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Mainstream: a revision

Started by Ron Edwards, November 12, 2002, 12:17:24 PM

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Quote from: Pramas
As to the selling of D&D and the like as special orders, sure, you could do that. But most D&D fans would go to typical game stores or their local Borders/Waldnebooks, where the books would be in stock and immediately available to them. Why would they want to patronize a store that is trying to marginalize them?

  You've missed the point of Rons discussion dude.  The dungeonheads are ALREADY marginalized, D&D type sword and sorcery is a marginal genre as far as the mainstream is concerned.

 Really, look at movies, in the last thirty years there have been dozens of  successful SF films ,but how many successful sword and sorcery films have there been in that time frame?  Lord of the Rings is almost the only real example and its the best of the best of the best of the genre. The D&D movie was a flop.

 I believe any discussion of marketablility of RPG has to begin with a clean slate.  Clearly the status quo has no idea of how to market to the outside world. After all if they did they'd know how to market THEMSELVES and the stereotype of the RPG gamer would be much more palatable to the outiside world than that of the obsessive smelly geek.

Indeed I'm quite sure that a major portion of the gamer crowd actually ENJOYS  it's marginalization.  How often have I seen on the declaration that rpg's CAN'T be mainstream, supposedly because the mundanes are too uncreative to take any form of entertainment not handed onto them on a silver platter, only we the truly creative can possiby 'get it', mostly because of the fact that D&D (in direct contradiction to the oft repeated claim) ISN'T  producing new gamers at any great rate.

  This insularity has really bad effects.  How much of the bad press about rpgs would be regarded as believable or palatable by the mainstream if they had any idea about what rpgs are really about?  And why don't they know?  Because WE AREN'T TELLING THEM!!!!  We are too busy hiding in the gaming shop, using it as a refuge from the world rather than a gateway to it.

In fact although I am working on a long essay on the subject (based on a quarter century of watching the rpg subculture) dealing with a really radical premise "The gaming shop is the last place we should try to advance the cause of rpgs" and 'What gaming needs most is to move out of the hobby shops".
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Walt Freitag

That's just it, I don't really want to throw anything out. I want to reconfigure it so that less of it is represented as "system" (read: stuff somebody has to read before you can start playing) and more as content that directly contributes to run-time play (like the questions in a Trivial Pursuit game).

And I don't mean just hiding the rules somwhere else and creating "such-and-such just happened, now we have to go read the rule for how to resolve it" situations either. What I have in mind might be more like "such-and-such just happened, so draw a such-and-such-type card and read the resolution listed for your character's such-and-such requisite score, filling in the blanks as you choose." (Except I don't want many different types of cards either.)

Some of the slimmer systems on The Forge are indeed good models for the abbreviated system component I'm thinking of. But what's missing is the runtime assistance to take up the slack of no longer having specific options spelled out by the system to default to. From an (admittedly exaggerated) mainstream point of view, Universalis is analogous to if the Trivial Pursuit designers had decided to avoid awkward question books by asking the players to make up the questions themselves during the game. (It's not that most people couldn't do this. Most people could. But for most people it would be too demanding to be fun.)

I like Universalis, it's a great system for me and thee, but my nephews aren't going to play it. It's a matter of how much participants are being put on the spot and expected to perform creatively. Somewhere between Mad Libs ("Pick any adjective") and improv ("invent an element and incorporate it into the scene"), mainstream participation falls away. The key is finding the sweet spots along that continuum. Most people are highly creative, if you give them sufficient constraints. (Paradoxically, the constraints encourage creativity by limiting expectations). Mainstream party games from Charades to Pictionary show this. But the Dictionary Game ("invent a fake definition for this unfamiliar word") is out of mainstream. So is "narrate what happens next." Shadows' "narrate what you/your shadow wants to happen next" nudges it just within range, for some participants at least.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Ron Edwards

Hi Walt,

Good point. I'd put Dust Devils exactly in that sweet spot, given a role-player who can be involved in the introductory process.

(Which, I think, is a necessary assumption. As with comics, people rarely latch onto them in the utter absence of a friend who likes them, so let's include the handy and personable role-playing friend who serves as a door to the mainstream-content role-playing experience. This assumption dovetails with my post to Jesse, above.)


Walt Freitag

Hi Ron,

Good point. The role-playing friend does indeed shift the mainstream-accessibility sweet spots and more than a few indie games are within that range (though I'll have to take your word for it on Dust Devils specifically).

When I said "the right game or games" don't exist, I was reckoning in the absence of the role-playing friend. And since on your side you regard the friend as "necessary," I think we're in complete agreement.

Given the (at least current) necessity of the role-playing friend, it sounds like the most valuable thing to do next would be to ask role-players what they think their non-role-playing friends would be most interested in playing.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


Quote from: Ron EdwardsQuozl, I'm a little dubious about changing the names or terms for a given product, again, using comics as the example. All the pompous insistence on the term graphic novel, for instance, served no purpose but to alienate both comics readers who might like the real-mainstream content and non-comics readers from the medium.


While I see the potential for a name change to come out badly, I also see the potential for it to break through the stigma of D&D for mainstream consumers.  Using your example, I am not a comics fan.  I think the story is lacking and the dialogue is insipid.  Now just from the name "graphic novel", I would pick it up because that name seems to address the thing that I find lacking in comics.  I assume (but have no data) that the term graphic novel brought in people like me and that's why they sell.

I think White Wolf did something similar.  They brought in lots of people who thought that rpg's were lacking "strorytelling" so they picked up White Wolf's storytelling games.

If I'm a non-rpg player and walk into a game store (let's do some roleplaying now!), I am not going to go to the rpg section.  (Actually, in my mind, it will be the D&D section.)  Why should I?  Those games don't interest me.  I'm a non-rpg player.  I go to the games that me and my friends play and I see there's a LOTR Risk game now available, and what's this?  Something called Dust Devils.  It's a little book on playing games like you're inside a Clint Eastwood western movie.  My buddies and I like westerns and it only requires a deck of cards.  I'll pick it up and try it out.  But I would never try it out if it had "rpg" on it since that word is stigmatized and is a type of thing I will never play.

That is why I think a name change may benefit games that want to go mainstream.  For mainstream consumers, D&D is rpg's and all rpg's are D&D.  If you want to be different, you need to get rid of that perception just like the term "graphic novel" got rid of the comics stigma in my perception.
--- Jonathan N.
Currently playtesting Frankenstein's Monsters

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: quozlMaybe I'm being simplistic but if you want to change how your game is perceived ("it's not a niche product, it's mainsteam"), then why not change the label which is making others perceive you as a niche product?

In oher words, don't call your game an "rpg".  I think White Wolf actually did this by calling Vampire a "storytelling game" and it seemed to work.  

Uhmm... this has already been addressed by others, but no it didn't and no it doesn't. Pacesetter's Sandman Map of Halaal RPG was dubbed a "Dramatic Entertainment Game" and this fooled no one. If anything such things make the publisher out to be pretentious. Ron is pushing it by calling Sorcerer "An Intense Role-Playing Game" no matter how many people say "that was intense" after their first session of it.

Quotejust like the term "graphic novel" got rid of the comics stigma in my perception.

For maybe about five seconds until the person flipped through it and then realised "Hey! This is a comic book!" What I mean is, changing the name, not calling it an roleplaying game will do no good. This is actually a surface issue and won't change people's perceptions. Behind the name, whatever you call it, it's still a roleplaying game, right? It seems to me that changing the name for RPG on the cover is wasted effort when it's the substabce inside the book that matters. I mean WoTC could slap a spiffy new term for RPG on D&D if they wanted to. and it will have pretty much the same effect as putting it on any other product.

TBH IMO the only really reason to use a different or adjusted term from RPG is to placate the D&D fanboys who will look at a game like, say Sorcerer or Universalis or whatever and complain loudly to whoever will listen that it is not a its up to them to decide.

Jack Spencer Jr

One thing that seems to be overlooked in this discussion which I think should not be is that RPGs are very different from comic books. That is, COmics are a fairly passive entertainment. You buy the book, you read the book, you put the book in an acid-free back with an acid-free backboard and put it in a box for safe keeping and that's it.

RPGs are a more active hobby. It's more akin to modeling in that effort is expected from the hobbist. You don't just sit down and play an RPG, like you play a boardgame or a video tape. There is preparation involved. Even the act of playing requires effort.

This is one thing about RPGs that keeps it out of the mainstream, I think. Like Raven had said. People like watching sports, not playing. We're a society of voyeurs, it seems.

This said, I do still believe that there is a potential market in the mainstream that is thus far untapped, it's just not quite so big since more people seem to prefer passive entertainment.

Ron Edwards


I think we passed the point when this thread should have spawned daughter threads quite a while ago.

Unless anyone has any questions about what I mean by "mainstream" and "alternative," and why, it's time to close this one down and bring all related discussion into new threads.



oops, sorry, Ron, I was working on my post when you ended the thread. we can continue any subtobics to some other thread...
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:

Ron Edwards

I split it out, Jonathan, 'cause I think you're asking the right question.

New thread's live, folks.


Jonathan Walton

Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe more-or-less desperate "throw out the dice and numbers" trend in the very late 80s and early 90s is, I think, more of a punt than anything else and not necessarily the most mainstream-friendly approach.

Er... I'm not sure I agree with you there, Ron.  Certainly, if you're doing the "throw out dice and numbers!" thing like comics did the "superheroes... but dark and gritty!" thing, you're really not going to accomplish much.  And while I agree that the average person could probably handle the standard "dice + mechanics" setup better than most roleplayers assume, it is a big barrier for many people.

Part of going mainstream is not doing "roleplaying... but diceless and groovy!" but (to continue the comics parallel) tossing out the superheroes altogether.  Once you remove all the barriers that limit what roleplaying can be, you can start building things from scratch, using only the components you want.  It stops being "superheroes... but gritty!" and becomes gritty crime fiction told in comic format.

This is drifting a little off-topic too, so I'll leave it at that, for now.


EDIT: Sorry folks.  That'll teach me to make sure I'm on the last page before replying.  Cripes...