Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Imagination Gaming

Back in the day, much of gaming happened in our minds. Tabletop RPGs we to a great extent designed this way. We had thin rulebooks with poor artwork, some dice and maybe a few poorly cast miniature figures. There wasn't much else to have early on, so we had to imagine, based on our GMs descriptions and our own imaginations, what the dungeon looked like, what the orcs looked like, etc. Sure, most everyone had some common basis for things like orcs and dragons, but everyone "saw" things in their own particular way. The game happened in our minds and to some extent was a personalized experience.
Things were much the same with early computer games. Due to the limitations of computer graphics in the late 1970's and early 1980's, imagination played an important role in the enjoyment of early computer games for many of us. We weren't a square on the screen, we were and adventurer! Those weren't badly designed ducks on the screen, they were dragons! The dungeons of Wernda weren't glowing static lines, they were dank stone chambers. The computer presented representations of the world. It was up to our imaginations to flesh them out and add life to them. It was a grand time. But of course, times changed. Things "improved" in the computer world, and I'll admit that going from being a square to a 30x30 pixel vaguely humanoid shape was pretty nice. Even in the tabletop world, things got "better". Better sculpting gave us more detailed miniatures. Artwork in our rulebooks improved and we got color! Things were great.
But the computers didn't stop. Graphics kept getting better, games kept getting bigger and more involved. As things got more realistic, the need for imagination lessened. When a dragon looks like a dragon, there isn't much need to imagine that it looks any different from the way that it is presented on the screen. tabletop games were falling behind.
So tabletop games worked to keep up. Rules became more detailed, artwork became even more realistic and polished. Combat became more tactical and terrain came into more common use. Tabletop roleplaying games tried to look more impressive, but there was still a lot of imagination required for the tabletop experience.
Computer games are fairly ubiquitous these days. Tabletop roleplaying games are not. Kids these days don't need to imagine what their fantasy worlds look like, they already know, and those worlds look the same to everyone.