“Innovate or Die.” I read this poster almost daily at a client’s offices; it features some dead animal carcasses in the middle of a desert road. I think the constant exposure to the image makes it less gruesome then it sounds, but the words are burned into my skull none the less. I see innovation everywhere, the internet makes seeing the new trends as easy as turning on my computer. Every industry is experiencing a revolution, newspapers are making way to blogs, big R&D firms are turning to the masses to solve problems, and Twitter birthed a political revolution.
But I look around our community and see piles of dead or half-life blogs. People that write jaw dropping, inspiring posts, just up and disappear into the ether. While blogs come and go around the net it’s sad not to hear from some of the more innovative voices like Cole (Singular Moments in Adventuring), Michael, Spenser (Rocks Fall Everyone Dies) and Theron (These Dice Look Funny) to name a few. I know at least two of them are still kicking (they’ve been commenting on the blog recently), and are probably on a deserved hiatus from writing, but I can’t help but wonder if this slow attrition isn’t being felt across the community at large? Is our industry slowly finding ourselves on the endangered species list? Are we losing to video games in the war for our attention? What can we do to make sure that if our community does end, we at least go down fighting?
The simplest answer is to embrace technology. We are a community of luddites, stuck in our pencil and paper ways. While I’m a huge fan of the in person, physical interactions, it is holding us back. If we are truly going to find a strong hold in the 21st we need to embrace the ability to game, whenever, and wherever we are. While our community cannot loose site of its table roots we must branch out into leveraging the technological resources available to us, but for this I’m talking beyond generated character sheets, and mobile dice apps. We need to be able to bring the table top experience to the web, and design it to be as easy to use as its table top counterpart.
I know there are game table applications out there that try to emulate the table top experience but they aren’t easy to use. MapTools suffers from the same problem most open source programs suffer from; the user interface is awful. I open up the program and just get lost trying to get my players connected, not to mention trying to get a map setup for us to play on. While Fantasy Grounds has some more polish it still suffers from being overly complicated, I had problems in trying to even get a character loaded in to use. These problems must be solved for us to move forward.
The nay sayers have gone on to say that this community will never really die, and that is true. The community is built around designing and running your own games. As long as there is a creative spark in the mind of a story teller there will be roleplaying, but the industry that was built around it to help facilitate that creativity and breathe life into it? It’s going to collapse, as the people it’s trying to sell to just stop coming. Can we really afford to lose the brilliant minds of our industry? Do we really want video games snap up all the creative talented story tellers? Just ask yourselves that the next time you read about a new setting that’s coming out.