Monday, June 29, 2015

Celebrity Dungeon Masters?

I find something very unappealing about viewing tabletop gaming (or any hobby in general) as if it’s some kind of important cultural identity. I don’t personally find a lot of value in tying my personal worth to a niche hobby, even one that I greatly enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bothered by taking the game seriously. I’m a pretty obsessive RPG fan myself. I know more about the history of Dungeons & Dragons than any person really needs to know. My hobby is pervasive, going beyond the actual play of the game. I spend a lot of my limited free time tweaking rules, home-brewing game systems, or working on campaign ideas. I’ve got my own campaign world that has existed (mostly in my head) since my buddies and I first explored its lands some 20 years ago.

You know, just like you.

And that’s the thing. There are casual gamers, to be sure, but the most vocal gamers, the ones you’re bound to notice online, share an interest in RPGs like one could call, dare I say, geeky. They are not, however, worthy of celebrity.

These folks I’m talking are almost exclusively professional game designers, but I’m not really writing about people who are well-known just because they write the books that you and I are buying. No, the gamer celebrities have a certain cult of personality about them, an aura of sorts that springs up whenever some blogger is speculating on an upcoming project or recounting some recent con experience.

The inspiration for this post came when I stumbled on an old blog post about the “Greatest Dungeon Masters in the World”. One particularly famous DM was praised for creating his own worlds, his math and cartography skills, and for the fact that he actively plays the game.

So, he’s basically just like every decent DM I’ve ever met?

I’m not trying to disparage anyone here. I’m not knocking on this particular person, as I’m sure he truly is a good DM. However, I find the gushing torrent of flattery to be a real turn-off. Do we need celebrities in our hobby? Is being a good DM even quantifiable to the point that one could be “the best in the world”? I’d take that phrase as hyperbole if it didn’t show up all over my Google search.

This is all fueled by a few pseudo-celebrities that seem to take all this make believe as very serious business. These are the types to get bent out of shape about “gamer issues” and their “contributions to the culture.” Maybe I’m getting too old for this or something, but I’m not part of any cultural movement related to playing games. I use my hobby as an escape and a distraction. I’m not interested in electing a Homecoming King of the Nerds.

I DO have my own favorite designers. I used to really dig Monte Cook and feel that his spearheading of PDF gaming products was a great innovation (his design has gone in a direction that doesn’t interest me). I’m also a fan of Gary Gygax as the “father” of D&D and RPGs. Were Gary alive today, I’d love a chance to play at his table, not because I think he’s some kind of uber-DM or something, but for the sheer novelty and nostalgia of it.

But pretending that all this is more than just a silly game we like to play? Creating a hierarchy of cool kids in the gaming world based on their ability to churn out common-sense DMing advice and run D&D games on Youtube*?

That’s just not for me.

* Who wants to watch other people play RPGs? I AM getting old, but that sounds utterly boring)

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