Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ryan Dancey and Cultural Underpinnings and D&D's Appeal, 1974 as Compared to Now

Ryan Dancey continued a thread on the RPGSite, talking about how some aspects of Dogs in the Vineyard can be used to make D&D a better game and appeal to more people. He focused on social interaction game mechanics to get back those players who have been left out by the recent edition's approach to get the same type of people who play MMORPG's.  It's an interesting discussion, but my thought was that the loss of a certain type of gamer which D&D appealed to in the past isn't due to a rules focus, but due to changing cultural paradigms.  From what I posted there:

I think there are certain cultural underpinnings that have changed since 1974. The game appealed to me in the early 80's because of the promise that through exploration in pursuit of lost treasure and magic my pc would become rich and powerful enough to conquer and rule everything around him---or at least set up a tower and get 20 sp per day from each of the inhabitants after clearing the land around it.

Any social interaction that needed to be done was with that focus in mind, and was handled with some basic charisma checks along with roleplaying out the encounter. The basic rules framawork gave us what we needed to pursue our common goals as adventurers in the style of Howard's Conan.

To the extent that RSD says the assumption is to join together and collaborate on a story with Dogs, I have no idea. I've never played the game. I just play D&D, and play it basically the same as I did in 1983. We collaborated on goals prior to playing, not on the story we wanted to tell. We all wanted to become the biggest most powerful badasses in the game world so as to rule that game world, or as big a section of it as we could wage war on and conquer. That had very little to do with what was on our character sheet, and more with the money and worldly power we had amassed.  That approach is very much non-conformist, and not an approach people who are brought up to follow rules would take. To the extent that it appealed to people in 1974 on college campuses is not surprising, considering what was going on in America the 5 years prior to that.

Look at what is going on today in America, especially as to how kids are being raised. They are being trained to be docile sheep, lead around by the nose from one organized play activity to another. The spirit of play (as well as the ability to be critical thinkers) has been crushed out of most of them. To go out into the woods with other kids from the neighborhood after school with a bow and arrow you made from sticks and string pretending to be an explorer in the amazon doesn't happen that much. To stand out and apart from the herd and be rewarded by society and your peers as happened in the late 60's and early 70's is unheard of. More than likely it will get you punished in some way.

Maybe the Dogs approach to RPG gaming is what appeals to the new generation of kids and RPG'ers because of how they are being brought up with different cultural underpinnings than were in place in 1974. Maybe RSD is onto something, being more in touch with current demographic data.

All I know is that for me, a game of D&D without the exploration for the pursuit of power and glory is missing its heart and soul....and that's what I have seen the 3.x/PF and 4.x games degenerate into. Mindless pointless tactical miniature combat games.

More of a story is needed with these latest incarnations, true, but the story develops from the players goals for their characters and what they do to achieve these goals. Pathfinder's adventure paths are the antithesis of what is needed. They're essentially another organized play event, much like soccer at 7 and band at 8:30. The characters are being railroaded through their life, much like the kids who play them are.

Story as an end in itself, or as the primary focus of the game and the game's mechanics, misses the point. The story is what happens as you play, in totally random and unpredictable ways, as you strive to achieve the goals you set for your character.

If the goals of the game in 1974 don't appeal to players today, and you strip them out, then all you're left with is one hollow combat after another to level your character to make him uber in his own right, as compared to other pieces of paper he encounters at that particular tactical miniature encounter. There is no bigger picture.

I blame a lot of this crap on the goody-two shoes approach TSR took with 2nd edition, making everything good v. evil with good always prevailing, and evil never portrayed in a favorable light. That set of assumptions fucked up the game and tore it from its roots. Socially, all that shit hit around the same time as Political Correctness, where certain ways of being were looked down on from snooty-assed cultural overseers, and enforced through lawsuits and school and workplace behavior, which trickled down to influencing daily social interaction, because hey, you never know who you might work with/for someday. I call it the wussification of America. Shit, kids can't even get into a fight in school anymore without being arrested. WTF?

Fuck all that.

If RSD can bridge the game between the older rule sets and the expectations and assumptions based in the cultural mindset of kids today and get new gamers, more power to him. I'll bet you they won't like or understand the game of D&D that I (and most of you it seems) play.