20 March 2014

Yet More Persistent Fallacies

In drafting the Gaming Geek Fallacies,  the fundamental reason why I started this blog, I could’ve made that a much longer list.  Granted, I wanted to draw a parallel to the famous Five Geek Social Fallacies list that inspired them.  But these persistent fallacies have been kicking around my blog folder, and I might as well haul them out!


1) If The System Wasn't Written To Meet My Every Prejudice In Every Particular, It's No Good.

Quite aside from that if a game was exactly the way you wanted it to be, you'd be the game designer, and more likely defending it than bitching about it?  If you’re much younger than sixty, you came to adulthood in a world of a hundred TV channels, a zillion dining choices, Walkmans and iPods and all manner of options that ensured you never had to endure popular taste if you didn't want to do so, and you didn't have to work very hard to manage it, either.

The gaming grognards, however, remember a time when the rules were all badly written and opaque, and we had to rewrite them to suit. The degree to which I'm impressed by whining about rules people don't like is closely parallel to my feelings on hearing a grown child claim he can't dress himself or cut his own meat.  They are called "pencils" and "pens," folks.  Use them to X-out or alter those rules you don't like or, alternately, to add things you can't live without.  There's even a whiz-bang name for them: "house rules."  Catchy, ain't it?


2) The New Edition Of Game X Sucks!!! The Bastard Company Ruined It!!!

Something I find even more incomprehensible than the first one. So you don't like nWOD? Yeah, I think it was a dumb idea too. So don't play it. The previous edition works just as well today as it did when it was first published, and RPGs lack a sell-by date; no one is going to force your gaming group at gunpoint to switch. Delete nWOD, insert D&D 4th, GURPS 4th, Hero 5th, etc etc, as appropriate.

Yes, I know there's an intense fetish in this culture to only value the latest and newest of anything, but if you're that much of a mindless sheep, I don't see why you should expect respect for your POV.  I’m heartened by the retro movement in gaming, but bemused as to why people are spending so much time and effort coming up with “retroclones.”  Feel nostalgia for OD&D?  Well ... why not play OD&D?  You’re allowed; really you are.


3) MMORPGs / LARPs / Freeforms / Storygames Suck And Aren't REAL Roleplaying.

RP is RP is RP. Online gaming, freeform, storygames and LARPs are different than tabletop. All these styles have their advantages and disadvantages. I've played several forms, for many years apiece, and no one kind is "better" than the others. I may have opinions on particular games, but there is equally rich RP available in any venue, and equally munchkinesque asshattery in all.

What they are is different.  LARPs and online lack the institutionalized taboos against portraying sexuality, eroticism and evil that pervade tabletop.  Tabletop is much faster than LARPs, and infinitely faster than MMORPGs, in creating new things or making rules changes.  In MMORPGs, you don’t have to play with a party, you can game at 4 AM on a weeknight in your pajamas, and GMs aren’t telling you what to do every step of the way.  In LARPs, you can physically interact in a way possible nowhere else, RP can be a great deal more intense and realistic, and you can immerse for days at a time.  In tabletop, you can fine tune your character’s abilities in a way the game systems of other styles can’t match, and setting backgrounds are almost by definition far more detailed and rich.

Really, this is just GGF#4My Game Is Great, Your Game Sucks – writ large.  People feel the need to disparage the Not Us game.  For instance, several key players on the gaming board I most frequent have a rabid (and, I feel, irrational) hate on for storygames, to the point that some have accused people who’ve seemed sympathetic to storygames or advocated games that were perceived to have “storygame” elements of having a Secret Storygames Agenda.

Seriously.  I really am not making this up.

(What a “storygames agenda” is I have no idea, but months down the road, I’m still shaking my head.)


4) The Hot New Game Has A Groundbreaking New Way Of Doing Things!

There are just a handful of fundamental elements to a RPG: what a character can do, how to adjudicate him or her doing it, what's the interaction between the character and the world. If a game decides that (for example) randomizing combat resolution is a good thing, there's no fundamental difference between flipping cards, grabbing chits, rolling 3d6, exploding dice pools, whatever. All you're doing is playing around with how the odds are calculated and resolved.

This fallacy also feeds the beast, so to speak, and has the designers of new systems scrambling around to find some way, any way, of distinguishing their system mechanics from all the rest.  This has led to some otherwise good indie RPGs to have some terribly silly key mechanics.


5) If You Want To Play A New Setting, You Have To Design A New Game Around It.

Generally applied to media licenses, I don’t understand this.  Look – I’ve written for media licenses: for Conan, for Middle-Earth, for Scarlet Pimpernel, for DC Comics.  Media licenses work under severe constraints. 

First off, the license holders (even when authors are decades-dead, as with Tolkien and Howard) get awfully sticky about creating new setting detail, however much gamers need those details and the authors never addressed them, and in some cases, competing ownership rights interfere.  The Serenity RPG was licensed from the movie, not the Firefly TV series, and couldn’t mention explicit elements from that series.  The FASA Star Trek game was licensed from the Franz Joseph group that held some independent rights through the Star Trek Technical Manual, but not from Paramount, and couldn’t address many elements from ST:TOS.

Secondly, they’re written with an eye towards getting fans of the work into gaming, and so include a lot of elements which gamers find unnecessary at best and patronizing at worst. 

Thirdly, the corebook is pretty slender, so as not to bombard those newbies with dozens of pages of combat rules, and much of the rest is taken up with recapitulations that hardcore fans find too scanty and hardcore RPGers find crowd out necessary rules. 

Fourthly, it's an axiom that no matter what you put out, half the fans will hate it with a hot, heavy hate. Either they won't like the system, or they won't like anything that isn't already canon, or they'll bitch that you included elements of the book/show they found lame, or bitch that you left out elements they loved, or they'll whine that you misinterpreted this or that.

Fifthly, the licensed properties often have shelf lives.  The company running a MMORPG I used to play started a licensed game based on the Hercules and Xena TV shows ... after both series had stopped first run.  It never had many players, and the company voluntarily relinquished the license when the player base diminished to a trickle.  The Buffy RPG came out just weeks before the series wrapped up, and suffered a similar fate.

Finally, the audience just isn't as large as people think it is. We're not (say) peddling Serenity just to gamers. We're not (say) peddling it just to gamers who like science fiction. We're not (say) peddling it just to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans. We're not (say) peddling it just to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans and don't mind the Cortex system. We're (say) peddling it to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans, don't mind the Cortex system and think the game writers did a good job. That is not an easy sell, and that breakdown applies to pretty much any licensed game.

Now compound this with having to design a new game system from scratch, one not only developed to be deliberately distinctive from other systems (because, you know, see #4 above) but less with an eye towards whether the system makes sense or not than towards whether key setting elements are highlighted.

It’s little wonder that only one media license – Call of Cthulhu – has ever had a permanent impact on the industry.


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