Monday, June 8, 2009

New Editions: Explanations of Anger

My excellent colleague NewbieDM asked a question this weekend that we've seen many iterations of over this past year in gaming.

"Why get upset over a new edition of a game? Your books don't disappear... You can still play the old one, what is the big deal?"

That's a great question, and as it is asked in the shadow of the 3rd Edition/4th Edition split of Dungeons & Dragons, I'll try to look at it in that context through my experiences.

Let me back up for a moment--there was a point during 3e D&D (likely The Book of 9 Swords, but possibly before) where I began to realize that a lot of the things 3e was doing--over-codification and formalization of character ability, for one, stylistic direction for another--really wasn't jiving with my idea of D&D. I enjoyed games that were kin to d20, but stripped out some of the bulk (Microlite 20, more recently Castles & Crusades).

Then came 4e, and that was even further away stylistically and system-wise from what I wanted.

And so you wake up one day and realize the game you've supported since your awkward adolescence is no longer for you. It isn't for your play style, or there are games that do it better. It still has that brand name that you were an adherent of, but you aren't the target audience. And for me, that stung. And I griped when each new 4e announcement came out--upset that they were going so far from what I wanted out of the game. When you're a part of something for so long, and then no longer feel like you're a part of it, one of the ways you react is to lash out.

But you know what? I eventually got over it. I think it's fantastic people are having fun with 4e. I love reading ChattyDM's recaps. I realized that while one company might control a certain name consisting of two consonants and an ampersand, the spirit of that was alive in countless other products. And the more time I spent griping meant the less time playing the stuff I liked. Which meant there was a staggering increase in the kobold populations of our campaign worlds during that time, inversely proportional to a shocking drop in Player Character mortality rates. Clearly, that couldn't stand.

There are people with other reasons for being upset with the new edition. Some of them having nothing to do directly with the game itself, but in wanting to support WotC, but not feeling they can, either because they aren't selling what they want, or because of their former ineptitude in Public Relations. And, of course, whatever the edition or game, you have the purists and the self-absorbed, stunned that anyone wouldn't care for their game, or having to validate their own preferences by denigrating those of others.

I'd like to say the last one isn't the most common online, but we all know it likely is. And if people want to stay upset, it isn't as if WotC isn't good for a PR flare-up every quarter or so. But, at least for some of us, I'd say some of the anger was in just part of learning to let go and take this new path. The Game didn't remain the same. But we just had to remember Our Game never left.


Robertson Games said...

Very well said. :)

I'm increasingly feeling like setting sail from the land of "let's play D&D" and heading out into uncharted waters in search of some new Fantasy Adventure Game without all the baggage and edition wars that go with D&D.

Mike said...

Oftentimes, when people criticize a game, I think they do so without the caveat that "I don't like X, Y, and Z about a game" because it doesn't personally suit them.

Myself, I don't like Castles & Crusades, and could write an entire blog post about what I personally find wrong with the game. But that doesn't mean that it's not a good game. Its strengths and weaknesses don't lend themselves to my personal tastes, that's all.

I'm quite glad that there's a lot of people playing Castles & Crusades, and that they enjoy it a lot. Because that means there's a lot of happy people gaming, period. :)

Zachary The First said...

@Mike: Well put. And as simple as that caveat is, it's the lack of it (or, just as often, the ignoring or disregard of it) that causes so many firestorms.

Robertson Games said...

I think a major factor in people getting their knickers in a twist is that when you say "Let's play Monopoly!" everyone knows what game you're talking about... but when you say "Let's play D&D!" you could be talking about what can be played as completely different games. If you get a group of people together to play Monopoly nobody is going to think you're supposed to be playing Risk instead.

Original D&D without the use of minis, and a DM who emphasizes roleplaying and exploration is not the same game as 4th edition with a heavy emphasis on combat. The genre is the same - the gameplay is different. Even people who like the same edition (eg. AD&D) could be sitting down to play what are essentially different games using the same books.

Aside from being a trademark D&D basically means "Fantasy Tabletop RPG". I don't think it's really much more descriptive of what kind of game people might be playing than that.

Zachary The First said...

@RG: I think of it as the Balkanization of D&D. :)

Tony Law said...

I think the answer is actually simpler than people think. It's human nature, really. It's change and most people don't like change. People will go out of their way to put down the "latest and greatest thing" without ever even seeing it because it's new and different.

I've been working in the training field for the last 15 years and I've seen many different pieces of software, different employees, and even different offices come and go and, every time something new was announced, you'd have a core group of people who would do nothing but gripe and complain because "this isn't how it used to be" i.e. "I don't like change because I'm being taken out of my comfort zone."

It's perfectly natural and it's very counter-productive to try and argue with people who feel this way. It does nothing but solidify, at least in their mind, that they're right. The best thing you can do is listen to what they have to say, tell them you disagree, and then move on.

Dave The Game said...

"I think a major factor in people getting their knickers in a twist is that when you say "Let's play Monopoly!" everyone knows what game you're talking about."

Yes, but Monopoly with Free Parking funds? Auction Monopoly? Even as specific as the one with the Astronaut or not?

(cue Monopoly edition war)

Zachary The First said...

Oh, you're killin' me, Chalker.


Thomas Denmark said...

It is more than just a feeling of betrayal. It is that the game you know and love is no longer being supported by the publisher. While plenty of fan material continues to be generated, you know there will no longer be top quality, fully illustrated, well designed and playtested, hard cover books coming out for your favorite game anymore.

Also as much as I love Swords & Wizardry for example, there is no denying the power of the Dungeons & Dragons logo on a book. It's very similar to when you go to the store, you can buy generic cheaper, and it's probably just as good, but branding has a powerful appeal.

Gleichman said...

"Original D&D without the use of minis"...

That was a variant to me, and I started with original D&D. Never played it without minis. Never would.

So that didn't change. D&D never did have a 'proper and fixed' style of play, and EGG himself fought against that in order to expand the system/hobby (and AD&D was the result).

4E is just more of the same in the line.

That said, D&D is a somewhat extreme example producting extreme reactions. While CoC, HERO, GURPS and other games managed to get by with what was for the most part minor adjustments- D&D at times completely changed the balance and focus of the game.

So it's a rather special case, made worse by its market share.

Myself, I view this as a strong indication that D&D's market share was always about things other than the quality or style of rules.

Robertson Games said...

@Tony Law: I don't think it's just about change. I like trying new games, but I like some of them more than others. :)

@Dave The Game: Those are all minor variations within the same game. Those things don't make it play like a totally different game. 4e with a focus on combat is a completely different game from 1e with minimal combat. If someone didn't tell you they were both called D&D you wouldn't even recognize them as the same thing.

@Gleichman: Exactly. Since some people played 1e with minis and lots of combat, 4e is very similar for them. This is where you get people debating whether 4e "feels" like D&D or not -- because there were so many different ways that people might have been playing earlier editions of D&D. This was something WotC recognized in the development of 3.0 and actively sought to standardize the gameplay. This trend was continued in 4e.

ChattyDM said...

Great post Zach, I like how you made a personal statement about the whole thing and end up with a play and let play conclusion.

I decided to sit this last outburst of the Edition wars, I'm too busy judging One Page Dungeons and writing about D&D bloodbowl... :)

I'm pleasantly surprised that you find my 4e recap interesting. Thanks!

Zachary The First said...

@Chatty: Oh, absolutely! You've had a lot of cool ideas and scenes that really seem to work well. I also like that you admit what didn't work well. You and Chgowiz go about it different ways, but both of you do session recaps I find interesting and useful for inspiration and ideas.

And yeah, hurry up on those 1-pagers! When are we going to find out the winners, anyhow? :)

pitycrit said...

My biggest gripe is that now I have no reason not to completely customize the rules, because what I come up with will be better than what I can buy --so I have a lot of trouble sharing my rules with other people.

Norman Harman said...

Hmmmm, D&D has not been the love of my life. Maybe that's why the edition war and the old-school renaissance is no big deal to me. I dabbled with Rolemaster (MERP esp) early on and then abandoned it entirely during the 2ed splatbook'o'rama.

I came back to it after 3.5 due to being exposed to those rules in ToEE computer game (which rocks despite what people say). I expected splat books and power escalation. And all of it to be thrown out so there would be need to buy a whole new round of books.

This is how the industry works. Game publishers are in the business of taking your money and getting it into their pockets. Feeling "betrayed" by them is naivete.

I am more distraught by the change in play style and player expectations than rule differences.

mxyzplk said...

As one of those who is known to still vent the occasional rant at 4e, let me chime in to explain why it's not just pure wickedness and hate behind why I and others don't just "shut up and go away."

I think what happened is clear to everyone who has analyzed the edition change to any degree. In short, a significant number of 3e and other legacy D&D players who enjoy simulationist play were mostly left out in 4e.

So, fair enough. D&D play styles have been diverse over time; certain editions have supported different styles better, there are other games out there, etc.

However, besides the nostalgic cachet to the D&D trademark, there's no denying that WotC is the 900 pound gorilla in the RPG market and D&D is the most played game. More support material is published for D&D than anything else.

Some people pick the game they prefer. Many, many others are led into a default play style by the game they pick up, the game that is on every bookstore shelf and the majority of people play - in this case, gamers are somewhat "molded" into the 4e style by playing it and by its market dominance. I think it's clear that not all that dominance is a clear case of "people have specifically chosen gamist tactical combat;" with any new edition most sales are driven by "this is the new version of that old thing." But then you begin, consciously and unconsiously, adhering to its metaphor (Norman Harman is referring to this same effect above, I think).

Furthermore, gaming is a social hobby, and it can be hard to find gaming groups and, on the publishing side, get sufficient critical mass to get "fringe" products produced.

As a result, there is significant incentive for me and others who prefer a different type of gaming to continue to advocate for D&D to (re-)adopt our mindset (in 5e, if nothing else). Because when your style of gaming is marginalized outside D&D, then your ability to find like minded gamers and get products that suit your needs is severely degraded. Thus, even if I don't play 4e, it affects me negatively. (Note that me house-ruling to accomplish simulation in 4e doesn't reduce any of these secondary effects, and is therefore not a useful solution).

It's traditional that the majority doesn't understand the concern of the marginalized - why be angry? Go with the flow! Nobody's telling you what to do! But in the end, it's not that simple (ask any minority group).

And that's why I personally plan to continue to agitate for changes to D&D to reintegrate the simulationist banner within the game. Doing so produces:

- the ability for me to play the best-supported and most-played RPG
- the network effect of other games and gamers who are fluent in simulation play

Make sense?

Zachary The First said...

No, I totally get what you're saying. You're lobbying for change to get back "your" D&D. I can see that. I guess for me, that's not a fight I wanted to continue, not least of which because the game is with a company I do not hold in high esteem, and have no particular urge to support.

For me, the war is over. I have my games, and I'm just admitting that they aren't 4e (or, if the same posse is making the game) and likely not 5e, if the current direction remains.