I’m reading a book called the Role-Playing Game Primer and Old School Playbook by Chris Gonnerman, purporting to teach beginners how to play RPGs.
It is one of those books that I’ve had on my shelf for ages and never managed to read because… well. Honestly probably because I started reading and found it somewhat boring. It is still boring, but it also kind of touches on the old mechanics vs story argument that directed both RPGs and computer games towards a “mechanics first” direction and not necessarily in a good way.
Mechanics got the upper hand to the detriment of story. Chris Crawford also touches on this in his book The Art of Interactive Design. His opinion, which I share, is that computer games (and RPGs for that matter) is firmly in the domain of the science and technology crowd. The science and technology crowd usually care very little for the humanities disciplines, where the narrative crowd usually hangs.
In addition to this, the science and techie crowd often enjoy a higher status than the humanities people. Us hoomans are soft and wield, no hard, reliable facts, no real numbers. Sure, we understand how humans work, but we can’t put gauge on it. We can’t say people will always react in a specific way in a specific situation because humans are unpredictable and have so many options, opinions and emotions entangled in them that prediction becomes – to say the least – difficult.
We also have the annoying gatekeeping crowd that also happen to be of the tech and science persuasion. They may not belong firmly in that camp, but from what I can tell, most do.
I don’t think I need to point out that we live in a world for men. Being a man is the default. Being a man is also closely connected to putting a lid on feelings and making sure emotions don’t get the best of us. Men are hard, tough and not squishy. Logic, technology and war. That’s what being a man is.
Heaven forbid we investigate feelings without also whacking a troll upside its head.
In other words – I think there’s a pretty strong connection between ludology as the ruling faction when it comes to games and storytelling. I don’t think it is a coincidence that OSR has regained a foothold – not because it is rules intense. It does tend to leave that aspect of RPGs fairly open – but because from what I’ve read in at least Gonnerman’s book, it focuses more on maps and encounters than on an actual story. It even shuns story as that is considered “railroading” not taking into account that there are several ways to tell a story in an RPG without forcing the players anywhere.
I feel there are patterns here that attempt to keep both TTRPGs and video games firmly in the ludological parts of discovery and development. Anything that steps outside of that is beaten down again with every conservative and reactionary societal backlash. We are in the middle of such a backlash right now, and unfortunately it has lasted quite a while. During a backlash the guardianship of an ultimately stodgy and bigoted gaming culture becomes stronger and harder to contend with.
Maybe I’ve just read too many old books where sexism and misogyny is clearly imprinted across the pages without shame, or maybe I’m fearing the return of Donald Trump or someone even worse.
I still feel there’s a connection between the conservative culture, ludology, OSR and the gatekeepers of gaming culture, and I think we would do well to investigate why this is so, and why we tend to laud mostly male creators with no thoughts to those outside of the mainstream.
Maybe I’m rambling a bit. Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on ONE book about OSR, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that creators like Raggi thrive in the OSR space.