John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

Some Random Gaming Thoughts

I still think MMOs pretty much suck. I thought about playing an alt in LotRO and even indulged for a little while, but the sheer weight of realization of the grinding that would have to be done to bring the character up to snuff just made me depressed. Where the heck did this "game as work" thing come from, and how do we kill it? So it's reached the point where if I'm going to play at all, I only have two characters worth investing any time in because they're the only ones who've come even close to keeping up. Granted, MMOs are hardly hotbeds of interesting character development, but this still seems mighty limiting. I know, I know, players would balk en masse about a more level playing field and would never stay without the carrot of the next power-up to chase, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe. But honestly, if you gave me a Middle-earth-themed Second Life and had a simplistic mechanism for going out and killing orcs, I bet you'd have just as many longterm players. Put as much effort into making good story content as you do into balancing raids, you might be pleased with the result.

I know, dream on.

In other news, I still think D&D 4E pretty much sucks, but for different reasons. I'm also concerned about what effect it's having on the gaming industry. Bookstores that shoved all RPG stuff but 4E off of their shelves, are now shrinking those same shelves as the demand for 4E seems to dwindle. I suppose it may be the economy in general more than 4E, but for all people bellyache about $30-$40 books, it's still cheaper entertainment dollar-for-dollar than going to the movies, and probably cheaper than MMOs, too. (I couldn't swear to that part without some extensive math.)

By contrast, I'm digging Call of Cthulhu more every day. This is a game that hasn't significantly changed its mechanics since the Reagan administration, and yet still has a devoted following. And of the "Big Three" of old-school RPGs (D&D and Traveller being the other two), it's the only one that's still recognizable in its current form. D&D has turned into a rules-completely-decoupled-from-setting miniatures skirmish game that you can also roleplay with if you really want to (in the same way you could roleplay Monopoly if you wanted to); Traveller has been redone, re-redone, retro-undo-redone, then burned down, fell over, and sank into a swamp. (Seriously, does anybody actually play Traveller any more? Or do old guys simply remember it fondly as that game where you might up and get killed during character creation?) Call of Cthulhu, much like the Big C himself, occasionally sleeps beneath the waves, but never truly dies.

It is true that it's not making a ton of money and Chaosium seems to perennially have trouble paying the printers — but as far as I can make out, all from rumor and hearsay, I should add in fairness, that has more to do with how Chaosium is run as a business than anything with CoC. And look at all the other companies that are making money off of the same mythos. Steve Jackson sells Cthulhu tie-ins. Robin Laws has made a whole new line from his own Cthulhu RPG. CoC is a zero-budget success story on a massive scale; imagine the cultural penetration it might achieve if it had a marketing machine like WotC's?

What does it all mean? Heck if I know. I was happy as a bug in a rug during the 3.0/3.5 era, and while I'm glad that lives on in the form of Pathfinder, my actual interest in that whole genre is at a low ebb. But there is some kind of internal shift going on, that has been in motion since the announcement of the cancellation of Dragon magazine. What "gaming" means to me is changing, and my relationship to it. I don't know what it's changing to at this stage, the same way my writing and art are in flux; it's probably all related in the swirling miasma of my subconscious.

-The Gneech
Tags: deep thoughts, gaming
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