February 4, 2011

Do RPGs Suck?

I read a post today over at Mob United about ‘why RPGs are failing’ and leveled some serious criticisms at the industry in general. Some of the ideas are most definitely founded on real events, with the OSR movement and Pathfinder both retreading old territory, and many of the indie publishers doing things related to one of the above or some other system.

But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. All things are built on history, and looking at the evolution of dungeon crawlers to produce a new dungeon crawler isn’t a bad thing. Examining social engines to design a better social engine helps in the long term.

In the end, Malcolm levels the criticism that rules systems aren’t going to do anything, that you have to offer something unique that another person couldn’t give. It seems he believes that the fiction, the stories are what players can’t do for themselves.

The problem is that’s false. As human beings, we gravitate to stories, and we create them out of our own lives. No memory is a perfect recollection of events, but those events and people are categorized to make recalls more simple. Malcolm even goes so far as to say why is dungeon crawling any different from the Hero’s Journey. In reality, what is remembered by the players, and is best applied in a game system, are the archetypes that make up things like the monomyth.

My honest conclusion is this:

This decade has seen the release of some very excellent RPGs, things I wish I had the time to play. Those games have been challenging the limits of RPG design space, story space, and even challenging what we call an RPG.

RPGs aren’t necessarily failing, though they are struggling. We, as designers, need to offer unique experiences without the effort demanded of older systems. The stories people want can come from many mediums, and they will choose the easiest or best value. Video games, movies, and books all demand less effort, and less time, than RPGs, and these things tell stories that are just as good as RPGs. We can take advantage of RPGs putting the player as the protagonist in ways none of these other mediums can, and that’s the place we can ply our strength.

What about you, readers, what are the unique strengths of RPGs?


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