There’s a saying that the medium is the message, which is a slight overstatement, but one with a great deal of truth to it. The form in which information is conveyed affects both the message itself, and the way in which it is percieved.
Take a book, for example. A book can be incredibly thick, incredibly long, be packed with small text and we can dip in and out of it as much as we want and take our time with it. If you translate that book into a film, you have to stay within a certain runtime, even if you turn it into a trilogy it will have to be made in three similarly long chunks. In a similar way, a short book can end up stretched to fill the amount of time needed for one or more movies.
DVRs have enabled people to watch films in a way more like the consumption of books. People can skip around, or go through things frame by frame to pick up on hints, clues, fanservice and references in a way they never could before.
RPGs have often been compared to oral tradition, sitting around a hearth and telling stories in a small group, sharing heritage and myth and creating a common – small – culture.
RPGs aren’t really that, they’re interactive story creation, not story telling. Even more than with computer games, normal forms of analysis fail, whether they’re normal literary analytical techniques or inherently subjective and biased critical analyses.
RPGs are made up of the text of the boos, the rules in the books, interpretations thereof, on the fly rulings, the storyline the GM has in mind, the storyline the players have in mind and the intersection of all of these. Increasingly in more modern times we also have increased amounts of online play, which affects the way games are played and how they’re presented (maps, tokens, built-in systems and options). Additionally we now have games as performative, where it’s not just the players who are the audience, but there is also a passive audience.
There’s always been a gaming community, in the sense of ‘people with a common interest’, but every table, every group was its own subculture. With enhanced communication and shared experience online the sense of a, singular ‘community’ has become stronger. This isn’t necessarily good, it has damaged the sense of a plurality, a community of communities, and has led to many people trying to impose their own, personal community values on the broader community, and making assumptions about the other sub communities. Insulting, judgemental ones, even revising history to reframe games as something bad, something ‘unsafe’, that needs ‘fixing’.
We lose something when there’s a single, stifling culture. Whatever its values are. We lose something more, we’ve lost something more, when subcultures no longer have room to breathe. People take it personally when you crush them, crush the things they enjoy and reframe them – unjustly – as villains.
This has been enabled my the media changing. The rise of social media and the emergence of this ‘broadcast’ version of roleplaying, a ‘community’ that is more singular and ruthlessly enforced. We can’t change it back, so what can we do to re-emphasise the more accepting and open historical version of RPGs? The broad church, where the game was more important than anything else?
I don’t know, honestly. The Indie Scene would seem to be the way to do it, but it tends to just create a ghetto with its own stifling culture, whether that be the OSR or the old Indie scene that is now afflicting the mainstream.
Evolve or die, but evolution and change just isn’t that predictable.
What do you think comes next?