Thursday, July 07, 2011

New Expectations: the Electric Boogaloo!

There have been a few interesting articles lately written about electronic gaming. Stewart, over at Strange Magic, has decided to take a peek at the casual computer game market. There must be something in the water; I've lately been poking at MUDs and I know Oddysey is thinking she might finally ascend a character in a rogue-like.

Stewart makes the point that the"kick in the doors, kill everything, take their stuff" style is an extremely popular mode for computer games, but bears only a passing resemblance what most of us know as classic RPGing. Oddysey, for her part, knew rogue-likes before she played in the Doom & Tea Parties game, but says she really didn't know dungeon delving.

It's interesting to consider the expectations we bring to this hobby. The first-generation of players were modifying wargames or board games like "Wilderness Survival" (a.k.a. "Nobody Survives in the Wilderness"). These were very much games and rather abstract ones at that. This generation were the ones who built the game based on scarce resources, logistics, and challenges to the actual players’ abilities to map.

When my generation arrived on the scene, our expectations were based on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and the promises that this game was like being the main character in your favorite story. And these stories were heavily influenced by myths. Sure, the occasional swaggering hero plowed through his enemies, bloody sword in hand, but you were actually more likely to encounter clever, thinking heroes like Brust’s Vlad Taltos, Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, or Piper’s Lord Kalvan. And so our games are full of lateral thinking, logic puzzles, and more intimate spaces than the mega-dungeon.

(And you can see, I’m sure, why someone like Maliszewski would see this as the Silver Age, deviating so sharply as it does from his preferred epoch of gaming.)

After that came 2e in the wake of the first gaming inspired novels like the original Dragonlance trilogy. This generation of gamers really pushed the story aspects of the hobby. They flocked to White Wolf's banner when they unveiled their Storyteller system because it promised a more story-like experience. (And their disappointment led to the creation of the Forge and an entirely different branch of RPGs.)

Now we are seeing players in the hobby with expectations created by computer games. You could almost see it as a backlash to the story-focused games of yesteryear and a return to a more abstract and game-ist style. I don't think that's what we’re seeing, though. I think we're simply saying a new generation of players coming at the game with new expectations set by how they first experienced fantasy.

The only constant, of course, is change. (And maybe hit points.) Greg Christopher linked to a GDC seminar by Raph Koster on making social games, like Farmville, more social. Mr. Koster was, at one time, the chief proponent of MMOs as virtual worlds. His record in that business is spotty at best. It's interesting to note how his experiences there are affecting the way he approaches the new social games. If Mr. Koster is correct, and social games are made more social on his model, the next generation of gamers are going to have radically new expectations for tabletop RPGs.


Tedankhamn said...

Funny that pen and pencillers are looking back at computer games. Pool of Radiance, Bard's Tale et al are also stepping stones in many gamer's histories, considering all the cross pollination taht when on back in the 80s. Here's a link to some of the old Nintendo rpg's - you'll see some AD&D and lots of sufficiently old school stuff in there. Be warned - it is a time waster!

Tim Jensen said...

The next few years might also see a "2nd edition renaissance" as the teens and 20-somethings that grew up on Harry Potter and Twilight bring their expectations as well. The Dresden Files RPG is one of only a few current games aimed at that demographic (and World of Darkness fans.)