It's an interesting editorial to me, not because I agree with its entirety -- I don't -- but because of its date: March/April 1982. One of the regular complaints about the old school movement is that it presents a revisionist view of history, one tainted by nostalgia. This Thompson editorial calls that particular complaint somewhat into question, as he's writing this not in 2010 looking back but in 1982, at exactly the time I consider to be the last years of the Golden Age. Moreover, Thompson wasn't the publisher of D&D and yet he nevertheless saw 1982 as a signal year for the hobby, thus at least partially answering another common complaint, namely that most old school histories of the hobby are too D&D-centric. None of this is to deny that Thompson's editorial is more than a little hysterical. I'm willing to forgive that, though, because he's clearly writing from the heart, reacting emotionally to a change that must have been obvious to him and others in 1982 -- a change that's even more apparent in retrospect.
Anyway, here's the entirety of the editorial. Read and enjoy. Also, play nice in the comments. I suspect that this post will generate a lot of spirited conversation and that's all to the good. But that's no excuse for incivility or opprobriousness, neither of which I'll tolerate here.
The development of adventure gaming has gone to new paths in the last few years. A Golden Age has passed, never to exist again. Gone are the days when D&D was a novelty enjoyed by a few hardy souls who could figure out a game to play from those initial, oh so disjointed rules. Gone are the halcyon days of SPI, when you got a steady diet of serious history, covering every conceivable conflict. Gone are the days when game companies were more concerned about the quality of their game's play than anything else.
What we have now in adventure gaming is the Age of Consumerism. I know it has arrived. The word was brought to me by a fellow who sells games in a store. The word went something like this: "The other day there were two mothers in the store bragging about what level D&D character their sons were". It sent chills down my spine. With that story I knew that adventure gaming had arrived at the pinnacle of our Consumerist culture. In our culture a product is "in" when people buy it only because everyone else is buying. You've got it made when that happens. Quality no longer matters, only name recognition has any relevance at that point. For a business that's the Holy Grail. Your product becomes divorced from any concept of quality, utility or value. It may even be desirable for the product to have NO quality, since it would only confuse the vacuous mentality of the consumer buyer. Having arrived, adventure gaming will willy-nilly sweep a few products along with it to commercial success. The mass of creative and imaginative effort put forth by the numerous small game firms will be still born in an echo of non-recognition. The steady diet of 'new' that the core gamer likes will be gone, along with the few stores that specialized in our kind of games. All that will be available will be a sprinkling of new items carefully tailored for the mass market Consumer.
Some will see this view as some sort of sour grapes, i.e. Metagaming is miffed that we did not get the prize. That's not true, Metagaming will be a profitable survivor. My regrets are for the passing of something worthwhile, a thing of value. For a few years in the 70s there existed a desire for and acceptance of a mental and social activity unperverted by Consumerist traits. It grew from game players, those who enjoyed the gift Charles Roberts gave us. It flourished in Jim Dunnigan's desire to publish realistic simulations. It sprang from Dave Arneson, who gave us role-playing. Those new to gaming will never know the spirit, the feel of what has passed. A Golden Age is gone and you missed it. All I can say is we had a wonderful time, wish you'd been there. If I could put my finger on a simple explanation of the change that has come it would be this. Those early gamers were leaders. The current crop of gamers, ever far more numerous, are mostly followers. The other major factor was a poor kid named Egbert. His tragic story propelled D&D into consumer awareness. The Lemming consumer mind then just had to buy what had been associated with such tragedy.
Consumerism is the state of mind that has to buy products that are the focus of attention. It's the 'Me too' people who apparently I by have no values, beliefs or worth beyond the products they own. By their possessions you will know them. Consumerism arises from two human motivations, the desire for attention and greed. In our country Consumerism has risen to dizzy, unbelievable heights of power. One would almost fear that it may become a genetic trait of our population. Nothing stands in its path, all are subverted. If you doubt the powers of consumerism you haven't heard about the Italian priest selling, no joke, Jesus Jeans. Consumerism destroyed a thing that I and many others valued. It has made adventure gaming just another product to be bought by the unknowing, uncaring, masses. There is a little of Egbert in all true gamers. A little loner, a little brilliance, a little surprise at the enjoyment gaming brought. For one I'd rather have those fewer dollars and have Egbert alive to work out his full life.
It must be hard to rest easy knowing your success was born in personal tragedy. It places a burden of responsibility on you that's hard to work off. Just how do you run a business with that in the back of your mind? If you're a Consumerist I guess you just never think about it. Those of us who've gamed for several years have witnessed the passing of an age. That time and feeling will never be again. I feel a sense of loss for what was. I also feel a resentment against the destructive power of consumerism to level something that was special to me. Hopefully, something of the old age and spirit will survive. If it does it will have to divorce itself from the Consumer branch of gaming. Metagaming will try to hold a place for the old ways. There will be others.
(Fade out to theme from Camelot)