Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dream Park, Digital Technology and the "Future" of RPGs

Over on Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a great post about feeling alienated by the current climate of digital initiatives, subscriptions, required accessories and so forth in "the cutting edge of the gaming hobby." Granted, squeezing money out of games goes all the way back to the days of official character sheets and so forth, but with the current climate of hyper-marketing and so forth, it's sad seeing the hobby being so .....manipulated.

I've also seen discussions regarding the future of RPGS and things like digital tabletop displays and holographic projectors. Perhaps one day we'll be fortunate enough to not have to use our pesky imaginations to visualize our adventures, a computer will render the game right down to the interactions with the rope merchant at the bazaar.

It brings to mind the novel Dream Park, by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes. The novel deals with a murder mystery set in a game at Dream Park, a near-future high technology Disneyland that features a live action role playing game, much like Dungeons & Dragons but set in various time periods, played in what amounts to a gigantic doomed soundstage with all sorts of technological gimcracks and doo-dads.

I loved the novel, and the D&D adventurers in cargo cult Polynesia "adventure plotline" is awesome! However, when I think of the elements of the novel and how they relate to gaming, it almost seems like sinister forshadowing.

Hot shot celebrity Gamemasters with planned out set-piece railroad adventures

An "Official" gamer umbrella organization

Flashy, showy visuals

On one hand, when reading Dream Park it seems like the ultimate version of D&D, on the other hand it seems like the worst version of D&D. You fly to california to fight holograms in a dome under the official sanction of the gaming organization? How expensive would it cost to adventure in Dream Park? Whenever I imagined the economics, my Dream Park fantasies fell flat. Something like that could only be experienced by the well-off upper class, aside from ordinary folks those who would save and scrimp and fuck themselves over with credit in order to have the "full gaming experience."

The business graduates who are taking over the "professional end" of the hobby want to sell us Dream Park. They want us to pay to have someone else do the imagining for us. They want us to operate under an "official body." They want to get us addicted into paying for an experience and keep on paying for it.

The old-school role playing that we love will only continue as an "underground phenomenon." I've been involved in the undergound metal/punk scene for decades, and I see the same bullshit in both scenes. The plastic/souless "marketed product" versus the genuine, "poor-yet-virtuous" underound troopers.

The future of Dungeons & Dragons, as I know and love it, is not Dragonforce but with the D.I.Y. hardcore punk band playing a basement show. Ten years from now nobody will be listening to Dragonforce OR playing 4E, as something newer and flashier and cooler will have replaced the obsolete, disposable product.

Perhaps I'm deluded by my own socialist philosopy, but I believe nothing genuine, nothing of truly lasting worth, will come out of the fevered imaginations of business graduates using capitalist machinery to drain every drop of money out of "the gaming consumers."


  1. I think some people will probably be playing 4e in ten years, but they'll be at the margins, much as anyone playing any other edition is right now. Honestly, I don't want to blaspheme here, but I might even play it again myself if the combats didn't take so long.

  2. True, "nobody" was a piece of rant hyperbole.

    Without any denigration, I believe that 4E would be a great system for a Professional Wrestling RPG. The loooong up and down combats would be perfect for it.