Monday, February 10, 2020

You Are Not Obligated To Like Games Just Because They're Popular

Like a lot of gamers, I came into the tabletop RPG hobby through what was then the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. This was right around the time that 3.0 was making its transition to 3.5, for those of you looking to construct a timeline. I'd had brushes with funny-shaped dice and narrative gaming before, but that was when I really committed to the hobby.

It wasn't long after that my dice collection began to become... an issue.
Also like most gamers, the longer I was in the hobby, the more games I discovered. The World of Darkness got its reinvention not long after I became aware of it (the games now referred to as the Chronicles of Darkness for those feeling confused), and several groups I played with ran stuff like BattleTech, Call of Cthulhu, and in one night of zany experimentation, Paranoia. And one of my clearest memories as a gamer was when Wizards of the Coast brought out the 4th Edition of DND.

Like a lot of gamers who'd gone all-in on 3.5, I hated 4th Edition. I felt the lack of customization was a major flaw, and I disliked how it felt more like an MMO or a minis war game than the sort of RPG I was used to. My group all shared the same opinion, and we decided to stick to 3.5 until we found something we liked better. Which we did when Paizo released Pathfinder. It was everything we liked, plus some extra wooge, and we couldn't have been happier.

I Told You That Story So I Could Tell You This Story...


The reason I told you all of that is to establish that for the first decade or so of my gaming career, I was a gamer who found that most of my wants and needs were in sync with the broader strokes of what was popular in the hobby. I came in when the dominant game design philosophy was to make games that focused on giving players the ability to fully customize their characters, and where the DMs had to do the minimal amount of improvisation regarding common rules (there were charts and scales for falling damage, weather, monsters and traps were fully statted out, skills had specific thresholds and modifier, etc.).

However, over the past several years as both a player and a designer I have noticed that the pendulum is definitely swinging the other way now. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons came back hard from 4th Edition's failure, and gobbled up a huge amount of the market. Thanks to shows like Stranger Things, simpler editions of DND are coming back in vogue. And, generally speaking, the market is filling up with games that have a lot fewer moving parts, and which require a lot less investment and time on the part of players and storytellers alike.

Just what the hell is going on here?
There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that with gaming's increased accessibility, gamers are reaching for the editions they see in their favorite shows (Critical Role, in particular, I hold responsible for a portion of 5th Edition's booming fan base). Another is that more gamers are adults, and adults with jobs (and sometimes kids of their own) don't typically have hours upon hours to dedicated to learning labyrinthine, complicated storytelling systems. When you add in that lots of games are also geared toward shorter campaigns, and even one-shots (I'm looking at you, Dread), the market is clearly changing to fit a much different audience. And since shorter, less complicated games require a lot less work to make, they're popping up in greater numbers.

This is a gaming demographic I'm not part of.

This is frustrating both as a gamer, and as a game designer (though in my defense I'm stretching out and following the curve with 5th Edition DND modules like False Valor and The Curse of Sapphire Lake), but meditating on it has lent some clarity. Once upon a time the things I liked in games were popular, and that drove profit margins. Now my style of game is less popular, and as a result there are fewer companies putting out the type of content that I enjoy. That's not a slight against me, that's just how the free market works; if there were more gamers in the hobby who wanted what I want, it's what companies would produce.

And that's fine (at least personally; professionally it's a different kettle of fish). I am under no obligation to buy the games being produced if they're not the sort of things I want to play. No one is going to make me move on to Pathfinder's second edition, or Dungeons and Dragons' fifth, in the same way that no one forced Vampire: The Masquerade players to move onto Requiem when it was released. The games I like still exist, and I have full control over what I play in my own time. We all do.

With That Said... Let People Enjoy Things


Having said all of that, not liking something doesn't mean that you should volunteer your opinion in places where it isn't wanted. If people are talking about their latest campaign, and your only contribution is to disparage the edition or system they're using, just shut up. Move on from that conversation, because it's not for you, and no one is asking for your input.

"In my day, natural tharks weren't an auto-success!"
As geeks and gamers (particularly those who are used to being the dominant audience), we occasionally get confused and think that other people beyond the folks we play with care what we think. We fall into that trap where we mistake not being catered to with having our interests ignored, and too often we end up trying to spread that negativity around. Like how grown men will rail against the popularity of boy bands or romance novels just because something that isn't made for them is popular and successful.

So the next time you get ready to hold forth about something you don't like that's popular in gaming, or how this or that group who's clearly having fun is contributing to the popularity of the "wrong" kinds of games, take a moment and ask if anyone solicited your opinion. If you were specifically asked to share, consider whether what you're about to say will have a positive impact on those who hear your words.

Take my advice on this one; your games of choice will not get more popular if you shout about how they're superior to all the stuff people are playing and enjoying now. Instead, make a pitch for what your games do that other games don't. Put on your salesman's cap, and hold the door open for gamers who may not have heard of your favored system, or preferred edition. Be an ambassador who persuades those watching to give your style of gaming a try.

Because in this instance, you will catch far more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!


That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you found this suggestions useful!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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5 comments:

  1. I wish more people adopted this stance. I see it more from the OSR crowd dunking on newer games, ironically, mostly on 5e and pf 2e which cater more towards that crowd, but that might just be confirmation bias talking.

    Personally, I haven't really picked up a system I can't find something nice to say about, but I definitely have my favorites. That said, I really hate feeling like I need to justify why I the systems that I do to older jaded gamers who think the newer games and younger gamers are somehow ruining the hobby

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  2. Thanks for that.

    Personally i converted from Pathfinder to DND5 for reasons you mentioned. And i think the hate against DND5 is dumb and shortsighted.

    Thing is: DND5 gets new players into this TTRPG thing. Even if the overall bunch of new players stay with DND5, the 1 in 10 will explore other TTRPGs sooner or later. And companies in this industry will have more money, more pull in the future because of this.

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    Replies
    1. Most new players I've found want to explore new systems after a few years if they keep with the hobby. 5e wasn't my favorite system due to the fact that it doesn't cater much to my fondness for breaking fantasy genre convention, but it's still pretty fun to play, does what it says it does really well, and is a good starting point for newbies

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