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September 18, 2012

Giving Back

Brief post:  What are your thoughts on a long-time player's duty to the game?

I've had this conversation about LARP and it's starting up again about tabletop gaming with some friends.  Gaming is like any other fun thing you did a lot in your twenties:  When you get a job and kids, it starts to fall by the wayside.  Your expertise increases, then, at the peak of your game, so to speak, you go into semi-retirement.

By duty, I mean the labor you owe back to the hobby for all the good times it gave you.  

With LARP, the problem is worse.  There are no volumes of LARP skills and techniques.  A troupe will have a few people perfect some techniques or think of very useful ideas (like contingency envelopes, consensus play, "playing to lose," long-term confederates, NPC time requirements, etc.).  But then the troupe dissolves and the players have kids and stop playing...  And then the new generation arrives, playing rock-paper-scissors and lining up in front of the GM to talk to the NPCs...  It's sad how much gets lost!

But there's duty to tabletop gaming as well.  Experienced players often tend to come with skills the industry needs: Mathematics and statistics; marketing and social media; art, design and layout; technical writing; prose; pedagogy; fundraising (business or arts charities); historical analysis; geography and GIS; copy editing; project management; web design; javascript; publishing...

Those are grownup skills.  Fifteen year old D&D players don't have any of them at a really professional level.  Yet at my regular gaming table, or one step removed, I can probably identify every single one of those skills at a semi-pro or fully professional level.  But for the most part all we do is break out other people's games and play.

And on top of all those grownup skills, we have decades of gaming experience, each.  If you're a GM with two decades of experience, planning a few hours a week, running two 4 hour games every other week and playing two 4 hour games on the off weeks on average; you're a world class expert according to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule.

It's been suggested to me -- and I think I agree -- that we have the ethical responsibility to give back.  Nobody's ever gotten rich by making RPGs.  It only makes sense that people should make tabletop role-playing games as a hobby.  It only makes sense that people do it in their spare time, and expect to break even or make enough for beer money, at best.  If you're an expert by Gladwell's standards, you'd better step up and give back, or you're wasting all that experience and talent!

Make something.  If just one hundred people buy your game on drivethrurpg or whatever, and they have more fun than if they'd stayed home and played Diablo 3, you've just made something better (for people like you anyway) than a AAA title video game.  You should be proud.

So now, I suppose it's time I got into game design in whatever spare moments I can snatch.  This is not supposed to be a game DESIGN blog, so I'll keep posts about that infrequent, or maybe I'll see if I can guest post on Reinhart's game design tumblr.


  1. As you might expect, I agree passionately with this view. Perhaps developing table-top gaming will never be more than a hobby, but I have a feeling that part of the reason it hasn't been more popular in the past is because this retirement effect. I doubt we'll see roleplaying games become as popular as video games and cinema. However, developing games through specialized skills and experience should advance the artform and expand the appeal of the hobby.

  2. Or even just putting up a few articles, responding on forums to new players, and offering advice to your friends who are still gaming.