I recently took part in a panel entitled Geek is cool, again!
Of course youth is relative (some of my relatives are really young) and the reality of the situation is not that my colleagues that evening were young, but that I was old. Am old. Be old.
This got me thinking. Things have changed since I first opened that red Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set box back in 1981. TSR no longer exists, dice don’t just have numbers on them, virtual table tops are an actual thing, and women and girls are into RPGs.
So, are things better now? Is it easier to be a geek/role player? Are games more engaging? Is gender equality any more real than my Paladin’s Sword of Flaming Self Righteousness?
Certainly the establishment of DriveThruRPG and RPGNow make it easier to get copies of RPGs in the PDF format. As a kid I had no local hobby shop, the nearest store being one based about 2 hours away, and that only sold knock off photocopies of Traveller books. If I wanted anything more than that I had to wait until the summer when we would, as a family, travel from Hong Kong to the UK, to the city of Liverpool. To the home of the indescribably wonderful Game of Liverpool. Is easier access to games better though? As a kid I might get my hands on a new game once a year. That meant a year with no other real distractions on the game front. I would love that game, it didn’t matter if we were perfect for one another straight away, like an arranged marriage, our love grew as familiarity did, as shared experiences did and most importantly, as understanding did. Back then I knew every game I had inside out. I’d read every page, pore over every image, learn every system and play the games. Now I have hundreds of games, my library on DTRPG rivals that of Ancient Alexandria, but I don’t know the games, hell, some I haven’t even read some, other than an initial scan through. So, it’s easier to get games, but harder to get games.
And how about miniatures? Again, when I was a kid my mates and I would drool over the adverts in White Dwarf for Ral Partha, Citadel and any number of small producers of 25mm figures. We’d marvel at the detail and long to own a Storm Giant, or Goblin Archer, a Footpad or Dwarven Warrior. When we did actually get our hands on one of these amazing miniatures we’d spend hours damaging our eyesight and developing carpal tunnel syndrome by painting layer after layer and wash after wash of detail onto it. Now I can mail order fully painted figures from producers around the world, and they come painted . . . I know that unpainted figures are still out there, but the fact that I can buy painted lessens the chances of me doing it myself. Also, I’m pretty sure figures are taller than they used to be. In my day there were 25mm figures for fantasy and 15mm figures for sci-fi. That’s correct, 15mm! I had a professional figure painter tell me recently that a set of true 25mm figures I had were too small to paint. So, figures, easier to acquire, able to arrive ready-to-go but somehow lacking that excitement and magic of the early days.
Systems! What has happened to the ingenious role-player? It seems that now-a-days, if you get your hands on a new RPG, and you don’t understand a rule immediately (or it hasn’t been exemplified in a free, teach-yourself adventure with full colour diagrams and a dedicated YouTube support channel), you are quite within your rights to contact the writer and a) tell them that they have a bogus rule in their game, and b) expect a response that either clarifies the misunderstanding or redrafts the offending article! Now, rest assured, back in the day there were plenty of rules and systems that didn’t make any real sense, especially once one started to look at them in any detail (like almost everything in the original Basic D&D) but we just got on with it, we either a) ignored it, or b) gave our own interpretation and got on with the game. What we didn’t do was worry about it.
And gender. Hooray, at last a clear win for the present day. In 1981, according to a poll run by me and my buddies, not a single girl on planet Earth played RPGs. Not your sister, not your cousin, not your neighbour and certainly not any of the girls at school who you might have some sort of attraction towards. Now though it seems that a lot of the most dynamic, progressive and creative members of the RPG community are women. Individuals such as Margaret Weiss led the way and now women such as Emily Care Boss, Monica Valentinelli and Michelle Lyons are driving exciting and important work, not just in games design, but in the way RPG companies are structured, so as to celebrate and monopolise diversity. This is such a wonderful achievement that I can almost forgive the loss pioneer attitude, the saving up of pocket money, the treks to real shops to buy difficult to find things off living and breathing human beings.
So, at the end of this old-man wandering rant, where are we? I guess we are were we are, I miss the “good old days” but that doesn’t stop me buying more PDFs. It was great to paint figures, but it is nice to be able to just use them. When I was a lad you respected your elders (those are the dudes who made the games) but now I can actually talk to those guys, and that’s cool.
I remember when all this was fields, but I have to admit, I like the Dairy Queens and & 7Elevens.