Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Alright. Had a bit of a meltdown yesterday. I'm okay now, though. I have good friends, both across the internet and in the meatspace, and I have a paradoxically-great relationship with my wife. So things are better. My situation has not improved, really, but my spirits have. So that's good.

Now, onto the interesting stuff...

I played a lot of videogames this past weekend. I was tired, mentally and physically, of constantly going out to do tabletop stuff, and I had a rare opportunity to truly just sit and be alone for awhile, so I took it. And I had a great time. Videogames have so many various advantages over tabletop games.

So why am I a tabletop geek, then? Why is this not Failing Forward: A Blog about Videogames, with Occasional Asides About My Failing Marriage? Afterall, videogames are way more popular. They have pretty graphics and sounds. You can be social with them, online, through services like Xbox Live and Steam, and massively-multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft. And you can play them alone, or whenever you have time, rather than carving out a big block of an afternoon or evening, like with tabletop gaming.

Those are all true. But, above all, I will say that the heart wants what it wants. Though I love videogames and have what can only be described as an embarrassingly vast collection of them, my true passion will always be  for the tabletop.

Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Tabletop Gaming is a Human Experience. That sounds weird, but I mean it. I've said before, when this topic sometimes comes up, that there is just something real, something human, about sitting at a table with another group of people and playing something together. It's the difference between listening to pre-recorded music on your iPod versus going to a live concert. Sure, the iPod is great, but there is something intangible and emotional about physically being there, in the moment. Gaming is the same way. If you, dear reader, have never played a roleplaying game or "designer" boardgame before (a game so peculiar and unique that it's often known by the designer who made it, such as Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan, or Matt Leacock's Pandemic), then you should do it. At least once. With whomever you can find. It's special. Trust me; I've written how many entries on this now?

2. Tabletop Gaming is Scalable. When playing a videogame, the game itself is often the largest factor into how much fun you're having. If a videogame sucks, there's no amount of drunken revelry that will make it not suck. That's not the case with tabletop games. Every tabletop game you bring home from the hobby shop has the potential to be the greatest game you've ever played.  All you need are the right group of homeys. Granted, sometimes getting those homeys together can be an ordeal, but more often than not, the juice is worth the squeeze.

3. Tabletop Gaming is Creative. In a videogame, you can only work with what the videogame gives you. There are many games out there that give the illusion of freedom, but they're not really "free." If you decide, while playing Skyrim, that your character's parents were murdered by orcs, you can't find that tribe of orcs and slaughter them all. Oh, you can slaughter orcs, and you can pretend that one of them was the one that butchered your parents, but you'll get no acknowledgment from the game about that. That story only exists in your head. This isn't the case with tabletop role-playing games. In, say, Dungeons & Dragons, you can tell your DM that there's an orc tribe out there who killed your parents, and that becomes a thing. You may in fact end up facing down those orcs! Hell; a creative DM and accomodating players might make the whole game about finding those orcs! In my mind, this is the single most powerful advantage of tabletop games over videogames; that simple, brilliant ability to be creative, and have that creativity be reflected in the game itself.

4. Tabletop Gaming is Modifyable. I don't actually know if "modifyable" is a word, but bear with me, here. Role-playing games...and, to a lesser extent, boardgames...can be anything you want them to be. Contrast that with videogames, where if you have a horror game like Resident Evil but are really in the mood for slapstick comedy, you're stuck. But if you have a horror role-playing game like World of Darkness, you suddenly do have the flexibility to make that game a comedy, if you wanted. Of course, there are better role-playing games out there for that kinda thing, but the fact that you can do it at all opens up a huge realm of thematic possibilities that simply can't be matched in digital gaming. That abilitiy to mold and modify your gaming experience can extend out to the mechanics, too. If you have a storytelling game, but want to play a tactical RPG, that can be done, with a little work. Not so with videogames; if you have a first-person shooter but want a strategy game, you're just out of luck.

5. Tabletop Games are Economical. That sounds a little weird, but it's real. There are no free videogames. And don't get me started on "free to play" videogames; most of them are so manipulative by design that they in fact cost more than a pay-to-play game. Don't believe me? Look up the top-grossing game apps on iOS or Android sometime. The top 20 will be free to play, every single time. There's only one way a free-to-play game can be a top-grossing game: when it's not actually free to play! Meanwhile, some of the best role-playing games on the market are either pay what you want, completely free, or have a free reference document (which isn't the same as a free game, but it's close enough that you could use it, in a pinch). Boardgames are of course a different story, but even they can be more economical if you have consistent access to a group of players. I've gotten far more mileage out of my $40 copy of Pandemic than most $60 videogames I've ever purchased.

So there it is. This should go without saying, but since it's the internet, I'll say it anyway to cover my ass: your mileage may vary. These are my thoughts alone. I'm sure someone out there who's played both genuinely feels videogames are better for any number of reasons...no matter how wrong or foolish those reasons are. ;)

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