Saturday, September 6, 2008

Debate II

Resolved: That one of the clear differences between old school D&D and its successors is that old school D&D assimilated popular culture to itself rather than allowing itself to be assimilated by popular culture.

15 comments:

  1. I can agree with the statement, but there should be no negative connotation to that. All things are subject to the pop cultural exchange, and the more popular it is or was, the greater the exchange. The D&D fad of the 70s and 80s ensured that D&D would change the landscape and that the landscape would change it.

    I think that the exchange was a positive one overall. While this made the game change quite a bit from its origins, the game gave back pretty big in the birth of a whole genre of fantasy adventure that people can find everyday in books, games, and even TV. Some of it I even like. :)

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  2. I think the thing that many people need to recognize is that no edition of D&D has been "generic" in the sense that it was easily customizable to any type of fantasy. They've all been very particular games. If more people -- designers included -- admitted this fact I might not be quite as touchy about the changes introduced post-1e.

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  3. I'm not sure I understand. How could a phenomena like D&D not allow itself to be assimilated by popular culture?

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  4. m.gunnerquist is right. The resolution is weakened by the inclusion of "allowing itself to be assimilated." How could D&D have prevented itself from being mentioned, used, and alluded to popular culture? Why would it have wanted to "disallow" such an assimilation? Wasn't "old school D&D" not assimilated simply because it was new at the time? Had it remained unpopular, a niche game, a hobby of wargamers, then it could've avoided that dreadful assimilation and reached nowhere near the audience that it has. Man, that is one biased resolution.

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  5. "Man, that is one biased resolution."

    Hey it wouldn't be much of a debate if it was well reasoned and middle of the road would it? :)

    As I read the argument, I'm getting a whole 'sold out' vibe coming from it. I'm not surprised to see that sentiment from a grognard: That D&D would have remained pure and closer to it's original ideas if it hadn't gone out to the masses and become subject to their always shifting tastes for the sake of sweet, sweet money.

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  6. "...for the sake of sweet, sweet money"

    But that's not always the case is it? I mean if I were to create a game and I found out that a fairly large percentage of the "users" were implementing house rules over my rules I might be tempted to go back in there and tweak a few things.

    I'm a usability designer and the type of iterative process I'm talking about above is a daily part of my process. Granted, I do it for money, but if it were a passion (gaming?) then I could certainly see other types of motivators besides money.

    This logic "could" also be expanded, in that a game "evolves" as a natural product of being exposed to a user base over time. In other words, in a closed environment (no cultural influences necessary) people will naturally change things. It's part of who we are as a species.

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  7. I think the thing that many people need to recognize is that no edition of D&D has been "generic" in the sense that it was easily customizable to any type of fantasy. They've all been very particular games. If more people -- designers included -- admitted this fact I might not be quite as touchy about the changes introduced post-1e.

    Exactly so. "Generic fantasy" is a myth, and a very misleading one at that. Dungeons & Dragons is a very particular type of fantasy, though many iterations may derive from it. Gygax termed the standard campaign "swords & sorcery", and though that has come to acquire a much narrower definition in modern times, D&D was never limited to that paradigm.

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  8. "Generic fantasy" is a myth
    ...or "D&D = generic fantasy" is a myth? I'm actually curious about this: I think there is such a thing as generic fantasy (which D&D at least up to 2e isn't at all), but of course, I've never come across a product that claims to be it. Perhaps it would be useful to have some statement of generic fantasy so that writers could be aware of it, like the cliche lists maintained by some creative writing sites.

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  9. I'm not sure I understand. How could a phenomena like D&D not allow itself to be assimilated by popular culture?

    Not easily :)

    I'm not saying that it'd have been easy. Indeed, I'm not even sure it would have been possible at all to prevent D&D from becoming what it has become. Nevertheless, I'm sure we could find examples of pop cultural phenomena that retained a greater degree of creative integrity than did D&D. One of the reasons why I constantly harp on the pulp fantasy roots of the game is that I feel, if the game had stayed more focused on those roots, it might have had a better chance to retain its original vision.

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  10. Had it remained unpopular, a niche game, a hobby of wargamers, then it could've avoided that dreadful assimilation and reached nowhere near the audience that it has.

    Indeed. That's part of my point. D&D's acculturation was, ultimately, a deal with the Devil. Like all such deals, D&D lost its "soul" and became something quite different in both content and tone than it was ever intended to be. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I think, depends on whether one happens to like what D&D was or what it has become. But I think it's reasonable to say that the game has changed profoundly from its origins and no less an authority than one of its creator wasn't pleased by the direction that change took.

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  11. I'm getting a whole 'sold out' vibe coming from it.

    Of course. One of the foundations of this blog is the notion that gaming generally and D&D in particular has strayed from its roots in a quest for mass appeal. I certainly don't expect everyone to see this as a bad thing, but I don't think there's anything at all bizarre by noting this disapprovingly.

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  12. ...or "D&D = generic fantasy" is a myth?

    I think this is absolutely true. Even in the 70s gamers recognized this and from that recognition other games better suited to other genres were created. I honestly think the hobby would have been better off -- then and now -- if D&D wasn't seen as a "generic fantasy" game at all but instead a very specific (and indeed idiosyncratic) kind of fantasy RPG.

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  13. ...or "D&D = generic fantasy" is a myth? I'm actually curious about this: I think there is such a thing as generic fantasy (which D&D at least up to 2e isn't at all), but of course, I've never come across a product that claims to be it. Perhaps it would be useful to have some statement of generic fantasy so that writers could be aware of it, like the cliche lists maintained by some creative writing sites.

    If "generic fantasy" needs to be defined, then I submit that it is not really very generic. What we have come to regard as "generic" are actually just a collection of very broad tropes, some of which are more easily excluded than others. Many, many, adventure modules claim to be compatible with "any fantasy campaign", which is an assumption of great interest.

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  14. "If "generic fantasy" needs to be defined, then I submit that it is not really very generic."

    When it comes to genre, anything tagged generic is more likely what is most popular and present at the time, then any specific trope.

    When I did read the books that were inspired by D&D tropes and settings, It was very much high fantasy, flavored strongly by the game that inspired and shaped it. It was pretty standard at the time, but that doesn't necessarily make it generic.

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  15. When it comes to genre, anything tagged generic is more likely what is most popular and present at the time, then any specific trope.

    Indeed, and such a transitional nature makes defining "generic fantasy" in anything but the broadest and most malable terms misleading at best.

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