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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How "Red Dead Redemption" Could Kill Tabletop Gaming

No D20s required

Let's be honest. I'm not about to run out and play Red Dead Redemption, even though it looks amazing. I literally just completed Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which most of you probably had long since sold back to GameStop by Christmas of 2006. I'm behind, I know. The next games on my list are Force Unleashed, BioShock, and Fallout 3. I consider myself to simply be "fashionably late" for these gaming experiences. I do look forward to checking out RDD, however, but I also fear that it could mark a trend that could deal another heavy blow to conventional, tabletop gaming.

Let me back up a little bit. The traditional RPG hobby, not to mention traditional card and board games, have seen much of their market share eaten up by video games. I suspect my elders would point out that this problem began long before I achieved gaming consciousness, and I'm sure they would be right. However, RDD represents a major step in the development of the console gaming experience that could pull even more of us away from the table.

Here we have a game that seems to be taking the next step from where other titles have already tread, incorporating RPG elements into both shooters and open-world games. Modern Warfare and Borderlands come immediately to mind. We're handed a character that we get to equip and improve as we guide him through a story, making decisions and taking down the bad guys (or good guys, as the case may be). Sure, it's not the same as rolling up your own character from the start, but many of the same elements are there.

The big difference here is the multiplayer. Unlike Fallout 3 or Knights of the Old Republic, there exists in this game the opportunity to game with friends on a shared adventure. You can team up to go on raids or explore, or gun down other players. It doesn't, however, extend into the realm of MMO, with its grinding and questing and unending work to keep up with the latest level cap. To the casual gamer, MMOs are for the weirdo fantasy dork on tricked-out gaming rigs, where RDD fits comfortably into the judgement-free console zone. RDD looks like it fits nicely into this gap, as it will certainly be played by traditional gamers, but won't scare off more mainstream players by being too much like Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft.

The real threat posed by RDD and its ilk is the emergence of extended gameplay as time goes on. Rockstar has already announced the first free downloadable content for Red Dead, and you have to think that this will continue, though certainly not always for free. While DLC is no new animal, these expansions are multiplayer-friendly, allowing groups of players to continue their shared experiences with additional storylines in addition to extra single-player content.

I believe that we can all get along, but there's no doubt that such games make it easier to put down the dice and pick up a controller. If the point of role-playing is to enjoy some escapism, be part of a cool, interactive story, and to spend time with friends, I'm getting more and more options every day that, while they aren't quite as fulfilling, also require that much less effort and preparation.

The lesson here, to me, is that tabletop gaming has got to evolve if it's going to stay relevant. The only question is, how?

Feel like checking it out? Get it for 360 or PS3.

8 comments:

demonillusionist said...

I'm not worried. My housemate picked up RDD, or, as we call it here, "Grand Theft Pony," earlier today. It's basically a movie that occasionally lets you make choices or press buttons.

By the way, you should consider enabling name/url commenting. This will likely be my last comment until you do - I just comment on too many blogs to go through the inconvenience of logging in to a different service every time I want to say something. I know I'm not the only one.

The Recursion King said...

This is quite an odd point of view. After all, Neverwinter Nights was designed to host an adventure for a number of players in a party, used the D&D rules and even had provision for a games master to run it too, all on the PC, through the tinterwebs and it did not kill table top gaming.

Neverwinter Nights did all this game is doing and much, much more, as you could create your own adventures with it and many did.

I think what you are missing with all of this is that nothing quite beats getting together with friends and looking each other in the eye while you game, picking up physical dice and sending them clattering down the table. In fact, most of it can't be put into words because its a /feeling/ you get when your amongst friends.

EricTetz said...

demonillusionist wrote: "My housemate picked up RDD [..] It's basically a movie that occasionally lets you make choices or press buttons."

The first 10 minutes are like that, because they are establishing the story and your place in it, setting you up in your 'home' town, while running you through a series of tutorials to teach you the various mechanics available to you. It then opens up into a very open world experience.

And, of course, all the cut scenes are skippable with a single button press. I watched them all, marveling at how great the mocap, lip syncing, and voice acting are , if not the writing. My brother skipped them all.

A.L. said...

Something you didn't mention is also the accessibility. I can sit down at my couch and pick up a control for 30 minutes to 2 hours whenever I want and am free, while Gaming is a planned group thing that happens every X days for 3-6 (on averaeg) hours. Which is both a good and a bad thing for gaming.

That being said, I think Table Top RPGs still have legs to stand on. Namely in the position that you get unique custom tailored content every session that can adapt to you. The character is yours, the world is yours, etc. I think it may be less of a situation where Table Top RPGs need to adapt, and more a situation where we need to go "Now, how do we make those people take the next couple of steps and grab some dice to give this a try"

One of the things needed for that though is more systems that are simpler. I can't tell you how many people I've coaxed in with a simple game like BESM whose comment before was "I wanted to try before, but when people started stacking book after book in front of me it began to look too much like work so I backed out." Not that our complex games have to go away necessarily. Just that we need people to provide the gateway into the table top arena.

Hammer said...

"To the casual gamer, MMOs are for the weirdo fantasy dork on tricked-out gaming rigs..."

I'd have to completely disagree with that. I know people who I'd certainly class as casual gamers who only ever hop on to WoW, Eve, LOTRO or whatever for a few hours at the weekend. They don't do hardcore raiding, they don't epic whore, they just enjoy the game.
You also forget that Fable 2 has cooperative elements. Can't say they're even vaguely successful.

Red Dead Redemption, realistically, doesn't offer any more of a threat to table top gaming then any other video game. People who enjoy creating their own stories aren't going to stop coming to a game session just because of one game which they can complete in a few weeks time.
Where as those who don't table top game aren't going to really be affected by this any more then by Call of Duty or the Sims.

Jason Richards said...

@demonillusionist: Done. Thanks for the heads up.

@TRK: I agree. There is nothing like gaming with friends around a table with the clatter of dice. However, I don't feel the Neverwinter Nights comparison is really valid. It absolutely is a precursor to what we're seeing here with RDD, but it has some very different elements. For one, RDD isn't set in a Fantasy setting and isn't in any way associated with D&D, both elements that have negative stigmas attached to them by many, many casual gamers. Also, the additional Dungeon Master features of Neverwinter Nights carry the same problems as a Dungeon/Game Master at a table: the time and effort required to create it. Meanwhile, new modules are being created by the pros at Rockstar that are available at the click of a button.

@A.L. Good points. You're now touching on something that we discussed here some weeks ago: Gateway Gaming. I totally agree that the tabletop gaming community should be more concerned with harnessing the success of alternative gaming platforms to draw people into the traditional hobby. that post is available here:

http://www.jasonrichards.net/2010/04/gateway-gaming-easing-others-into-hobby.html

@Hammer RDD certainly isn't the nail in the coffin, but it appears that it will offer more in the ways of RPG alternatives, with less work required for the player, than previous games (along with other games out there doing the same sort of thing, like Borderlands). MMOs such as WoW have certainly captured the imaginations of some casual gamers, but I stand by my position that most casual gamers don't consider MMOs as desirable. Simply the fact that they are PC games instead of console games, alone, virtually classes them as out of bounds for most casual gamers, in my experience.

Helmsman said...

My personal opinion is that TT gaming offers a social push-pull experience that the digital medium hasn't consistently replicated. The main selling point of a Table Top RPG is that the world reacts in a sentient, mostly unscripted way because those reactions are controlled by a real-live human being. The problem is that this innately creates inexcessability because you need that human being to be playing as well to give you that experience. Computers use scripted predictable alghorithums but you can pop in and play with no questions of if your buddy is available.

I believe the evolution of Tabletop play lies in user-interfaces designed to assist chat-based gameplay. All the components to do this exist, but they've not quite been combined in a way that's excessable to the layman yet. You need, an IM client or VoiP client (Skype does both best IMHO), a 3D engine that allows you to represent and alter items and avatars on the fly with appropriate game stats. And ideally it needs a way to use a smartphone as a sort of remote-control to the main interface when you're on the go.

I believe that such an evolution would be the best way of making tabletop gaming relevant once again while preserving the core experience. No doubt compromises will be made on some of the principles and maybe innovations will occur to enhance things that I've not thought of, but I think this is the right direction.

Lando The Archmagi said...

I've been running and playing in the RPG hobby for 31 yrs, including playtesting and tournament GMing and I still love it. I also do video/computer gaming, but I even enjoy rpging online via play by post or virtual tabletop gaming. I've played and run everything from D&D to White Wolf's Storyteller system via OpenRPG.

http://www.openrpg.com

So come check out one of my games sometime.

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