dragonspawnlair (dragonspawnlair) wrote,

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RPG Theory: The Tyranny of Fun

The following quote was originally written by Melan on 26-7-2006 on ENworld, though I first read about it on this thread at theRPGsite. I find that it summarizes many of my concerns regarding 4E.

"Interesting. This has been on my mind for a long time - that for the sake of balance, the game designers at Wizards are sacrificing imagination and the whimsical attitude that once permeated the game.

<snip long stuff and example>

It is ironic that the same thing Gary Gygax was demonised for in the early 1980s is today held up by message board participants as the epitome of good design; even as infallible dogma. Gary could never have dreamed of succeeding in his attempt to make AD&D campaigns conform to a strict standard - and definitely not succeeding to this extent.

This begs the question: why does the Wizards of the Coast R&D team strive for so strict a balance and why does it intend to strip away out-of-box options from you? I call this phenomenon the tyranny of fun. A ludicrous name for a ludicrous concept, but there you have it. The WotC designers are not bad people. I am sure, for example, that the folks working there don’t hate the game or anything, maybe they don’t even kick puppies on their way home. Maybe they help old ladies across the street. They want you to have fun. Good, yes? Yes? No. The idea went wrong long ago and it shows no signs of getting better. When dealing with game philosophy, Wizards R&D doesn’t concentrate on thinking up stuff that makes playing fun anymore. That’s 1970s TSR thinking. Moreover, fun is inherently subjective and hard to quantify - all we can have is meaningless truisms like „the game is about killing critters and taking their stuff”, „getting loot and powering up”, „playing my character” or „sitting around and eating chips”. That’s not very helpful - it is all true, of course, but it doesn’t really tell you what to do to emphasise this in the game. So instead, they try to remove things from the game which are not fun. What isn’t fun? The things the fans complain about. But who complains?
In short, the kind of people older rulebooks (and pardon my edition snobbery, but that’s just how I see it) warned us about. People whose characters got their swords destroyed by a rust monster and who threw a hissy fit over it. People whose characters died to a hold person spell and who wrote angry letters to Dragon magazine. People who didn’t have fun, whose entertainment was destroyed by this monster or that spell. Meet WotC’s focus groups, meet the people who are the target audience for future releases. The people 4e will be designed to accommodate.

Oh, I don’t have high hopes that these changes can be or will ever be „stopped”. ENWorld is ample proof of that. There comes a change like destroying the creative concept behind the rust monster, and there is a chorus of approving posts praising this decision as if it was the second coming of Our Lord Sliced Bread. Because, after all, D&D before „it was evolved” was a horribly designed, bad, bad game people didn’t have fun with and which didn’t sell, right? Right? According to WotC R&D (heh, R&D... I wonder if EGG ever had an „R&D” department), people who didn’t like D&D before are the people D&D should be designed for in the future, because that’s smart business. I am not making this up either.

There is, of course, the inevitable counter-reaction from reactionaries who don’t appreciate the changes and dare to suggest that hey, it was good the way it used to be, and there is no overwhelming need to „re-design it to be proper at last”. These rose-coloured glass-wearing fools even suggest that the design shouldn’t be used. Naive thinking. In fact, they will accomplish very little. The debate will flow back and forth for a while, and in the end, the sides will agree to meet halfway. And gee, you just conceded your position, dice-boy. You were suckered into accepting that maybe they are right. Maybe it really was bad design all along and it were your pleasant experiences that were false.

The final response is always going to be to remove any edge, any colour, to remove randomness and introduce standardised fair play into the game which started out as highly arbitrary and whimsical - in short, fantastic and open to creative interpretation.

This response is the symptom of a design culture which would never be capable of designing a game like Dungeons &Dragons.

And that is a pity."

My thoughts: 
I am uncertain to what extent this may apply to 4E just yet since I am still waiting for the books I pre-ordered from my FLGS, but I fear that this phenomenon has taken its toll. Standardizing things has its uses, but taken too far it can kill creativity. Bilbo can no longer find the one ring because it is an artifact far too high a level for his charactr to find. Where rust monsters once put the heroes in tough situations and maybe forced them to find replacement weapons, they now pose much less of a threat because they have been declaired "un-fun." I thought that the whole point of D&D and stories in general was to put the characters in tough positions and see how they deal with it, not to make sure they never encounter a challenge that they cannot overcome with relative ease without having to think outside the box or use anything not on a short list of pre-scripted powers.
Tags: 4e, d&d, rpg, rpg theory, tyranny of fun

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