Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Video Games Just Can't Compare

So, for today, I've decided I want to talk about the strengths of our medium, the table top RPG, and how they make it so that a video game just can't compare with a good table top experience. Tomorrow, I may do the inverse, but for today, lets lay into videogames and show them just how hopeless they are at matching the enjoyment levels an RPG can grant.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. "Why would you even want to compare video games and table top RPGs? That's like apples and oranges!" and for the most part, you may be right. However, the fact is, in a lot of ways, video games are competing with table top RPGs. True, the canny GMs of the world are using videogames to find new gamers. "Hey man, you like Dragon Age? Well, why not come to my place this Friday and you can do something even better!". Wizards of the Coast, at one point, even accused Everquest of trying to be D&D on a computer (or was it WoW?).

The fact of the matter is, when you say you like and play RPGs some people assume Table Top, some people assume video games, and some look at you and go 'what kind?' So clearly, there is some confusion. So, as I said above, today I want to talk about how a video game just can't compete.

A World Without Walls!
That's right, right off the bat we're coming with some of the big guns. Go play the most open video game RPG you can find. Something like Fall Out where the whole point of the game is exploring this post apocalyptic waste land, and you know what I found when I was playing them? Walls. Invisible ones too. See, the video game is limited by what the developers have time to, well, develop. They can't give you the entire world, the game can't generate the world as you go along with it. Eventually you're going to hit that border and not be able to go further. Eventually you'll find a pile of rubble that you can't jump over - even though you are able to jump higher than it - and an area you can't get to. It's kind of frustrating, kind of annoying, and good developers have gotten very good at hiding these walls with other, more believable things. They are still there though.

You know where you don't have that problem? That's right, the table top RPG. The world gets generated as you're there. Often times, the GM has the whole world already prepared in some basic format for you ahead of time. You want to climb over that rubble? Sure, go for it. There's nothing there, but you are free to climb over it. Yep, you can go in those caves, or just head west and walk until you come around full circle if you want. Assuming you don't drown of course. A world without invisible walls holding you into one set location. Something video games just can't do.

I'll Do What I Want, With Who I Want, When I Want
Yep, we're going here next. Ever play an RPG where you can do literally anything you want? Not on a computer, I'll tell you that much. See, once again, this comes down to a development issue for the video games. There is only so much content they can generate given time, and so they have to focus on certain things. There isn't room for superfluous items that only maybe one or two people care about. So you end up with limitations on what you can do. You can't go into that building, it's not generated inside (see above for that). You can't attack people here, it's the tutorial. You can't hit on that gnome, they're just a random NPC, and a gnome, and ewww thats gross!

Now, obviously some video games give more freedom than others (for instance, in Fable II you can hit on whomever you want), but no game gives you the freedom of action like a table top RPG. Go where you want, do what you want, talk with who you want, and do it all seamlessly.

Plays Different Every Time
This is a holy grail for video games. Giving an experience that 'plays different every time'. The only thing is, the game doesn't play different. Sure, there may be different choices you can make. There may be 12 or more endings, but you are going to be treading over some of the same content with every play through. For some people, and games, that's not bad. Hell, I've gone through Mass Effect 1 like 7 times right now because I like the story - or wanted a specific set up of Shepherd for Mass Effect 2. At the same time, I've only beaten Dragon Age: Origins once, not because it is a bad game. If anything, Dragon Age has more variance in what you can do, but the game play doesn't engender itself to someone like me for multiple play throughs. The point, though, is that while there are differences between play throughs; there are also a whole ton of similarities too.

Not the case with table top RPGs. Every campaign is a different one. Sure it may be the same world, but the characters are different. The story is different. The important NPCs say different things. The game itself is different Similarities between different campaigns are much rarer than the differences you'll find. Best of all, you get these new stories without having to wait 2+ years after you beat the last one. Custom content on the fly, woo baby!

Price of Admission
I'm going to talk about both at the same time here. RPG books have grown to be expensive over the last few years. Dark Heresy goes for about $60 brand new. That is fairly steep for a book to be, especially an RPG right? Well, not so fast. A new XBox 360 or PS3 game is going to cost you $60 as well - assuming you already have the system - and PC games aren't far behind at $50. Hand Held games are at what? $30 now? So sure, that is half the cost of that RPG book. The difference is, that $60 RPG book will give 4-6 people, or more, a good 4-6 hours of fun every week for over a year if used right. That is just assuming that there is only one campaign of any length told too.

Now some of those video games do that too, but you have to compare this with all the other benefits I laid out above. 4-6 hours of constantly new content, of freedom of action, freedom to go where you want. Video games can't compete with that. It gets even better when starting from scratch. $60 one time cost, versus 300+ for a system and game to get started. Which do you want to take the chance on more? It's 5 times cheaper to try the RPG here, though both are free if you have a friend that plays.

It's a Social Event
Now, I know gaming can be a social event with video games, but there is a difference here. With most games now a days, playing with friends means everyone stays at home, goes online, and you use voice chat while you play your game. With a Table Top RPG that just isn't the case . In Table Top you have 4-6 people all meeting at one location. You get the full run of social interaction. You see them, can touch them, hear them, and sometimes - for good or ill - can smell them. Sure, that may not be something you want all the time, but it is healthier for you, and will get you social interaction.

Most gaming groups of Table Top RPGers I know are much more socially ready than the people who sit on their couch playing XBox live for their gaming fixes. Part of that is simply the exposure to social cues, and the fact that when they're a moron, someone is right there to reach out and smack them.

Last One, For the Parents
Oh, and parents, this one is for you. You want to know why Table Top is better than Video games? Well, for one, it gets your kids to read. Not only are they reading, but they're reading books with big words in them. So, not only are they reading for fun (hurray! +3 good parent points) they're also learning new and bigger vocabulary (+4 good parent points). Gaming is something the family can do together (family time, +3 good parent points), I'm sure you can see how constructive and creative family time is a good thing right? Lastly, when they're sitting around a table playing with dice, books, and their imagination, you know what they're not doing? Watching TV or their computer.

Oh, and if you let your kid host the game at your place, you also get to meet their friends (+10 good parent points).

What did I miss?
I'm sure there are ton more ways, so what did I miss?


  1. Modability; the ease with which something is changed into something else.

    This is probably a combination of the "Plays Different Every Time" and "Price of Admission" with a little "I'll Do What I Want, With Who I Want, When I Want" thrown in for good measure.

    Tabletop games can be modified to tell a COMPLETELY different story (genre change) with the same foundation (rule set) with a significantly lesser amount of effort.

    Want to use D&D rules to play Peter and the Wolf: the rpg? Ok, with a little work it can be done.

    Show me the High Fantasy CRPG that can do the same without a (near) complete rewrite of the base code. Some come with a toolset that can possibly handle creating such a thing if you're willing to invest the time (I'm thinking specifically of the Aurora Toolset for NwN.) But most will require you to purchase a new expansion or a completely different game to handle such a change.

  2. I have to agree with your arguments as to why tabletop RPGs are awesome. Hell, they've changed my life—I made lifelong (I hope!) friends through them, and continue to reinforce those friendships partly through tabletop gaming. There isn't one video game I've played that can boast that kind of an impact on my life. And that social aspect, more than anything else, is what sets tabletop games apart. That having been said, I LOVE quite a few different video games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect (1 and 2), Dragon Age- and heck, even Fable II. As a person who is almost always given (or takes?) the role of GM, I rarely get to be a player. These games give me a chance not to worry about rules or story or anything but my own enjoyment. And the 'sad' truth in my life is, that such games are a lot more accessible with my current schedule. I can play them on 'my time'. Not to mention the fact that many of my favorite gaming buddies live halfway across the country from me.

  3. Yeah, I'm going to (probably) talk about where Table Top RPGs are weak compared to videogames tomorrow, but there is a LOT of good in them.

    Good additions with how modifiable a table top can be. "I don't like this dungeon crawl, I want it to be a teen hot and heavy romance drama..." the GM then watches in horror as the players start angsting and finding quiet corners of the dungeon. Weird, sure, but doable in RPGs and video games can't do it.

  4. I've never encountered graphics bugs where I get stuck in-between two sprites and have to reset the system losing hours of data. Oh, and there's no savepoints ala the old Resident Evil games...or having to finish a pokebattle before your mother rips it out of your hands and hits the off button...

    and if you're electricity goes out you can always play in the dark with candles. Hell, why wait? It sets a lovely mood =3