Saturday, February 9, 2013


One of my employees excitedly shared with me that she had tried roleplaying for the first time.  

They all know I'm into D&D and blog, though I don't think any of them really know what D&D is except something you laugh at on an episode of Community.

She went on to say they played Fiasco.

I thought, hmm, interesting that these indie games are getting some mainstream reach.  I wonder if part of it is that they avoid any stigma attached to D&D and its "basement" players.

Then she said they all watched some of Wil Wheaton's YouTube video to learn how to create characters.  Then, after creating characters, watched more of the video to see what to do next . . .

And my heart sank.  I've got nothing against Fiasco and if you play it and love it, that's cool.  But if I care about anything I care about making D&D accessible to folks who would otherwise never try it.  And the thought that the stigma and hermetic nature of old school rpgs is so strong that a fresh-face-of-a-game can be more attractive to new players, even though you need to watch a video to understand how to play it, is just depressing to me. 

Can you imagine any other game in this context?  "We're playing bridge tonight so let's all watch this video on how to play."

Of course, I'm assuming stigma is at play here.  One other thing she mentioned is that the DM for the night was big into D&D back in the day.  So I wonder if another thing going on with indie games is "games for experienced gamers."  You've played rpgs for more than 20 years and you want to stretch your wings a bit, try something more daring with more improv required, or maybe something more focused on one aspect of what can be fun about rpgs in general-- you play an indie game.  And then you invite your non-gamer friends to play too.  And maybe they'll have fun.  But it seems to me like taking a friend who has never seen a movie before to see a Bergman film or Fellini or something.


  1. Bridge is probably a bad example, as Bridge is a very difficult game to learn... Most people (myself included) need more than a short video on how to play to get into the game.

    Otherwise, interesting anecdote!

  2. think videos on Youtube can be a good way to teach a game. Are there vids up that show old D&D being played by non-fatbeard celebrities?
    Someone hire Vin Diesel to host a dungeoncrawl.

  3. I don't see video as a problem. I watch videos of people cooking instead of reading recipes sometimes. I watch videos of people playing games to see how it looks when it's played.

    If I wanted to learn to play bridge, I'd watch a video. For visual learners it greatly speeds up comprehension. Short videos on "How to play Basic Set D&D" - if done well - would probably help get people into the game who might not read the rulebook. "Here, spend 2 minutes watching this, and then if you have questions check this book or ask me."

  4. Can you imagine any other game in this context? "We're playing bridge tonight so let's all watch this video on how to play."

    Yeah, I think a lot of people do this.

    So I wonder if another thing going on with indie games is "games for experienced gamers." Always seemed that way to me too, but it's not like i have numbers or anything.

  5. I have watched videos on folding t-shirts, ironing, and intend to hunt down some on folding fitted sheets.* I understand where you're coming from, but to many people watching a video is just the same as reading the instructions.

    *I posted this on Facebook, and I think it was my most commented post ever. Apparently almost all of my female friends have watched videos about folding fitted sheets. And my mother says I just need to listen to her instructions.

  6. Yeah, I'm a little puzzled by the conclusions that some kind of stigma is involved. There *are* videos on how to play bridge... and poker, and lots of games. On YouTube, but also there were videos like this earlier. There are probably more games covered now than before, because camera phone or webcam + free storage on YouTube = very low barrier to entry.

  7. Thanks everyone. Your comments have helped me clarify what bugged me most about the anecdote. Your examples of using video to learn something are making a lot of assumptions but I'll focus on two.

    They assume you're learning something solo and that you are learning something difficult. You probably aren't cooking in a group and if you are I doubt it's 5 people watching a video. I imagine it's someone more experienced showing you themselves how to cook the recipe and answering any questions you have. It's very possible in this digital age that the way people learn Texas holdem' and Settlers of Catan is by watching a video alone, but I'd guess the majority of people learn how to play games the way we always have: from other people in person.

    There is something very anti-DIY about it that rubs me the wrong way "Hey, lets watch some TV about a cool collaborative, social game we'll be playing in just a bit."

    Like I said in the post, I care about sharing the coolness of our game with noobies, so if texting them a link to I Hit it With My Axe would help someone come to a game night who wouldn't otherwise, hey why not. But what I usually do is reassure them that it's no big deal, we won't be dressing as elves, it's just goofing around with friends. And they come. I may be making assumptions myself. If you interviewed my newest players maybe I didn't help them learn as well as I could have. But I don't think so. I don't think the old school type of game I play is all that hard. I mean, seriously, are you all saying that if you had 5 players over to play old school D&D the first thing you'd do would be to have them all watch a video about it?

  8. I'm really torn on this one, between "thank heavens for people like Wil Wheaton, using some of his Internet cred to bring more people into gaming" and "somebody talk to Wheaton, won't you, and see if he can do some videos about 'real' games?"

    Yes, I am an RPG snob, now you mention it.

    1. Well, he is doing the Dragon Age rpg at the moment. Though that might not be considered a 'real' game?

  9. I've played Fiasco, and I'd say that it is definitely not complicated. You could easily explain the rules without a video. Easier than you could explain the newbie rules of d&d.

    What might be a bit difficult for both newbies and oldschool players, is that Fiasco is all about collaborative storytelling and roleplaying. The dice and the rules aren't what makes the game good, its how the players tell a story together. Now you could easily just tell the players that the game is about collaborative storytelling, and throw in a few tips. That's what I would do. This guy just decided to take advantage of the fact that a picture is a thousand words, and SHOW the players how collaborative storytelling might be done.

    So, to reiterate, a video isn't necessary for playing Fiasco, but might be useful to show players the style, just as a D&D video might be useful showing players from the get-go about searching for traps, running away from monsters, and using creativity rather than the rules. Useful, but not necessary.

  10. Thanks for the additional comments. And yeah, Rubberduck, I think I agree.

    I didn't mean for this post to be contentious. Let's all move on and try to make some cool things.