What separates the tabletop RPG from the video game RPG?
The depth of the connection…
When video game capabilities – graphics, audio, etc. – started soaring, I honestly wondered if the tabletop RPG was going to, if not outright die, get close to death. Within the scope of my awareness, I noticed that friends of mine and my daughter’s and people we know, in general, were steadily gravitating toward video game RPGs versus tabletop RPGs like D&D. It made some sense to me that the younger generations might do this, but I was a little surprised when my friends and acquaintances (folks my age) – and in many cases, fellow tabletop gamers – started going for the video games over the tabletop.
That was not the case with me. First, it was partly due to the fact that I had very limited money to spend on video games, etc. I couldn’t buy all the latest hot video game RPGs that were out. The ones I got I enjoyed a lot, but the second reason, and likely the biggest reason for me, came into play. It was the fact that I just didn’t see the appeal of the video game over the theater of the mind that I could conjure at the tabletop. And this is why I decided to bring it up here…
With some of the newer video games out there, I’ll have to admit that the separation between video game and tabletop is definitely not as large as it used to be. The graphics are better than ever. The sound in some of these games is exquisite. There are some well-written stories out there, too, for the RPG genre of video games. So, the immersion is pretty good and playing such a video game RPG can be a pretty awesome experience.
The experience at the tabletop, in my opinion, can simply be next level.
The more “massive” a video game RPG becomes the more open it feels. What I’m saying is that, in some cases, the more complex and intelligent the programming and the more content that developers cram into a video game, the more it appears to portray a fluid and open world. That is, of course, IF it is well written and there are many player options built in.
The fluidity and openness of the tabletop RPG, though, is only limited by the DM/GM and the players. It’s their combined imagination that creates the world, the theme, the setting and the action. Those characteristics can change in a moments notice at the tabletop when a scenario drives it to. The depth of the world and the possible options of where the characters go and who or what they interact with in a tabletop RPG are technically boundless. The video game RPG, however, is still limited by its programming. There are a certain number of options and that’s it. Not necessarily a bad thing to be sure, but there are NO limits at the table and in the theater of the mind.
Now when it comes to visual and aural stimulation, I will again tip my hat to the video game RPG. Like I mentioned above, the graphics, sound and music have become incredible with 4K high-definition and 5.1 (or more) digital surround (yes, many of these games contain this stuff now). There is little need to try and imagine what the evil dragon looks like because it’s been rendered in stunning detail on the screen. You can hear and almost feel the concussion of the fireball when it bursts into “existence” at the mage’s command. The clang of sword on sword echoing through the mountains during an epic battle is pretty awesome.
But the video game is still limited and, ultimately, fixed in its scope. Even with a significant number of options, there is always a chance that the player finds a limit – a choice that the programming does not allow for. It’s that limit that can hurt the experience. Beside that, what about the gray areas? The video game gives you choices, but not all the subtle options between choice A and choice B 😉
I think that is where the tabletop RPG can outshine the video game every time. The ability to find the path between the paths and make the experience your own is always possible in the tabletop RPG. This can help create a much deeper connection to the character for the player, not to mention the connection it can form with the DM/GM, other players and the world that has been created and continues to evolve in “real-time” inside their imagination.
There is also a deeper emotional attachment and sense of accomplishment with the game and the characters in the tabletop RPG. One reason for this is the additional investment that must be made in creating a character. While video games have come a long way in character creation, the limited scope and fixed options stifle the depth of character exploration that can be achieved in the tabletop game. Again, the detail and subtle aspects of character background and personality are only limited by the player’s investment in the creation of his or her character for a tabletop RPG. Plus, the video game has a fixed set of rules and options. The tabletop RPG rules and options can be tweaked and things added on the fly allowing for unique character abilities that simply aren’t available in a video game.
While the DM/GM can’t render beautiful graphics and create killer sound for the tabletop experience, the intensity and drama are still there. The players have spent time creating their characters, and the effort has helped them get to know those characters. The DM/GM has spent time and effort creating the campaign world and learning about the players’ characters alongside them during creation. Character backgrounds are created and integrated into the campaign world which further strengthens the connections of DM to players to characters to world. So when the characters are in danger, the players, who are now a little attached to their characters, get concerned and tense. They don’t want those characters to die. All that energy put into those characters has meaning and the players and DM want to see them win the battle and get the fame and fortune.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some of that element in video games, especially in the newer ones that are much better developed. But the next character is just a few button clicks away and the options for those characters are still limited to what the game was programmed to provide. Again, that can take away from the player when he or she finds that limit. While the video game is still great fun, the connection between character and player is likely not as deep. And… well… the DM/GM is the program, not another person working with the player to add as much depth and color as their imagination can provide.
So, what do you think? Am I way off base here? Have you ever played a tabletop RPG? Have you ever played a video game RPG? Which is more appealing to you? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Let’s see if this old dog who’s stuck in the old days of pencil and paper at the tabletop to play in a world of cyberpunk, swords & sorcery or whatever can learn something new.
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Type to you later.