It is hard for those of us who grew up with wargames, who loved them, who spent so many years studying them and taking them seriously as works of scholarship and art, it is hard for us to acknowledge this. We keep on hoping for some last minute reprieve, some renaissance; how could so much effort, so much inspired work, go for nought? How can it be that all of our labors will be forgotten? Yet it is so: whole artforms, whole genres grow and disappear. Where now is vaudeville? Radio drama? The air story? Perhaps board wargaming will survive in some form, greatly diminished from its glory days, as have poetry and the western; but that is all that can be hoped for.In one of those odd bits of synchronicity, I was reading the above earlier this morning just as it was being linked to in another forum. With Fall finally upon us, I suppose it's natural to think about senescence and death and, for those of us in the RPG hobby, especially those of us who picked up our first polyhedral dice in the late 70s, the shade of our hobby's "old brother" -- wargaming -- looms very large.
Costikyan's essay is a little out of date, since wargaming has in fact had something of a renaissance in recent years, though it's a fairly modest one, driven largely by hobbyists. The days of selling 50-200K copies of a hex-and-chit Civil War or World War II games are long gone and they ain't ever coming back. But, from what I gather (not being a wargamer myself), there are now more games available from more small companies than there have been in some time. That's a Good Thing™ for guys who love wargaming as a hobby.
I think this offers an instructive example for us in the old school renaissance. I won't go so far as to say that traditional roleplaying's future will be the same as that of wargaming. Nevertheless, I remain committed to the notion that our hobby's previous glory days -- in the sense of mass market popularity and success -- are gone, unlikely ever to return, except through some unexpected wave of nostalgia for the 80s. I'm perfectly fine with that and, much as I'd enjoy seeing traditional roleplaying take off in a big way again, I don't expect it. And I don't think there's some "magic bullet" RPG publishers could find to change the course of history.
As Costikyan writes, lots of entertainment forms rise, fall, and effectively disappear and roleplaying as it was constituted in its Golden Age may be one of them, but that has almost zero effect on my continued enjoyment of it, since, so long as there are others who share my particular idiosyncratic passions, I don't really lack for anything. I'm not a big corporation that needs to make tons of money off gaming nor am I a salaried employee of same whose livelihood depends on huge sales. Except for the fact that I'm older and thus have less free time overall, I'm enjoying gaming as much as I ever have.
I won't go so far as to proclaim that today is a new Golden Age by any means, but it's a pretty good one. There's lots of cool stuff happening on my side of the fence and it's enriched my OD&D gaming considerably. And even if there weren't, the best part about this hobby is that you really don't need anything beyond the rules (and even they are optional) and some people to play with. Beyond the people who sit around my table each week, I don't owe anyone else anything, least of all game companies. With the notable exception of Paizo, I don't think I've bought anything from a long-established game company in about two years and I don't see that changing anytime soon. It's a really liberating feeling, honestly. If every game company with more than 2 employees ceased to be tomorrow, I wouldn't be adversely affected one bit and that's how it should be.
In short, I'm very happy with my gaming these days and have been for some time. I don't care if what I do is appealing to a wide audience and neither should anyone else. The value of any hobby is the personal enjoyment one derives from it and I get a heck of a lot of it from gaming. End of story.