Gaming Snobs

Personally, I don't like 4th edition...but the art is nice.In August 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced that there would be a 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the world’s most popular and successful role-playing game. This kicked off the string of reactions one would expect in gamers, with people landing in the “this is the end of RPGs forever” camp, the “4th edition D&D will cure cancer” camp, and everywhere in between. While my ultimate reaction to 4th edition was negative, I watched the development of the edition with a keen interest and visited a lot of RPG forums between August 2007 and the edition’s release in June 2008. My exploration of the online communities highlighted an odd group of people to me: the group of folks who adhere the concept that their style of role-playing is the only “pure” style, and that everything else is a bastardization of the hobby. In an industry as small as the RPG industry, this notion that there’s only one true way to enjoy a game seems pretty ridiculous to me.

The D&D game in particular has more than its share of edition wars, largely because each new edition of the game has had some pretty nasty history going on behind the scene. The game split off into the “Classic” and “Advanced” lines over the fact that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the game’s co-creators, couldn’t get along and take equal credit for the game’s success. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons went into a 2nd edition because Gygax was forced from the company he created by a woman who hated gamers and saw them as nothing more than gullible rubes. The game became just D&D again and went into a 3rd edition when that same woman drove TSR, Inc. into the ground with idiotic business decisions and forced Wizards of the Coast to swoop in and save the day. Finally, then Wizards of the Coast was acquired by Hasbro, Inc., the game underwent a “3.5” edition revision, only three years after people had switched over to the 3rd edition. Every new edition of the game has been inspired by corporate forces that are often quite nasty on a personal level. Combined with sometimes drastic changes in the rules, there are all sorts of people who got alienated with each change, leading to a number of people who only play 1st edition AD&D, or the classic version of the game, or 3rd edition but not 3.5, and so on and so forth. Looking around online, some of the edition wars between passionate fans of the game can get extremely nasty, which doesn’t reflect well on the hobby at all.

4th edition has been out for two and a half years now, and there are still people who insists that the game died with 3rd edition. That’s really a pretty ridiculous argument, because it implies that the hobby should never change or improve. Role-playing games aren’t like Monopoly, where they can have a Junior edition and a Patriots Super Bowl winner edition and a Middle Earth edition and so on and so forth. The average game releases its core books, and won’t be releasing anything but supplements to those rule books until a new edition comes out. Additionally, because role-playing games allow for more freedom than any other game, they are constantly being pushed by the innovation of the people who play them. New rules are created to cover situations that weren’t thought of in the core, and old rules are discovered to be broken when applied in a certain way. Eventually, the number of house rules becomes too cumbersome, and certain rules are found to be so broken that they need to be fixed. A new edition is inevitable, and it’s a very good sign – it means that people are playing the game enough to warrant a new overhaul of the system.

Of course, sometimes the changes others make to the game don’t fit with the changes a person wants to see. For instance, 4th edition D&D brought a new focus on the notion of abilities that can be used at will and once an encounter, whereas I prefer the idea of abilities that are used on a per-day basis. But even if 4th edition isn’t the type of game I prefer, that doesn’t mean my 3rd edition game is the only true version of D&D out there – it means that this particular game has become something I’m not interested in. With the Open Gaming License still in effect, it was only a matter of time before someone created an alternate “4th edition” with its own style, which just happened to become the Pathfinder RPG, my current game of choice. Even had Pathfinder not come about, there are always other games out there, or I could have kept playing with the rules I already had.

Since one of the design goals of the new edition has been giving the player characters something to do every round (mostly in combat, since the D&D rules have always revolved around fighting situations), a lot of detractors have referred to it negatively as making the game “more like a video game.” People who say this very rarely expand upon that; apparently, a role-playing game being like a video game is the worst sin out there. That’s pretty funny, considering that the video game RPG market has borrowed extensively from D&D and other tabletop role-playing games over the years. The Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games borrowed heavily from old-school fantasy gaming. The Warcraft franchise is so adaptable to a tabletop D&D game that there’s a d20 version of World of Warcraft out there. These games all borrowed heavily from D&D, and added in some cool elements of their own. Why should it be a bad thing if the D&D designers look at these changes, realize that they’re popular with gamers, and seek to emulate them in the table-top game? If anything, they’re bringing new options to the game without keeping the restrictions of a computer game, since tabletop gamers are not restricted by what the system’s programmers/designers originally intended.

As near as I can tell, people who bash something as being “like a video game” are doing so because they’re essentially gaming snobs. Role-playing games to them are the realm of high intellectuals, while video games are kids’ stuff. Comics fans have something similar; lots of comic book readers look down upon anime and manga as being inferior, despite the fact that manga generally explores more mature and wider-spreading themes than American comics. But these things are seen as something belonging to a younger generation who, because they’re younger, are naturally inferior and less intelligent – or so the gaming snobs seem to think.

There’s also a sense of elitism involved. Since tabletop gaming is a much smaller market than video games, a lot of tabletop gamers have this sense that their game is better. Being played by fewer people makes it cooler, because it means the game is too smart for the masses who sit there drooling over their keyboard while hacking things down in World of Warcraft. That’s ultimately a screwed up way of thinking, because at the end of the day we’re still pretending to be someone hacking up orcs and dragons. Tabletop games and computer games have the same basic goal: give the player a chance to pretend to be someone else. Let them be whatever they want and explore a world where they’re the heroes. Just because you’re choosing a different path to your wish fulfillment doesn’t mean you’re better than the person who does his role-playing online or even the guy who dresses up and goes to do some live-action role-playing in the park.

Gamers are gamers. There’s no reason why someone playing AD&D should look down on someone playing 3rd edition D&D, or why a tabletop player should consider a person who plays Neverwinter Nights to be a loser. We’re all doing the same thing; we’re just using different systems. In a hobby that is traditionally filled with geeks and nerds, why are we so eager to ostracize our nerdly kin?

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4 Responses to “Gaming Snobs”

  1. The 4e hate was even worse before the game was released, though part of that was due to some lackluster teasers from WotC.

    Plus, there’s the Essentials books which have more familiar versions of the classic classes.

    • I think the early teasers hurt 4th edition’s sales at release. A lot of people got turned off by them, particularly since WotC also burned away goodwill among fans by canceling Dragon and Dungeon Magazine, pulling their 3rd party licenses, and totally botching the GSL.

      That said, the game itself, for all the problems I’ve seen in it, does what it intends to do very well and doesn’t deserve a lot of the hate it gets.

  2. Vincenzo Beretta Says:

    Caveat: I’m among those who are unsure if 4E will cure cances, but sure that it increased depressive episodes all around.

    Having said that, it is not true that…

    “There’s also a sense of elitism involved. Since tabletop gaming is a much smaller market than video games, a lot of tabletop gamers have this sense that their game is better.”

    Follow the videogame boards and you will find the very same kind of flamewars, elitist behaviour, “smaller is cooler” attitude et al.

    Actually, this lead to me to coin the “fractal archetipe” idea. Take a field: let’s say Entertainment. Those playing videogames will snob those who like more tabletop RPGs – and vice-vesra. Then zoom on TT-RPGs: those who play Vampire snob and patronize those who play D&D – and vice-versa. Zoom further on D&D: those who play 3E snob and commiserate those who play 4E – and vice-versa.

    I thing you get the gist.

    Then, well, there are those who play/enjoy/pursue what they like, but they are a disappearing specie. And, BTW, this usually leads them to internet fights with both parts… :^D

    • That is certainly true. The “smaller is cooler” idea may not have been the best way to put it. Rather, people like to attack what is popular, especially when they aren’t into it. RPG players for decades have bashed D&D, with many fans of less popular games even suggesting that it isn’t “true” role-playing or that it’s kid’s stuff and that a good role-player will graduate to other games. World of Warcraft is a big fish these days, and those who don’t play it often attack it and other MMOs as being for losers. It seems you haven’t really made it big until you have detractors.

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