yes. However there are a lot of different role playing styles out there. In a previous post I talked about this so I am going to keep this version short.
- Power gamers frequently take what they see in video games and want to replicate it so they can have something with more boom, or something that sliced up the bad guys real nice. If you can get them to tell a story about it, you can actually get some background and in game role play out of them
- Pros tend to get ideas for new ways to apply their “this is how I am best” approach to things. Again you can use this to try and get stories. But it also means they may have something to beat. Be it a hero or a villain that they now have to be better than.
- Quirks and Dramatists are usually disappointed by the lack of personalization in video games. Their details and voice do not get everything they need out of video games. So if they are stuck without a game group for a while and have been playing video games they may come out over the top on how they play.
- Balance players usually find video games just as fulfilling as role-playing games, so while a video game may inspire them, it usually does not have a negative impact.
- With other personality types the reactions can be broader or even completely unexpected. For example I know some folks who have been addicts to MMOs, and others who have found something they just so enjoyed in Diablo that they gave up on table top gaming for a few years.
Now the element of Dan’s question about environment. Referencing whether players have taken more to dungeon crawls or the MMO style… well, I think in all honesty you will have to run with everything I have been going into above. It will vary person to person, and making a generalization is kinda hard. I can say that what I am seeing in publication tends to lead me to believe that the old school dungeon crawl is not what is making money right now. And that even though MMOs are on the down turn again open worlds in table top RPGs are seeing an upsurge.
I think I need to summarize this – (TLDR)
- Video games have had an impact on table top role playing games.
- Video games have had an impact on table top players.
- Table top games and players have had an impact on video games.
- These impacts have been both positive and negative.
- There are still good role players out there. Just make sure you have the conversations you need with potential players to ensure your idea of good role-play and theirs match.
I know I rambled, but I think this was worth it.
Now gimme the dice, I need to see what the odds are I rambled my way into oblivion here…