There is a prevailing sense of ownership over many hobbies, and each of those hobbies has its barriers to entry, seen by most as “paying dues” to be considered “in”. I can’t really agree with this, especially as I am inducting my own children into the hobby, and I don’t wish to see them alienated for their lack of experience or exposure to role playing.
While I can definitely understand this mentality for the creative aspects of role playing (that is to say, writing for and publishing material), it is not sustainable to have this attitude about the participation of role playing at large. We are buried under a mountain of old stories, minutia, experience, and in jokes. It’s a hard culture to engage, especially when you consider that many role players feel similarly ostracized from other groups or activities.
I’ve had my head in the sand in respect to those who aren’t already into roleplaying, and that is unfortunate. I came to this hobby eagerly, and was willing to jump through whatever existing hoops there were to be initiated. But just like other expensive pastimes precluding a wider participation base (I refer you to hardcore model train enthusiasts), roleplaying does a lot to exclude newcomers.
A lot of talk is made about how video games are causing the demise of roleplaying. I don’t believe this one bit. And yet, the vastly disproportionate popularity between the two leads to certain conclusions. The prevailing theory is that role playing games are dying because they can’t possibly compete with multibillion dollar entertainment mediums. This is apples and oranges, but why don’t we avoid the logical pitfalls and instead use this as a teachable moment?
Imagine that video games came with a big manual that you had to read (old computer gamers know that this was once the case). Any barrier to gameplay will immediately turn away a large swath of potential players, no matter how interesting or unique your entertainment experience is, and this goes beyond in game documentation. Things like install times, tedious tutorials, lengthy and unskippable opening cinematics all detract from the desire for a player to play your game. Will there be people who jump through hoops to participate in the experience? Of course, but this is the filter through which media finds “cult hits”.
But we don’t need to be a cult hit hobby anymore. Some may cry over the inclusivity and updates that 4th edition D&D brought with it, and some still decry the “crowd” that grew the ranks of role players when Vampire the Masquerade first arrived, but the truth is that we can’t afford to be exclusive anymore. Not you the player, not me the fledgeling blogger/freelancer, and not the industry at large. We aren’t hurting for new blood, but we are at risk of stagnating due to a misplaced sense of hubris. The hobby must grow, or it will remain stunted.
Even now, role playing has been coming around to a new vision and a new approach; one whereby new players aren’t treated like pledges to a secret club, but rather as welcome as able and ready members. Games are playable after reading the first few pages, sometimes without dice. Other rpgs are now played at parties, casually. I welcome this change, but it isn’t enough.
We need to improve inclusiveness, break down the cultural and gender based barriers, and remember what it felt to be new at role playing. What ill placed word or thickly (and poorly organized) written rule set might have turned us away? Maybe none, but for some of us there was no keeping us from this hobby. But think of any other time you’ve been turned down from something, or discouraged from an activity. We don’t want to be that group anymore.
There needs to be a ground floor, a level 0, a place where casual gamers can come in and see what it’s like, so that there aren’t only ardent (and let’s face it, critical) fans of the game that color the way the industry turns its wheels. If board games can bring in more fans that role playing, then it is clear that there is a need for a change. Though I am not an apt herald for this change, I will still trumpet its cause.