Thinking Gaming: 2

Is there hope for RPGs with the way everything’s going? Absolutely. In a very real sense we’ve ‘won’. RPG elements are turning up everywhere from Facebook to computer games of every type, even things that have nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. So many apps and gadgets incorporate game ideas, experience ideas, reward ideas, payoff ideas and most of that can be traced back to gaming.

Having influenced lots of people is small comfort if you never get any kudos for being that influence though. RPGs may have had a massive impact on a huge number of spheres of development but is there any hope for RPGs as we know them?

Yes and no.

Gaming isn’t going away, I strongly believe that. It’s changing and we need to not rest on our laurels. We need to continue to innovate, push, develop and spin out ideas. These are things we’re good at. We just need to take some time for reassessment but we also need to stop being reactive. We need to set the pace again.

Social Gaming
Roleplaying is found across social gaming and networks. People have character profiles. Games with RPG elements are found in abundance. There are groups devoted to all manner of roleplay and roleplaying games, but it’s very scattered and bitty. Communities are fractured and it’s hard to achieve a critical mass interested in any single particular topic. RPGs are everywhere though, they just might not be familiar. The social networking arena is a potential boon and massive opportunity for RPGs to do something new but we’re not quite getting there yet – for some reason.

RPing still goes on
Roleplaying still goes on, everywhere. There are people playing on forums and social networks all over the place. They’re just not playing games you might recognise, or even ‘proper games’ at all. One can lose count, easily, over how many Twilight forum RP games there are, journal games on LJ or other blogs, SecondLife ‘sims’… you name it there are people RPing it, just without any rules, support or even any knowledge that they’re roleplaying. These folks are a huge, potential, untapped source of players, if you can figure out what might appeal to them.

Certainly the stigma of RPGs and games in general has largely vanished, the satanic panic is a distant memory, vampire murders are forgotten and the idea that video games cause childhood violence appears to have lost what little traction it ever had. If gaming has a problem now it’s that it’s ubiquitous and even… boring.

Another huge arena that hasn’t been tapped into is sexuality. There are huge numbers of people online engaged in sexual roleplay and while it might be somewhat freaky or deeply sunk into obscure fetishes there’s a huge amount of it going on. Much of it not so different to what we might recognise as ‘campaign play’, with sprawling plots, well realised worlds and imaginative concepts abounding. There’s a lot, a huge amount, of adults roleplaying adult concepts and adult ideas – sexual and otherwise.

Roleplay is going on EVERYWHERE.

RPGs were a leader in the adoption of Ebooks, little wonder really as we tend to be a tech-turned-on crowd with an eye for a bargain, and early adopters. The proliferation of ebook readers and tablets suggests that there’s going to be a greater and greater future for device-based RPG books as they get cheaper and more prevalent. The trick will be getting noticed, as ever, but there’s great hope that we’ll be able to leverage our early experience and understanding of the medium – especially hard lessons learned about DRM.

What made RPGs a success?
In looking to what we might do to succeed in the future it’s worth looking back to the past. I don’t mean getting lost in nostalgia or trying to replicate the successes of the past – though there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, rather, that we should look at the historical and cultural context in which that success took place and seek to understand it, to see if we can exploit the current context in a similar way.

The initial success of RPGs was in no small part down to the role of universities. People living in close proximity, shared houses, the intelligent and creative vanguard of the 70s and 80s, influenced by the 60s. There’s little question that RPGs had a massive influence on the people who went on to create the computer industries and I’ve lost count of how many genre fiction writers, actors, screenwriters and so on were influenced by their playing of games. This ‘hothouse’ environment baked a whole generation of gamers, brought them together and gave them plenty of opportunities to play without much distraction. Gaming was CHEAP, it was SOCIAL and it paid back investment of TIME.

More and more people go to university, more even than in that time. People of all sorts are more connected and linked than they ever were in the past – though there’s more demands on people’s time and a lot more pressure in education and in work.

Cultural movement
The early RPGs rode the crest of a cultural zeitgeist of fantasy. The resurgence of The Lord of the Rings, originally released decades earlier. Star Wars cannot be brushed aside either, nor can the massive amount of classic 70s and 80s genre television. The tail-end of the hippy movement and the dawn of the environmental movement created a sympathy for fantasy and an interest in the future – the threat of nuclear annihilation must have had a great deal to do with the appeal of escapism, along with speculation about what a post-apocalyptic society might be – if there even could be one.

We’ve a rich vein of new genre fiction, particularly SF, revisitation of the superhero genre and near future/weirdness and conspiracy. Not to mention all the semi-science fiction crime series. There’s no imminent threat of nuclear annihilation, our threatening apocalypses are slow, dragged out and don’t have the same impossible strength of atomic war. Very different.

There are similarities and differences, but it’s clear that success comes about through exploiting opportunities and tapping into what’s going on around us.

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