You know, I’ve been thinking about this one a long time. I’ve enjoyed both video games and tabletops for decades, and I think I can say, with little hesitation, which one I could live without. Now I know I am going against the grain here, but here’s my argument:
1. In tabletop games, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. This is an important point because computer and video game gamers never realize the narrow parameters set upon them and their imaginations. It’s as if they’ve lived their whole lives in a prison so they don’t really know they’re imprisoned. As much freedom as games like Zelda, Grand Theft Auto or even MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft give you, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the infinite freedom of a tabletop game—and the worst part is, people hooked on video games actually train their brains to limit their thinking, imagination and creativity. I remember playing a game with a friend who simply could NOT understand what he was “supposed to do”. It never occurred to him that he didn’t have to fight the monster at all, to win. Say you like a fairly open adventure like Zelda . . . instead of fighting and killing every goblin in sight, why not subdue one, tie him to a tree, and force him to tell you where the hidden key is? And if he doesn’t listen, maybe you’ll break his knuckles. Why not? Beats killing him. Oh, but you can’t even think about doing something like that, because the game won’t let you.
2. In tabletop games, THE FUN NEVER ENDS: How many times have you watched the credits roll at the end of a great game and wished there was more? Say you love Halo, and just can’t wait until Halo Reach comes out. Great. But eventually, you’ll get the game, marvel at all the cool new content, and then in a couple of weeks you’re back wishing and hoping for a new expansion. Some games, like Zelda, you have to wait up to five years for something new. In tabletop games, there is no waiting. Every game is something new. There are no limits.
3. Tabletop games are SOCIAL: Never mind social networking. I could care less about the guy in China who’s kicking my ass in Street Fighter; I mean, yeah it’s cool that the technology exists to play with people from around the world, but why would I want to do that? I’d rather play something with my friends and family, face-to-face, across the table. The Internet still can’t replace real, genuine, human interaction.
4. Tabletop games are TANGIBLE: You can touch it, taste it, paint it, etc. Tabletop games deal with real things, real objects: real dice, real miniatures, real paper. I like being able to use all 5 senses when I play a game, although I usually don’t put dice in my mouth to taste it.
5. Tabletop games LETS YOU BE CREATIVE: I tire of playing with other people’s ideas, in world’s created in other people’s imaginations. Tabletop games allows me to make the rules, the heroes, everything. Nothing can beat the hero that came out of my own mind; I made him! After all, why would I care more about Master Chief or Link than my invention?
6. In tabletop games, YOU CAN ALWAYS IMPROVE IT: Every video game has something that just doesn’t work perfectly. The reason for this is simple: everyone’s tastes differ, and programmers can never make us all happy equally. We all wish that one impossible level would go away at the end of such and such game or we’ve all said to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” Well, in a tabletop game, you can do it. Don’t like the rules to 4th edition D&D? Toss them out. Think the rail gun in Red Faction is too cheap, or the end boss in Metroid is too hard, or that Princess Peach should be playable in New Super Mario Bros.? Too bad; you’re stuck with it.
7. TABLETOP GAMES ARE TIMELESS: Let’s face it, we live in a disposal culture. What’s the next greatest thing one day is garbage the next. That is why I love games like D&D, because it is essentially the same game since the 70’s. The newer editions are just tweaks. Video games, on the other hand, seem more hype than anything else; they never live up to all the brouhaha. I mean, Donkey Kong is still a fun game after 30 years, but my daughter treats it more as a curiosity than anything else. And somehow I doubt that in another 30 years, the teenagers of that time will care about Halo the way teens of today do. Consequently, I look forward to sharing tabletops with my nephews and my children.
8. TABLETOP GAMES ARE EDUCATIONAL: I’ve learned many things from video games, the history of WWII in Call of Duty, the physics of automobiles from Gran Turismo, but this kind of “education” is usually the exception. Tabletop games, on the other hand, exercise the mind in almost every academic. I have often used statistics to calculate my chances with dice—rolling a 20 two times in a row, by the way, is 1 in 400. Tabletop games also require critical thinking, much like RTS games, but on a much deeper level. But more than anything else, RPG tabletops force you to read and write and be creative. Even art, both fine art and graphical art (maps), are a core part of it. I owe much to D&D for helping my writing career.
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