Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Happy Birthday, Dungeons & Dragons!

In as far as such a day can be exactly determined, today is the 40th birthday of Dungeons & Dragons. People celebrate and remember the enormous social power of this game. I can attest to that, even across a language barrier I made friends through playing D&D when I emigrated to another country after finishing my studies.

But like many 40-year olds, Dungeons & Dragons is going through some sort of a mid-life crisis. It doesn't really know what it wants to be any more: The game was modernized with the 4th edition, only to then backpedal and revert to old flaws in the 5th edition. In the end nobody is really happy.

Ultimately it isn't the game itself that has changed so much, but the environment. Playing games together with real people around a table sometimes seems like a historical artifact by itself. Why make friends in your neighborhood and live with all their foibles and differing interests and time-schedules if you can find people to play with on the internet any time you like? By having a much larger pool to search through, you will always find somebody whose interests are closer aligned to yours and whose time-schedule fits perfectly. And those virtual friends are a lot easier to get rid off too when you don't need them any more! Once we moved the education system online, we won't need real friends at all any more!

While my sarcastic summary of modern gaming might be exaggerated, the trend against playing together locally sure is real. And it doesn't help that Dungeons & Dragons is more a complete hobby than just a game, you can't just play it here and there for half an hour. At it's birth, Dungeons & Dragons was still a very unique way to dive into a fantasy universe full of dragons and wizards. Today there are a lot of alternatives in computer games. While the quality of the stories hasn't gone up much, the graphical presentation sure beats miniatures and pieces of paper.

But what none of the computer games offer is the chance to really influence the fantasy world, and create an interactive story of your own with your friends. And in spite of all the drawbacks, that is sure something worth preserving. Regardless what edition of Dungeons & Dragons, or what other later pen & paper role-playing system, these games are still a tremendous source of creative energy. You just don't get that from canned content. So here is to you, Dungeons & Dragons, a happy 40th birthday, and may you still celebrate many more of them.

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