Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sense of Wonder

Lately I've noticed a lot of older gamers who seem to have lost their sense of wonder, perhaps jaded by decades of recycling of the things they love. Unfortunately, this is the peril when art becomes commerce. For example, the original Star Wars trilogy was always a bit cheesy, but we were young and it was a technical marvel of its time. It's hard to stomach that the latest trilogy was equally full of cheese and aimed at a similarly young audience, who, by the way, adore their trilogy. That audience isn't us and we feel betrayed, especially combined with the fact that we never did grow up to be Han Solo, but more likely have become an imperial officer or one of those doomed sub-contractors on the Death Star. Han Solo probably aged poorly anyway. This sense of betrayal holds true for our games as well.

How many versions of a role playing game is necessary?  Sure, you can play D&D or Lord of the Rings RPG out of a box from the '80's, but those games are also commercial products and need new life, new versions. It doesn't mean you need to buy these new editions. In fact, you (and me in my 40's) are likely not the target market. This sense of betrayal, the necessity of commerce, leads to classic grognard behavior or version hate, the gamer equivalent of yelling at those kids to get off your lawn. Don't be that guy.

My suggestion is to re-discover that sense of wonder. Open and play that dusty box set from the '80's. Perhaps your modern sensibilities will show it to be somewhat silly compared to better games of today. Perhaps that old version is exactly what you need, with its minimalist approach and light rules. Many indie games attempt to re-discover that minimalist kernel of perfection. Try one of those. Perhaps write an adventure for your original version and run it. As we get older, we "re-mythologize" our experiences, giving them more meaning, depth and here's the big one, "quality" than they may have had.

Embrace it and hold it up to the light. Expose its flaws and glory. More than likely, the wonder of those times were discoveries shared with friends and family, rather than the merits of THAC0 or the vagaries of racial level advancement. Crack that box and argue about the inflexibility of the paladin's lawful good code with a whole new generation of gamers. I think it's the intimacy of those shared experiences that we truly miss. I know I do.

Or perhaps just take a break from it all. There is no template for how gaming should evolve as you get older. We can't ask our fathers how much role-playing they played in their 40's and 50's, when we are the first generation to do so. It is possible that you simply leave it behind, a nostalgic memory of your youth. Perhaps you hold onto it, your books tucked away on the top shelf, until your own children or nephews or neighborhood kids ruining your Kentucky bluegrass are ready for the torch to be passed. But please, fellow grumpy old men, get some perspective.