What Do I Know About Producing Content?
I don’t want to post too many entries like this, but given the last few months, I wanted to touch base on this. Some of this is unique to me, and some of this, I think, is relevant to the times we currently live in. I’ve been having a hard time writing lately, and while I love reading and reviewing RPG material, it has been difficult to find the motivation to do so.
There are several reasons for this. The most important is the state of the world and the state that leaves me in, personally, when I try to lose myself in gaming material.
The World, Such As It Is
I am devastated by the wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation sweeping the United States. I am heartsick over the pandering to humanity’s worst inclinations to vilify anyone that isn’t like them, and to turn that into political leverage.
I am mortified to see the legacy of American racism reinforced with absolute indifference to the deaths of POC, especially black men. This is even more horrifying when the violence isn’t just excused for the police and people in authority, but then transfers to white vigilantes killing people that inconvenience them.
I am so very tired that we can’t even take the first steps toward addressing gun violence because anything that isn’t about actually expanding gun ownership is viewed as a violation of constitutional rights. I am angry that people can’t seem to see that radically advocating for gun ownership at any cost has created a mindset where people are so paranoid that their guns will be taken away from them, that they are willing to kill other people to “prove” that they are in the right in owning those guns in the first place.
That’s the big-picture stuff. That’s the stuff that hits me from time to time when I sit down to write about games. That’s the stuff where part of my brain starts to whisper to me that none of this gaming stuff matters because there are so many people suffering.
Rationally, I don’t agree with any of that. I have thought, for a long time, that gaming is not only good for allowing us to process our stress and to get away from problems we can’t solve in the short term, but it’s also a way to engage with topics with greater safety and a means of building empathy for others. Games are important to us as thinking, tool-using creatures. But that doesn’t keep that traditional Western mindset from creeping in and saying that anything that isn’t “work” is frivolous.
Corporations and Capitalism
What further complicates this is the state of D&D. I love a wide variety of games, but it’s hard for the foibles of D&D to not bleed over into the rest of my gaming experience, especially when D&D is one of the games that I regularly play, run, and write reviews for. Add to this the fact that the OGL debacle also had a blast radius that affected other RPGs that weren’t D&D, and it was hard to work through a lot of what was going on without the knock-on effects of worrying about the state of the industry.
I have a great deal of respect for the creatives that work on Dungeons & Dragons. The current (2014) version of the game is my favorite iteration of the game that I have encountered. I have been happy with the moves toward greater inclusiveness in the game if frustrated at the speed of implementation. All of that is challenged by my concerns about WotC as a company, as well as Hasbro as its parent company.
I’m sure that if Hasbro could make money just selling D&D action figures, board games, and video games, and making money from D&D movies and TV shows, they would never touch the RPG again. So there is a strange concern about D&D being popular, but not too popular. One of the things that worries me about the “under monetization” conversation isn’t that WotC will be too greedy about the tabletop game, but that Hasbro wants to find a revenue stream that is less labor intensive than the tabletop game, so they don’t have to worry about supporting it.
WotC’s corporate decisions make it hard to want to support them. From undermining trust in their past promises by trying to revoke the OGL, to sending private security firms with a reputation for being labor-busting thugs to recover product that gets released early, this is a company making actively hostile decisions about how to interact with its fanbase and the hobby in which it resides.
How The Magic Trick is Performed
Moving beyond the corporate issues with D&D, an ongoing problem I’m finding now is that I have a difficult time engaging with the 2024 rules playtest. I want to be engaged with the playtest. I want to have an opportunity to voice my opinion. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but even though I know there are people out there that are much better at game design and pinpointing potential pain spots, I also think I’m pretty good at looking a step or two ahead and seeing where the design logically goes, and where they might cause problems.
That said, there is so much going on at once in the playtest. I have mentioned this online in different venues, but even when I don’t agree with the design, when I have translated what is in the playtest to a custom-built character in Roll20, as an example, it still “looks” like a D&D character. Even design I disagree with doesn’t sour D&D to me. However, the way the playtest is worded, the way it is putting design efficiency first and is only tangentially concerned with reinforcing a “story” beyond broad concepts, it’s not giving my much texture to appreciate and latch on to, and it makes it harder to get excited about the next iteration of the rules.
I know final rules are going to be much more likely to contain “story” elements, but just the way the playtest defines things discreetly, then strings those defined elements into a class or subclass, feels very sterile to me.
I am actually very excited to see the ways in which Kobold Press and Cubicle 7 will nudge the 5e SRD-inspired rules to make their own systems unique, and I really hope to be able to use those building blocks with other versions of the 5e SRD. But the 2024 rules are going to be the 1600 lb. girillon in the room, and it’s going to color everything that I feel about 5e SRD-based games.
Taking a Breath
I say all of this to say that I’ve been suffering from burnout, but not from burnout in one particular direction. The world is too messed up to be able to feel good about escaping it, the corporate side of things has been too messed up to enjoy consuming products, and the design side of things has been too overwhelming to derive joy from connecting the dots for me. This isn’t me saying I won’t be writing in the future, this is just me saying that’s why I haven’t been writing as much up to this point, in recent weeks.
I need to take some joy in good people doing good things to make the world a better place. I need to have a chance to enjoy the things I already have from a variety of sources, instead of worrying about who is producing what under what circumstances. I need to enjoy playing and running games a little bit to get away from looking at how the moving parts are working behind the scenes.
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