21st Century Digital Gnome: The introduction article

This is the introduction column. It’s like that introduction paragraph in role-playing books. Anyone who has opened and read a Player’s Handbook or Player’s Guide or any other basic role-playing game book in the last twenty years has probably read that paragraph about what a RPG is. You know the one.

A roleplaying game is a storytelling game that has many of the elements of the games of make-believe we played as children. However, a roleplaying game such as D&D provides form and structure, with robust gameplay and endless possibilities.

Yeah, that one. This one happens to be quoted from the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. Literally, from the hardback real paper book in my apartment, where it lives on the bookshelf along with all of my other RPG sourcebooks, most of my dice and all of the miniatures I’ve collected in 15 years of gaming.

That paragraph has existed in some form since RPGs began. It was there in the first pages of Dungeons and Dragons, it exists in the explanation of RPG servers for World of Warcraft, and there’s even a generic version of this paragraph on the Wikipedia article for Role-playing Games. If you’re a gamer, and you probably are if you’re reading this column, you know that paragraph. Odds are, some of you can recite a version of it by heart.

And it is totally relevant because this column is about gaming. But not Dungeons and Dragons. Well, okay, not the hardback real paper book in my apartment version anyway.

It’s 2010. We don’t have flying cars, food pellets or space elevators. We do have near-global wireless communication, computers that can fit into our pockets and a world that is shrinking faster than it feels like we can keep up with sometimes. Many of us have friends in other time zones, if not other countries. We keep in touch via email, via IM, via Twitter. We share pictures on Flickr or Facebook or Picasa. We chat from our cell phones, we use the Internet to make inexpensive long-distance phone calls and we all walk around with those Bluetooth headsets that make us look like Uhura from Star Trek.

When RPGs began, we had paper and pen and books and dice and maybe if you really needed it, a calculator. We had Dungeon Master screens, sometimes with art right from the game. We had our character sheets written out by hand and we tried our best not to spill our Mountain Dew on them. Our gaming nights were held around a table with our local friends, in our homes or dorm rooms or the local gaming store or where ever we found that had the space that would let a bunch of loud geeks rattle dice and demand that they could “Attack the Darkness”*

We even had online games. Via dial-up BBSs, we played Trade Wars and Legend of the Red/Green/White/Black Dragon. America Online and Prodigy and Compuserv had more advanced games, with real graphics, and yet I can’t remember any of their names. These were the grandparents of today’s MMOs. Most of these games did not allow us to play at the same time as another player, or if they did, communication and cooperative actions were limited.

Fast-forward 15 years. Games — both pen-and-paper and video — have come and gone. Companies have split and merged and split again. Computers have become nearly ubiquitous in our jobs, classrooms and personal lives. The Internet is no longer just the home of geeks and nerds — although there are a lot of us out here, and we wear our Geek Badges with pride.

Gaming itself has not changed significantly since 1995. What has changed is the technology that lets us connect with other players. We game online now. Not exclusively, obviously, but even our pen-and-paper gaming has a technological component.

It is possible, even easy, to game with people ten thousand miles away, and our choices are vast. We play MMO’s with people we’ve never met in person — but we know them as well as, or sadly, better than our next-door neighbors. We use video conferencing and voice chat and IM to share our table top gaming sessions with friends in other countries. We utilize blogging software, wikis, email and shared documents to create free-form or fan-based role-playing games that merge the best parts of fan-fiction and RPGs. We save our character sheets to thumb drives, create maps and art and campaigns and share them online with others. We bring our laptops to our gaming sessions and build soundtracks for our players. We use Meetup.com or Facebook or blogs or Twitter to find fellow gamers in our area. We order pizza online, pay for gaming materials with PayPal, and it is no longer even necessary for us to own a giant bucket of dice because there’s a ton of dice-roller apps for PDAs and phones. (But who doesn’t want to own a giant bucket of dice??)

Like pen and paper RPGs, online games come in every kind of genre. The ubiquitous fantasy game — Everquest, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft; sci-fi games – EVE Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Matrix Online; Superheros (and villains!) in City of Heroes/Villains and Champions Online. And countless others that I could, if I were really bored and wanted to make everyone else really bored too, fill an entire column just naming and giving short descriptions of. Wikipedia has an entire list of them, if you’re that interested.

And like MMOs, the free-form online forum or journal-based RPG comes in every imaginable genre. Original Universe. Multi-fandom. Anime-online. Fantasy novels only. Superheros Only. Harry Potter. Marvel Superheros. DC Superheros. The Matrix. Harry Potter meets The Matrix. Cyberpunk. Cthulupunk. Vampirepunk. Harry Potter is an Steampunk X-Man who is searching for a Cthuluian cult where everyone’s a vampire in the Matrix.

Okay, I made that last one up.

I think.

What I’ll be discussing in this column is the ways we game today. How things have changed — and how they haven’t. What makes our lives easier, and what makes us CAPSLOCK RAGE. I’ll talk most about MMORPGs – why they’re awesome and why they’re not. I’ll cover how to keep your gaming group going when all your friends live in other cities, talk about gaming conventions, and talk about tools for gaming you might not know about. I’ll also explain exactly why I have several 100 pixel by 100 pixel pictures of the X-Men saved on my computer. But mostly – I’ll talk about online gaming. World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Halo, Guitar Hero (yes, it has an online component), Tower Defense Games, and games that don’t have a name, because they’re being made up as they go along. (That’d be that X-Men thing I mentioned. If you’re confused, you’re just going to have to keep reading this column. Tricky how I did that, isn’t it?)

Which brings us to the title of this column**. By now, it’s probably pretty self-explanatory. Technology changes the ways in which we play games with one another. But it doesn’t change what gaming is all about. We am still making up stories about elves and magic swords and superheros and wizards and pirates and robots and yes, also ninjas. And I am still going off with my friends to slay the dragon and wear her head as a hat***.

I also — not on command! — giggle exactly like a World of Warcraft female gnome. It is equal parts embarrassing and hilarious.

So what’s in store for you in two weeks when I actually write about something that isn’t an introduction article? I’ll talk about EVE Online — a game I don’t play, don’t want to play, don’t even want to consider playing, and yet absolutely love reading about every chance I can get.

* The author of this column would like to state for the record that she does not drink Mountain Dew, nor has she ever attacked the Darkness. But she does cast Magic Missile on occasion. She promises to do her level best to keep the jokes about Night Elf Hunters to a dull roar. She also does talk in the third person. A lot. But not alot. That is something else entirely.

** It’s also a reference to a song by Bad Religion. Like many geeks, my musical tastes are diverse. Today it’s ELO, tomorrow it’s Bad Religion, yesterday it was Rush and the name of the band is always Cowboy Mouth.

*** Nemesis Skullcap It’s not Onyxia’s head, but it is one of the coolest hats in the game.

Posted on May 10, 2010 at 20:19 by Frito · Permalink
In: Columns, Games: MMORPGs and Text-Based RPGs · Tagged with: , , ,