Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where Video Games Beat Table Top

So, yesterday, we talked about how Video games just can't compare to Table Top RPGs, and went over a number of the strengths of the Table Top forum for gaming that simply blows video games out of the water. Today I want to talk about the inverse, where Video games are strong and Table Top games are weak. Essentially, the counter punch video games have that has, it seems, started to win them the battle.

Video games have been having a huge upswing lately, if you haven't noticed. Hell, the upswing happened so long ago I'm not even sure I should have mentioned it. However, you can't deny their popularity. The scary thing is, thanks to things like Farmville, and other 'casual' games, they're only becoming more popular. So what is it about video games that makes them so much more appealing to people than Table Top RPGs?

Visual Interface
The biggest difference between a video game and a table top RPG is the visuals. Video Games,simply put, have better visuals. Animated character models, depictions of the world you're in. Video Games are able to properly "show, not tell" because they can just show you a movie. You don't need to describe how the sexy femme fatale walks, you just show them. You don't need to explain the scale difference between the two mechs, you just show it. Visuals is one of the big areas that RPGs just can't compete in their table top form. Especially as game developers get better and better at using those visuals.

Sure, you can imagine your hero standing atop a sky scraper and watching as the sun comes up, but a video game can show you that in all of its glory. It is a powerful tool in their favor, and one that Table Top games can't match. Imagination is awesome, I love using mine, but being shown the visual is a very powerful element.

Production Values
Following along, and feeding into, the stuff on visual interface is the production values. Video Games just have more money put into them. Sure, a company may put a lot of cash into their gaming book, but that doesn't necessarily translate down to you - the consumer - the same way it does with video games. With these production values, the Video game can give you visuals like mentioned above, professional sounds for greater immersion, and voice acting so that every NPC you interact with doesn't sound like one of your friends putting on a funny voice and trying to act in weird ways to convey this NPC being different than that one.

If you want to see the difference in money, go look at the on going lawsuit between Palladium - an old staple of table top gaming - and Trion worlds over the game Rifts. You can get the skinny at Jason Richards Can Not Be Trusted, complete with links to the legal documents themselves. Video games are just simply much bigger business.

Time Investment
I saved this one to go into last, because it really is the big doozy. Table Top games are a major time investment. No, I'm not talking about the 4-6 hour play sessions. 4-6 hours isn't hard to scrounge up. I'm talking about it being 4-6 hours every(other) Friday, or whatever day you play on. You have a commitment to give 4-6 hours of your time to a game every set period of time. Which is a serious issue. Now sure, this is easy, you just schedule around it right? Except that it's not just one person's schedule that has to be ok with it. It has to be all 5-7 of you. You all have to be available for it, and regularly, or the game just can't happen.

Missing the odd session here and there is ok, sure, but if you're missing a whole bunch of them because of work, or just wanting to do other things, you'll likely find yourself without a game rather quickly. This is all assuming that the 5-7 of you can even agree on a night when you all are free and able to do things. It's amazing, and crushing at the same time, to see how a slight schedule change on one person's part can throw a whole game out of whack and even possibly kill it.

It is near impossible to be a drop in/drop out player in a table top as well. Sure, some GMs may allow it, but you are making a whole ton more work for the GM and other players by doing so. Not to mention that in some situations it is just impossible. Sure, you're free, but the party is in a dungeon and unable to meet new people temporarily, or have progressed significantly beyond your level in the time you were away.

Now, compare that to video games. You can just drop in or out on video game night, because video games don't really care. Just pass the controller and you're in. Plus, without having to go to someone else's house, setting up a weekly play time is easier for most people - especially since missing a session isn't as big a deal for the most part. The presence of single player modes in games also helps, as now your gaming doesn't have to be a social event. Plus, you don't have to clean up after 6 of your friends and their snacks if you're the host.

C'est Finis
I'm sure there are more ways where Video Games are strong and Table Top is weak. More focused story, more focused game play. Able to do combat quickly, viscerally, and with a lot more flash. Those sorts of things, y'know. But the three I mentioned here seem to be the big ways that Video Games are beating Table Top.

I still prefer table top. I like the social experience, I like being able to make my own character that is custom to me and no one else. I like being able to tell my own stories, and interacting with worlds on a level others can't. But, I have to admit, there are times I just want to sit down and play a good video game. Sometimes, they're just significantly less work.

What are your thoughts on the matter?


  1. Video games are great. Though, I feel in the end they work to dull the mind's ability to create vivid imaginary expanses. Plus, in a video game you can't do everything you want to do ;)

  2. So very true, on the last part anyhow. That was actually the running theme through all of yesterday's post on why Video Games just can't compare to Table Top.

    Not sure I agree on the dulling the mind's ability. I think they can help, provided its not all you do. Exposure to more ideas, when taken in as ideas, can only help spring board other ideas. You just have to be willing to go out and after your own. Then again, I grew up RPing, so maybe I'm just conditioned for it differently.

  3. As I said on the last post. I love Table-Top games. I love video games. In a way, I see them as apples and oranges. Except for the fact that the oranges seem to be stealing 'market-share' from the apples. Simply put, video games are 'easier' to pull off than table-top games (from the view of the player). You don't have to prep for them, or mesh schedules with other people. You just buy the game and play. Some people prefer that.

    I do not believe that video games dull the mind. In fact, they've always been a source of inspiration for me. Giving me ideas for plots and even visuals to use in my games. They are entertainment, yes, but then so is a book or a movie. And when you have games that ask you to make moral or narrative choices there is an immersion you get that is duplicated in no other media. It isn't a 'lesser' form of entertainment, its just a different one- in my opinion.

  4. Targeted replayablility joy: The enjoyment that comes from having the ability to replay a scenario with a slightly different path or outcome. A lot of people really enjoy a given story and find great pleasure in returning to it time and time again. Think of it as the game equivalent of the reason you sometimes find yourself wanting to re-read a good story.

    Video games, board games, card games all have this trait in common that's hard to match with a tabletop game. In most video/board/card games, in essence, it's the "interactive" part of a novel that's a natural extension of the "choose your own adventure" type books.

  5. As someone with social anxiety--it's nice to have something where I don't have a fear of "doing it wrong," ruining others fun or feeling stupid. It's also nice to have something that isn't a commitment and that I can pick up when I'm in the mood and put down if I get frustrated.

    As Kevin above me mentioned, there's also the repetition factor--I can spend hours on a minigame that most maybe play once for 5 minutes or less. I enjoy getting a near-perfect score. I also really like redoing things with small changes, maybe to armor or timing and seeing the results change.

    Video games can also help create bonds across generations. While arguably tabletop can do so too, it's more of a specialized genre. Teaching my father, grandfather and older members of my family to play on the Wii has been a lot of fun. The pick-up-and-play aspect of many of the causal games around right now cannot be overstated. While I'm pretty sure you were originally referring to the more epic games, where you are immersed in someone's world I feel that it's difficult to mention video game's impact without focusing on that segment of the market. With Wii systems being installed into nursing homes, and Grandma beating little kids at Wii-Sports it's hard to argue their mainsteam nature.

    Lastly, there's nothing more meditative then a game of Tetris or Mine Sweeper. I find that keeping that left side of the brain occupied and quiet lets me chew on things in the more creative side. It’s also fun to have scores. I’m a competitive person and I find stupid little numbers tacked next to my name as a super-inspiring reason to work harder =3

  6. Casual games and the mutual experience are both very good points to bring up, and things I had originally intended to go into a bit more before deciding not to write eleventy billion pages.

    There is a lot to be said about the shared experience, the "Have you gotten to X part yet? Man, it is killer!" that table top doesn't do, because no two games are ever the same.

    Casual gaming, if you can even really call it that, has quickly become a force that everyone has to recognize, and the generational gapping that can come naturally from it is a good thing in my opinion. For the most part...