In this post I want to talk about tabletop roleplaying games, referred to as tabletop outside of this paragraph, such as Dungeons and Dragons being one example. These games, while loosely defined, tend to be games where you have several people each playing a character and there is another participant acting as the Game Master (GM). These are different from board games in the way that board games tend to not involve playing as a character and board games tend to be games that are played in single sittings, although there are outliers to this and this is a working definition. I also want to exclude War Games, like MechWarrior Miniatures and Warhammer 40K, even though these games were originally inspired by such games. These are also not video games either because video games are mediated by a console and tend to not have a GM. Also video games do not have to be social experiences, but Tabletop Games almost do.
I would argue that these games provide a unique experience that is very different from the examples I have said that it is not as well as other examples. These games can provide a wealth of good participatory storytelling that allows for everyone to engage in the creation and can be very fun. It is because of this powerful narrative freedom that tabletop games can be very liberating.
With that said, Tabletop Games tend to have this negative stigma associated with them. That they are only for the stereotypical geek or nerd. This is wrong though. I believe tabletop games are for anyone who wants to experience participatory storytelling. With that said, the cultural artifacts associated with Tabletop games tend to favor that nerdish stereotype. The books tend to be thick and the rules arcane and dense. Dungeons and Dragons which is by far the most popular of these games tend to favor combat and violent solutions heavily as emphasized by the complexity of the rules, options that are available, and the design of the character sheets themselves. This is very different from video games, which at one point were considered nerdish and/or childish, but in some respects have escaped some of the trappings and are more socially acceptable than Dungeons and Dragons is. I tend to avoid playing Dungeons and Dragons, particularly with new players, but it is still a problem with other games too.
And yet after all of that, if I, as a person who would like to see people playing more of these games, can get people over that barrier then they have always admitted to having fun. Occasionally, people who are completely unfamiliar with the game and the story up to this point will sit and listen in even if they are not players or GMing. It’s a design problem and a hard one. How do you maintain the intricacy to allow the creation of interesting characters and yet make it simple enough that new people can enjoy it as well? Not sure about that one, but maybe one day.