Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tabletop RPGs and the Future

James as Grognardia has a good post musing on Tabletop RPGs and whether they are a transitional technology.

I agree with James that hoping that RPGs will be as it was in the 80s is dreaming. There may be some fab waves in the future but they will burn out in a year or two as something else catches on.

But I don't think that RPGs are a transitional technology. Take computers for example. In the late 70s the market in personal computers started flourished. There was an excitement and energy in the air about the technology and hobbyists groups flourished throughout the country and world.

Today you find just about everybody using computers in all kinds of forms. Your phone is a computer, your tv is a computer, and so on. However to many of those active in the later 70s the it doesn't have the same energy and feel. Oh there plenty of groups like the old 70's groups but they are involved with different hardware or technologies.

For that 70's era enthusiast the world has left him behind wistfully thinking of older days. The ironic thing that if you poke around long enough you will find that groups liking older technologies still exists. In some cases even picked up where the original left and and developing for it. But unlike the 70s you have really look for them.

I experienced this somewhat myself as in the late 80s I was involved in the local BBS (Bulletin Board System) scene in Meadville along with a group devoted to learning about the changes in computers with Windows and OS/2 first being widely sold. If you poke around you can still find some of the old BBS system around.

This is what happened to tabletop roleplaying. In the 70s anybody potentially interested in roleplaying only had one source, tabletop. Now in the 2010s we have multiple alternatives to choose from, the original tabletop, MMORPG, live actions, and so on. Each with advantages, disadvantages, and social networks.

As each new form developed the tabletop audience shrunk. Those that remained are those that the specific features of tabletop were appealing despite it's disadvantage.

Every form of entertainment has appealing features and disadvantages. The ones that endure are able to play to their strength, and adapt to using new complimentary technologies. The classic case is movies vs television.

But Radio vs television is a better example. Most of the original programming disappeared or transferred to TV. Only news, sports, and music were retained. Radio found it's strength and began to thrive developing things that worked for it's format like talk radio. The development in electronics may gave rise a small boon with the advent of digital and satellite.

The key for the future for tabletop RPGs is understanding their strengths while minimizing their disadvantages and employing complimentary technologies whenever we can.


Chad Thorson said...

I think RPG/Wargames will still be popular. In the city I live in we have 3 pretty large game stores and several other small ones. Most of them run events that have great turnouts. And you can frequently see younger kids turning out at these events.

I started gaming just as video games and personal computers were getting popular. I even had an Atari 2600 at the time, but I still found gaming more engaging and entertaining.

Greyhawk Grognard said...

I'm not sure the analogy holds. My copy of AD&D 1E is just as playable as it was in 1979, and it thus fulfills its function today as well as it did back then.

My TRS-80, with BASIC as its operating system and a cassette player for storage, is somewhat less useful in terms of my computing needs than it was back in the day...

Robert Conley said...

@Joesph All analogies fall apart if you push them too hard. The main point was more about the computer hobby was transformed rather than the actual tech.

Pontifex said...

I think that we are in a temporary period where people are overconsuming electronic entertainment. I know an increasing number of people who are giving up on things like Facebook and going back to a more analog life. People cannot stare at a screen their entire life and be happy.