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Perception Roll: Streaming Games
Rambling about how the world of RPGs done gone changed, and how it's absolutely awesome.
It’s pretty obvious that streaming games have been one of the things that have made a huge difference to D&D in the early 21st century. That sort-of extends to other games, too, and there’ll be more of that. It’s not all Critical Role, either, although that’s a lot of it.
(Graph from Brandwatch, February 2022)
I’m fascinated, though, by the knock-on effect of this. Principally, the way in which the visibility of D&D has changed. When I was in school, almost the only people who knew about RPGs were the ones I introduced to them. There were two guys a few years ahead of me who played, and one girl a year or two behind me who knew what they were, but hadn’t played before. That was it, 4 out of about 600 teenagers (more like a thousand when you look at the rollover while I was in the school). I was back in the same school to do a careers fair before Christmas, and I used D&D materials in my handout documents. Every kid I talked to - 30 of them, or thereabouts - knew what it was, and a good few had played it.
Similarly, in the SCA, every new member we’ve had in the last few years knows what RPGs are, most have played some, and mostly it’s D&D. This isn’t just nerdy white guys either, it’s women (more of them, actually), and people from all over the world, from Malaysia to Brazil as well as Irish natives.
There’s D&D merchandise all over the place. It’s no longer odd to see someone wearing a t-shirt that says something about gaming. I saw one reading “My Other Character is a Paladin” when I was walking the dog today. You can get everything from mugs to furniture and stuff for your newborn. There’s a major animation series - for adults - based on an RPG campaign, and I would bet decent money that there will be more.
This is awesome, but it’s also somewhat headwrecking. I’ve been playing games for 35 years, give or take, and until very recently, it’s been a thing on the far edge of people’s knowledge, let alone a mainstream and well-known and well-regarded hobby. I have people say “oh, tell me about your game” and mean it.
This doesn’t have much impact on my day-to-day experience in my own games, yet. It’s still the case that a majority of the people I play with haven’t played in other groups, or with other DMs. But it’s very likely to be the case sometime the next few years that I’m going to find myself running a game mostly for people who learned to play elsewhere. That’s going to be a weirdly different experience.
I’m also aware of people complaining about the “Matt Mercer effect”, which is apparently what happens when people see Critical Role, and expect their own game table at the weekend to be just like that. This is also headwrecking, albeit in the other direction - who sees international football on TV and assumes their local five-a-side will be the same? I don’t think it really happens all that much in reality. But at the same time, once you take out the effects of actual voice actors, and people who are running and playing games professionally, it’s not that hard to reach a long way toward what’s on your screen. My own style of game-running isn’t vastly dissimilar to Matt’s, although I can’t do the voices and can’t afford the terrain.
If people want to experience games like Critical Role and Dimension 20, it’s more that they need to improve their own play to get there. To be fair, I have never met a player who works on playing the same GMs work on running games. I don’t know why; it’s possibly because playing is seen as consuming the entertainment, rather than being involved in making it. But that too is changing with streaming games; there are people like Ginny Di who make videos aimed at players as well as DMs.
I am very much a fan of this new situation, where my hobby is suddenly so much easier to access and so much more populated. I am especially a fan of the phenomenon where people of colour and disabled people and people of any and all genders or none are included. But I’m not used to it yet, and I don’t know if I’m ever really going to be - and very probably that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want to stop appreciating it.
Separately, I put up a poll on Tumblr a little while ago, asking what I should write about next.
So there will be issues in the future on “something crunchy” (probably high-level play; spells and monsters in particular), stuff in my own campaigns, worldbuilding, computer games, and something philosophical in D&D in about that order. Despite 6% of respondents choosing “something else which I shall detail in the comments”, nobody actually did so, so if you’ve requests, this is a great time to make them.
[Throwing Irregular Shapes is also represented on Tumblr. The stuff there - 95% reblogs - is completely different to what’s on here, so if you have a Tumblr account, follow me there. And if you don’t, well, Tumblr is honestly the best social network out there at the moment. Elon Musk is nowhere near it, for one thing.]