Commentary – Video Games vs Tabletop

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)

  1. Video games have had an impact on table top role playing games.
  2. Video games have had an impact on table top players.
  3. Table top games and players have had an impact on video games.
  4. These impacts have been both positive and negative.
  5. 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…

  1. #1 by Sean Sherer on July 7, 2019 - 3:11 pm

    Very well written! I pretty much agree with all your points! Personally, CRPGs (and every sub-type thereof) and table top RPGs are just two aspects of a bigger whole, and video games are a natural outgrowth/merger of passive television and interactive role playing.

    That being said: only a small handful of computer games have truly replicated the “experience” of a table top game to me. That is the shared “reality” a table top game creates, the banter, the free-wheeling nature an organic table top session can create. On the flip side, only a handful of table top sessions have created the grandeur and sense of immersion that a CRPG can create.

    Technology is catching up tho. I have a feeling the lines that separate the two will quickly fade away…


    • #2 by authortao on July 7, 2019 - 3:28 pm

      I totally understand your point about the group, collaborate shared reality. My opinion is that the MMO design was supposed to replicate that in a manner that could be experienced by several remote players together. However the focus on combat and not a development of story sort of tanked it to get the experience. I am not saying you cannot interact and tell a story in them, but that is totally going to be your own story. Not something you can do that will change the way the world runs.
      I can see a fade coming, but until we have a combination of things like the moral story system in Torment, character building independence from the latest generation of Elder Scrolls, server sets that can be spun up so that every group who plays together or independently get their own fully segregated game play environment, a world or multi-world environment that has the adaptive independent resource system that Ultima Online tried to implement, and tie that into a feedback system so that the world can adapt and grow based on what the players are not only doing but commenting on, along with a character system that would allow you to port your characters from one group to another in the independent server set… then we might see it fade away. That is my opinion anyway.


    • #3 by dantherpgman on July 7, 2019 - 9:29 pm

      That being said: only a small handful of computer games have truly replicated the “experience” of a table top game to me.

      Really the only one I’ve ever played that did that for me was Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land for PS2. The exploration, atmosphere, and pacing was a bit reminiscent of the tabletop experience. Plus it’s a fantastic game.

      I never got into NWN, but I know some of those homebrews got pretty darn good as well.


  2. #4 by dantherpgman on July 7, 2019 - 9:30 pm

    Nice post! Thanks for honoring my request 🙂


    • #5 by authortao on July 28, 2019 - 1:27 pm

      You are quite welcome sir. It was a pleasure to go over this. 🙂 Your requests have turned out well more than once so keep em coming 🙂


  3. #6 by Xenzirril on July 10, 2019 - 6:55 am

    The Livestreaming community is changing the TTRPG at an accelerating rate. Stuff about narrative, content, conduct and social awareness are suddenly shifting the genre. If Video Games brought detail and higher quality expectation, Livestreaming is adding conscientiousness and sensitivity. And like our hosts read above, I think these are both positive and negative things. But if it is one thing, its an interesting recent development.


    • #7 by authortao on July 28, 2019 - 1:32 pm

      I think the main way that streaming is changing TTRPGs is at the level of public awareness. It is helping to alter the public image of the games. In modern times the panic groups that tried to tell everyone that D&D was a gateway to satanic worship and sacrificing your pets to dark powers is getting tanked hardcore. I am sure that just like climate change there will be some desperate folks who find the few streams that hold people in costumes just trying to @#$% with everyone by playing at being demonic worshipers and doing it for laughs, who call that proof of their beliefs… but for the rest of them… yeah…

      Liked by 1 person

      • #8 by Xenzirril on July 28, 2019 - 1:59 pm

        There are some content related developments, handling (or at least providing tools and systems around) difficult or triggering subject matter. Players can indicate whether certain paths in a story are uncomfortable or unwelcome with minimal impact on the storytelling moment.

        This might seem like something that wasn’t needed in years past. But I think it can indicate the audience is changing/expanding.


      • #9 by authortao on July 28, 2019 - 2:56 pm

        Ok Xen, I have to say your comment rang something off for me, triggering if you will. I had to think about keeping my reply public or starting a discourse with you on the topic on the side. I think though that having an open discussion on this might be better overall so I am going to try and control the soapbox on this one. Even starting out with a TLDR of sorts.
        TLDR: Personal responsibility for your own triggers is more desirable than trying to require your triggers be accommodated when something is ongoing.

        Full reply:
        I agree that in years past something like that was not needed. And I am one of the folks that has a hard time seeing it as needed now. I understand that things in fiction or media can cause a resurgence of prior experience and the emotions tied to them. However I also feel that when someone reaches a certain point in their lives (and yes this changes for everyone) that they need to take responsibility for their own triggers, or at least as many as they can because some will remain unknown. I have encountered individuals when gaming at stores who have gotten involved in games that are full of material that can induce a triggered state. And instead of getting involved in another game, they tried to insist that the game change so it would not impact them (examples – player wanted to be in a Vampire game but insisted that no one ever mention blood because it messes with them; player who wanted to be in a Call of Cthulhu game but did not want it to be in any way scary; player who wanted to be in a D&D game with no fighting because fighting is bad – all of these are real examples, no joke). I have met others who would welcome the chance to confront triggers in a game environment so they can try to control the triggers impact on their day to day lives (examples – player requested a romance element in the game because they wanted to see if they could figure out the difference between what had happened to them and positive interaction; player requested certain monster types be included because they had had a fear of them for years and wanted to confront that in a controlled manner with support – again all real examples). I have also met a few who recognized that the game setting or environment might relate to or surface their triggers and so they have avoided that particular game.

        I know that I am more than happy to work with folks in regards to issues they have, I prefer to do so before the start of a game, or address it immediately if something comes up for a player while we are playing. But I have also had the unfortunate circumstance of encountering so many individuals who try to use triggers (whether they have them or not) to get what they want and to #@$$ with everyone else, I have a hard time feeling that this is a positive development.

        I think that a more positive approach would be if game groups could come up with a list of story elements, themes and tropes that are common in their games so that individuals with triggers can review that and make an informed choice to interact or not. And if they choose to interact it is their responsibility to disclose they may have an averse reaction, but it is their choice to confront that possibility.

        Does this opinion make sense to you?


      • #10 by Xenzirril on July 28, 2019 - 3:03 pm

        Sure does. I would point out that these new developments aren’t just to benefit new players. New, inexperienced DMs need to learn how to cope with players and their issues. I don’t have the link to reference in front of me, but you are probably aware of the DM that was banned from a Con for dropping insensitive/inappropriate material on his players from what was essentially ‘lolz’.

        This isn’t something you or I would ever consider, but as the genre is flooded with new players, new ways for groups to communicate boundaries and good table play are a positive development, in my opinion.


      • #11 by authortao on July 28, 2019 - 3:17 pm

        Ahh yes the dumb as @#$% DM factor.

        I am all for positive communication. Upfront and direct. And of course the winnowing of the weak DMs from the herd. 😉


      • #12 by Xenzirril on July 28, 2019 - 3:45 pm

        If the game is to continue to grow and evolve, DMs will need to learn and grow, not diminish. I realize this is a consideration of scale and churn, but the less “DMing is difficult and too much of a minefield”, the better.


      • #13 by Xenzirril on July 28, 2019 - 3:47 pm

        They you go. A potentially new blog article series, titled “So, you @#$&ed up your Gaming story. Now what?”. Lol.


      • #14 by authortao on July 28, 2019 - 4:01 pm

        Not a bad suggestion really 🙂


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