Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Degrees of Separation and Perspective

Not only have I never played with anyone that had read all of the famous Appendix N, but in my gaming history spanning over twenty-five years, I've played with very few who were particularly avid readers of fantasy, period. In my high school gaming group, a couple of the guys read some of the Gord books and other early D&D fiction, and maybe one of them read some Raymond Feist stuff. In my current gaming group, one of the guys is a big Tolkien fan, and another read a bit of fantasy in his youth including Conan and Elric, though that was years ago. The third guy I don't think has read any fantasy--unless maybe the Harry Potter series.

Anyway, maybe my experiences are atypical, but if the people I've played with are in any way representative, I was suspect most gamers don't come to rpgs with a strong background or even particularly strong interest in fantasy literature of any sort, much less many of the more obscure writers in the Appendix. Perhaps this is due to changing entertainment patterns compared to Gygax's day--certainly studies show that reading in general has decreased in every age group compared to 30 years ago, but I've noticed the phenomena before that trend.

So what gets gamers into gaming? Well mostly their friends, I'd guess. But why fantasy gaming, then? I assume this is tradition--"rpg" has mostly meant "D&D" over the years, so people had little choice. Many, perhaps most, peoples touchstones for how to conceptualize fantasy worlds and characters, then, has come largely from the game itself.

I should add here that I'm not placing any value judgement on this. There's no "wrong way" in my mind for people to enjoy rpgs, or to get into gaming, nor is there any purity test for inspirations.

But I find it interesting--particularly this: Do player's who've never read a fantasy novel, but came to tabletop rpgs from say, computer games, have different expectations or approaches to gaming, than those weened on Howard, Moorcock, and Leiber? How about those who got there from He-Man cartoons, or BOC albums, or those whose sole source of knowledge for fantasy is what they gleaned from the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual?

My gut reaction is that the conventions and culture of the game are the great leveller here, but I wonder what others have observed in this regard.

14 comments:

JimShelley said...

Man, I would love to see what a RPG game developed and played by a group of people who got there via Blue Oyster Cult! It would be very trippy and cool I suspect.

Tim Shorts said...

The card games. When I was working with teens they seem to have the biggest influnence. Anime is a close second. The card games are different in structure and philosophy, but they would often try to bring that to the tabletop RPGs. Meaning, in the card games you have your deck and your power depends on how much you've spent on cards. So they think when they first sit down to game they believe they should be able to take on a tribe of trolls at first level. So to do this they will arm themselves with some outrageously powerful items. They're used to controlling Egyptian gods so having to hack away at a goblin with a crappy sword takes some getting used to.

Trey said...

@Jim - Focus, Jim. Over here, buddy.

@Tim - Yeah, card games! I had completely forgotten about those. Never played with a player that got into them before rpgs, I guess.

ancientvaults said...

"I was born to be a lover, not a red-eyed screaming ghoul!"

Sorry, I was out on that BOC vibe too.

My first few groups were comprised of people that read a lot of Conan and Leiber, then as time went by there were people from different backgrounds, including Japanese gamers that hadn't read much Western fantasy, but were aware of myth and legend from Japan.

Current gamers are all avid fantasy readers, even if it seems that some of them wouldn't be, which is refreshing to me. It is interesting to see the literary backgrounds of people who dive into these games.

Trey said...

Some of it may be locality dependent. I gamed with my high school friends, and now with mostly doctors (who Raymond Chandler called "the least curious of men", for whatever that's worth). Maybe college crowds or games picked up from hardcore gaming crowds are different.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

The only fantasy I was acquainted with prior to my introduction to D&D was The Hobbit and the tales my father created and told us as children, but my experience may be atypical as I was introduced to D&D before the age of 10. As for my friends, they were into Tolkein or Science Fiction, not a sword and sorcery fan among them.

Trey said...

I hadn't thought about that, but like you, I was introduced before or right at 10, so I hadn't read much fantasy fiction at that point either--the Hobbit, and Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, maybe, so I hadn't actually either.

Most of the other people I played with (save my brother, who was younger than me) had started later, so I hadn't considered how common this scenario might me.

NetherWerks said...

Most gamers seem to read Lovecraft, sooner or later, for better or worse. But if you discover HPL after the age of 12-14...it might not stick.

After running scenarios at some local Cons, I was really surprised at how few of the people we played with read anything at all. The analogies that used to work have shifted from classic books (most now out of print) to movies, videogames and card games. We need to be aware of the underlying assumptions regarding our approach to gaming. I tend to still expect a level of curiosity, vocabularly and background (like reading some Leigh Brackett, Alfred Bester, Cordwainer Smith, etc.)...but that's very likely too curmudgeonly and old-fart-like. Guess it's time to freshen-up the references used in making in-game analogies...

NetherWerks said...

@Jim...Check out Planet Algol. Really.

Trey said...

You make some good points, and I think we should be open-minded about different influences--still, if liking Brackett is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.

Brian Murphy said...

At the risk of inciting edition war, there's no question in my mind that D&D has evolved from a gritter game of exploration/looting/high mortality (save vs. death effects, etc) to a game inspired by superheroes and video games (daily powers, defenders and controllers, etc.). The designers of 4E drew their sources of inspiration from very different sources than Gygax and Arneson, and as you've alluded to I think they did so deliberately, to match the expectations of newer, younger players.

Trey said...

Brian, I don't think you'll get much of an argument in regard to 4E from most of the readers that come around here--whatever there opinions of the game that resulted. What's interesting to me is I think things were shifting a bit even before this.

jbeltman said...

We grow up on fantasy. Aesop's Fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales, King Arthur, Robin Hood, William Tell, St George and the Dragon, Knights in Shining Armour, the Crusades, stories of the Gods (Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Norse, etc), movies (Ladyhawk, Willow, First Knight, etc), Disney movies (The Sword in the Stone, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Robin Hood again, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc), cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig as knights), other children's books (knights, talking animals, Brer Rabbit, Animalia, Winnie The Pooh, etc), The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe etc, Alice in Wonderland etc, Peter Pan, Sinbad, Gulliver, Arabian Nights, The Wizard of Oz etc. It is pervasive in our society from a very young age.

Trey said...

We grow up with fantasy, yes, but it doesn't bear a whole lot of resemblance to D&D.

I actually don't think the Arabian Nights, Arthuriana, or even Narnia are pervasive in our society, except through watered down cartoons, and in the most cursory ways.

In the same way most people know who Batman and Superman are, and maybe know their origins, but aren't "comics fans."

And, of course, none of those things are in Appendix N.