As I've said on the podcast, we live in a Golden Age for gaming. There's a chunk of the gamer population that looks nostalgically back on the early days of the hobby as the best of times, but I'm not one of them. I wouldn't trade the games we played back then for the games we're playing now for all the polyhedrons in Chateau de Chessex.
Today, we have a multiplicity of games to play, games that cater to virtually any taste you can think of, and some are so weirdly specific in their subject matter that gamers of my lost youth would have had a hard time imagining their existence. There are so many titles available -- new games, old games, new games evoking old games, old games appropriating the tricks of new games -- that it would be impossible for even the wealthiest gamer with a bottomless well of free time to play them all, or even keep track of them.
The production values on the most familiar brand names are beyond the wildest dreams of the tiny game publishers of the 1970s, and those games can now be found in mainstream stores and online venues that make them available to an enormous potential audience. Even modest-sized companies are capable of producing game books that would make TSR and GDW rise from the Hell of Spectral Game Publishers to tug at their beards in envy. One-person companies release games electronically that are played around the country and around the world.
There are premium game products that nerds with disposable income (not me, but I've read about their existence in Fortean Times) can devote a substantial portion of their mad money to purchasing, and games both professional and fan-produced that are available free or for whatever amount you can spare.
Gamers without groups in their place of residence can hook up with old friends (or find new ones) via virtual tabletops like Roll20, and game anywhere, anywhen.
This is, and should be recognized as, A Good Thing. But it's also a problem for game designers, to return to the point of the first part of this article. There are so many quality games now, so much signal, that it's effectively all noise. Like so much of the Internet-centric world, the hobby is awash in information overload. And too much of a good thing tends to make things more clannish, just the way that the wide-open nature of public discourse on the Internet tends to make people retreat to echo chambers. People like things familiar, safe, like that comfortable old pair of shoes you just can't throw out.
And here's the final thorn in the side of the hobby, glistening there beneath that swell-looking rose, ready to wreck up your thumb real good. Familiarity.
Gamers invest a lot of time in their hobby and Their Favourite Game. Again, I may be an outlier, but let's use me as an example. An average short-run game for us is about 6-12 sessions of approximately four hours each; that's between twenty-four to forty-eight hours of game time at the table, not counting prep time for the GM, character and campaign creation, and countless hours of chit-chat about what's going on and what might happen next. There aren't that many video games these days that offer a 50-hour experience, for your cash, and remember that my crowd tends to do things on the short side.
Gamers who play games on a much longer arc, some for years or decades, have even more investment in their characters and the fictional worlds they inhabit. The rules of those games have become the collective language they speak, the interface between their mundane lives and their heroic (or dastardly) dream-selves. Letting go of those characters is hard, when a game comes to a close. Letting go of the setting, and the rules associated with it, is a task that would make Hercules clutch his lower back and groan.
Gamers are sentimental at heart. They like what they like, and they're not concerned with trifling concerns like novelty. If they were inclined to adopt the latest trends, they wouldn't have gotten the shit pounded out of them in middle school, when liking things like D&D and TRON doomed them to a life of cheese doodles and celibacy.
So what's to be done?
To be continued...