We’re All Amateurs: Why is our understanding of RPG’s so primitive, when compared to the myriad works covering screenwriting, directing movies, writing novels and the like?
I can find a dozen different works, still in print, telling me how to write a book:
Techniques of the Selling Writer. 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them). Writing the Breakout Novel. Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.
There are (many) others. But where is the plethora of analogous works for RPG’s?
If I want to make a game, what book tells me how? What book can I turn to that gives a solid, grounded description of what RPG’s are, and what techniques make for a good RPG and a bad RPG. (From the POV of a GM and a designer.)
There is none.
Is it because RPG’s are somehow less than the other mediums? Is it because RPG players and designers are incompetent?
No. It’s because we’re all amateurs.
RPG’s come alive at the game table. RPG manuals are important, they’re half of the bifurcated medium we all love, but the real medium, the actual coolness and magic of RPG’s, exists at the gaming table.
An expert creates a movie. The director, screenwriter, actors, costume designers, art designer, cinematographer, soundman, and so forth are all highly trained, well-paid experts in their field. The audience watches a movie, and experiences the combined output of all these professionals.
No expert crafts an RPG session. You play. You GM. You read the rules and try to apply them. It’s all up to you, and your friends. (RPG’s are a social medium.)
And you are not a professional. (I suppose it’s possible that there are professional GM’s, but they’re very scarce and irrelevant to the hobby as a whole.) Most gamers are common, ordinary geeks (if you’re not a little geekish, you don’t roleplay) who sit around a table, snarfing snacks and soda pop, pretending to be an elf, or a brave investigator, or a caped superhero.
We don’t have highly paid professionals carefully crafting experiences for us to consume. No writer slaving over his novel, no director fighting to get the perfect performance from an actor, no musician obsessively practicing fingering on his guitar.
We’re amateurs, and because we’re amateurs, and because the moneymaking potential of RPG’s is so small, we don’t get the critical attention that other mediums do. People can’t make money writing endless books about RPG design and play, so there isn’t a plethora of books about RPG design and play. If there is to be an “Understanding Comics” of RPG’s, one of us amateurs will have to produce it.