Why I Hate Video Games as Opposed to Tabletop Games

Well, hate video games may be a bit harsh, but in the respect of this post it is likely to be true.  I am an avid player of video games when I have the time.  That means recently I have not been playing much at all!  I think I got in a half-hour of Rage in the past fortnight.  As opposed to that I think I have spent close to thirty hours playing, blogging and designing RPG’s in the past fortnight!  It is a comparative thing!

Anyway, why do I hate video games so much in this regard?  It is because of the waste of creativity that goes into them.  Let me list some of my favourite video games and then I’ll talk to them.

  • Anything Dead Space
  • Tomb Raider
  • Rage
  • Anything Bioshock
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Walking Dead
  • Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City
Whimper drool… slobber… Go Isaac!
There are others like Last of Us that come close to making the list but I just could not reconcile the hype of the lead up to the value of the game as a whole.  Anyway, the above listings will illustrate my point perfectly.  These game worlds are all worlds that are fantastically creative and beautiful.  They are large and challenging and are the kinds of RPG’s I would love to play at a table.  Doesn’t sound so particularly negative at the moment does it.  Why I hate these games equally is the way they are so horrendously restrictive to the player in the scope of what you can do!  
Seriously, anyone that states a video RPG is as good as a tabletop game has absolute rocks in their head.  No matter how many variant endings you can add to a game nothing is even close to the variety that a tabletop RPG can provide.  I literally drool when I hear about Dead Space games and I love them to death but after playing them I think to myself, how much better would that have been if I ran it as a tabletop game in FATE or Traveller?  Tomb Raider is in my opinion one of the games of 2013 and it is a beautiful setup but it is a stylised RPG that really offers little freedoms to the player to actually do what they want.  Level design makes it feel like open world stuff but it just isn’t.
I know that when I mentioned open world then, some of you thought Skyrim.  I hate that game most of all I think.  Such a large open expanse but the personification of NPC’s is awful and the functionality of the game.  “Sure I’ll help.  Just go collect this for me.  Then collect that.  Then speak to them.  Then get that.  Then I’ll help.”  How anyone can stay awake in that game after 4 hours of play is beyond me.  I have people telling me I have to play out the main game.  You know what, I really don’t.  It did not interest me but some things did.  Can I pursue them?  No.  Why?  Because it isn’t programmed that way.
Bloody Booker deWitt
Bioshock is one of my love hates that hurts me the most.  The worlds of Bioshock, Rapture and Columbia are two of the most beautifully rendered video game environments I have had the pleasure to be involved with.  It makes me almost scream when I think that they wasted that on a first person shooter!  Oh how I would love to roll up my own character and move through the streets of Columbia, working for the resistance.  Instead, I get some half hearted voice overs (OK, the voice acting was great) and a convoluted, scripted not far from on the rails shooter.  The waste of such material is distressing.
I am a relative newcomer to the world of  MMORPGs with Guild Wars 2 being the largest game I have ever played.  Now this has the potential of being great but it just does not cut it.  It is large, exceptionally beautiful and has a rich developed history.  But the playability of it is the same thing over and over again.  The same quests with a different flavour on a different map.  The players in the game do NOT chat in character.  They talk about doing x dungeon and levelling.  I would love to see an environment developed where the focus is on character interaction and development as opposed to finding the right ingredients to make the best item in the game.  Why?  Just because you can!
Fun in a tabletop RPG is all about the drama and tension of dealing with other players or NPC’s in the way that you determine.  It is building the drama out of interaction.  The NPC tells you he knows the information and he will tell you if you retrieve the Sword of Leng and you don’t want to travel to the other side of the world to do it?  Intimidate him and get the information anyway!  Sneak into his house later and steal his journals.  Don’t mindlessly obey and follow the glowing marker to the sword on the other side of the map.

Sure, I could make my own games from this and the truth is, I do.  I take what I like from them and I inject them into the games that I am running.  Much of my Classic Traveller “Pandora’s Box” settings were ripped from Dead Space games.  More that I am planning in the near future comes from other games I have experienced.  Also, the problem is that they keep churning these worlds out.  To do a Bioshock campaign some justice you would want at least a year of gaming, maybe more and by that time the bloody video game industry will have pumped out two, maybe three more worlds that I would want to develop in.
So says the grumpy blogger…
The difference is obviously the human factor.  We have the ability to quickly and easily process material that is “beyond our programming”!  E.g. we have prepped a battle in a grand hall and one of the players want to leap from the balcony, grab the elaborate chandelier, surf on the silver platter on the main table and dive out the window.  We did not plan for all that to be used in that way but because we can visualise it and we know the rules of the game we can make it happen.  It may be a million to one shot but we can offer the opportunity.  Video Games all have constraints and until they can deliver a system that can think beyond its own programming that is the way it will have to be.  

The moral of this blog is it is good to be a tabletop RPGer.  We can take material that we want and adapt it.  What video game designers need to do is to slow down.  Stop being so damn creative and make me think on how I can implement you worlds in my games.  So hath spoken the grumpy blogger today.  Pay heed and do not anger the grumpy blogger more designers…  For everyone else, keep rolling!

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