I was born at the tail end of the 70’s and therefore grew up during the age in which computers really took off as well as in the hey day of AD&D. Now, being a little young and in the wrong crowd for D&D I ended up firmly in the group who grew up with BBCs, Acorns and their ilk. As I got older I got into tabletop games and these both ran alongside each other as the hobbies that really would take a lot of my time especially as the 90’s hit and I had my own disposable income to chuck away.
Now, computer gaming really was quite a solitary thing, OK, you may have had a mate round to play Duck Hunt or something but that really was it, there wasn’t a huge multiplayer market unless you had two joysticks… Tabletop gaming is much more social in my mind, whether you’ve spent time in a store surrounded by the heady odour of unwashed men or surrounded yourself with better hygiened companions in the safety of your own boudoir, tabletop lends itself to a crowd. OK, you can enjoy a game with a close friend and enjoy it being just the two of you but often when I play there is at least 3 of us.
Nowadays however there is a (not so) new kid on the block. The MMORPG, a game genre that seeks to unite thousands if not millions of people globally into the same environment, some have even made the transition from tabletop to Internetz, and some vice versa. They seek to entice all people to enjoy their fruits and (after playing more than my fair share) I find them to be useful diversions that allow a bit of escapism, I’ve even been fortunate enough to play with real life friends in these adventures and have forged at least one lasting friendship through someone met in one of these games. However, both MMOs and tabletop gaming are very different, you obviously have a much more selective play group if you’re involved in a tabletop community, even if you are a regular tournament attendee, then we have the perennial stumbling block that miniatures are seen as nerdy and the age old image of computer gamers being sweaty old men living in their parents basement is becoming a stereotype more and more consigned to the past.
A hobby only survives long term with an injection of fresh blood and I don’t really have any numbers to throw around here but with the easy accessibility of computer games and the social aspects of MMOs, does this mean that we will see a slow decline in the number of people who take up the tabletop hobby? After all, there are no really immediate results from miniatures, you normally have to assemble them first and then there is the option of painting them too. MMOs you just pays your dollar and dives right in, you can see yourself getting rewards in terms of money, XP and loot a much more immediate gratification and your house doesn’t end up looking like the set from the Death Star trench run.
Yet, no matter how much MMOs may try to entice, even with games like Warhammer Online, I cannot see them replacing a hobby that I love. Would you be enticed into Warhammer Online to sample the Intellectual Property or rather try actually playing a proper game where you command entire regiments on the table rather than a single avatar in the game? Are we going to see more and more kids that may have been willing to try out tabletop going down the road of MMOs because they require a smaller investment up front and quicker rewards? Or do you feel that our beloved hobby will be able to endure against the continuing encroachment of virtual treats?
I don’t have the answers and I look forward to the day that I can pass on my geekiness to any legacy that may be forthcoming, but no matter how social gaming may become, standing around talking trash with friends in my living room will always be something I treasure.