Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Games Should Be Hard... Except When They Shouldn't

I've come to the conclusion that there aren't really any groups near me who are interested in playing actual roleplaying games. Following on from the distinction made in my previous post, most of the players I've been able to find are more interested in storytelling games. Part of this is due to the aversion to learning rules, part of it is the aversion to any kind of challenge to the player as opposed to the character.

This attitude is especially bizarre to me because the exact opposite attitude prevails where video games are concerned. A couple of years ago, some of my friends couldn't stop raving about Dark Souls and how awesome it was. For those unfamiliar, it's a hack-and-slash game with light CRPG elements; its primary features are its brutal difficulty with no margin for error, and its bass-ackward control scheme (on consoles at least). It probably falls into the same category as games like Super Meat Boy and the more recent Cuphead, although it's a 3D game as opposed to 2D.

I gave it a shot, but not only do I not have the reflexes required for these types of games, there's a part at the beginning that soured me on the game even more than the terrible controls and incomprehensible story did. In the first area where you have some freedom of movement, there are two paths that pretty much look identical. Taking one of the paths is apparently not intended, and will lead to facing much tougher enemies than the other path... a beginner's trap. I was pissed - royally pissed - when I was told this by another friend.

Now, the same people who positively relish this kind of abuse in video-game format balk at the slightest amount of perceived unfairness on the tabletop. "You mean I have to roll for my stats? But that means I might get low rolls!" (To the average d20 System player, "low" rolls are equal to or less than 14 on 4d6 drop low.) The same applies to their interaction with the game world being more descriptive than "I make an Insight check."

Beginner's traps can be found in RPGs in the form of useless skills or feats, while getting wiped out happens as a result of deviating from your prescribed class role, rather than not having reflexes sharpened to a monomolecular edge by can after can of energy drinks. While playing a cleric in D&D 5, I've had players chew me out for doing anything other than healing them, right this second. I'd argue that, hey, maybe you should stop charging into melee against demon-possessed gnolls, but this would fall on deaf ears.

Finally, it's been explained at length why video games will never be as limitless as tabletop RPGs can be - and some video games are more linear than others. True, having too many options of more or less equal desirability can lead to paralysis (and does for me in a lot of cases), but I've repeatedly had players respond with silence, blank stares, and snarky pseudo-answers when asked what they want to do at the next session. The idea of agency mystifies them; I haven't figured out whether this is the reason so many of them enjoy anime, or the result of internalizing too much of its plot clich├ęs. Either way, they seem to demand an adventure path... but I'm too weary to make one for them, for reasons that will have to fit in another post.


  1. Strummin' my pain with his blogging, tellin' my life with his post

    Yeah, this is a bafflingly common attitude among gamers I've rolled with in the past. I think it has less to do with anime than it does with MMOs and similar devices. In the past decade, the MMO-speak and MMO-thought have infected many-a table, even so far as one player referring to their character as DPS. I'm like, bruh, this game doesn't have real-time combat, that term doesn't even make sense in the context of D&D. Really, DPS has just become shorthand for characters with a heavy damage output. Class roles have developed a rote expectation to them, and some of that is possibly reflected in game mechanics like cantrips that cause damage and can be infinitely cast.

    I don't think class role expectations are entirely a construct of MMOs...any game with character classes places a given focus on a character.

    I should also mention that I don't consider MMOs bad, they're just a different form of media. Because it features similar concepts (wizards and elves and things), the conventions are often conflated with those of tabletop rpgs, much like those players who expect plot immunity because their game should play out like a fantasy novel.

    Anyway. Good post.

    1. Thanks! And speaking of fantasy novels, there's something to be said for a story directly transcribed (with slight embellishments) from a D&D session. It might not be dramatically appropriate for a primary character to die in a fight with a bunch of mooks... but when was the real world (which so many fantasy authors spend hundreds of pages trying to emulate) concerned with dramatically appropriate timings for death?

    2. "It might not be dramatically appropriate..." makes me wonder if George Martin used to play D&D. Well, that and other similarities between Westeros and early D&D settings...