You know what one of my fondest teenage memories is? It’s that time my friends and I made our way to a forgotten mountain town, where we saved the villagers from two minor gods battling over the divine resources the town held. After convincing the deities to call it a truce, we helped fortifying the town to defend from an army that had been chasing us through half the country. We erected a temple that channeled the divine energy of the place, trained the villagers, gave the town an actual wall and faced off against a host of highly skilled killers. Once all of this was over, a dark secret of one of my friends was revealed, but that’s another story.
Of course, the above anecdote didn’t really happen. At least not in this world. It did however happen in the world of the minds of my high school friends and I, as we played one of our sessions of Exalted. Back then, Exalted and a slew of other tabletop roleplaying games drew me into a hobby that is still a part of my life. To this day, not a single video game has come close to the wonders I experienced in games like Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: the Masquerade and even indie titles like Fiasco. As fond as I am of the digital arts, my love for the “mind’s eye theater” will always be stronger. Why? Well, sit down at my table, roll that d20 in front of you and compare it to your Lore skill. If you succeed, the Dungeon Master will tell you all about why the pen and paper are mightier than the console and controller. Yeah, that roll will do.
First of all, no matter how open the world of a game like Skyrim will be, it will never be as open as the world that you imagine. In tabletop roleplaying games, the players decide the boundaries of their world, while in a videogame, the developer makes that call. You want to go beyond the great ocean? Too bad, there’s nothing there! In a pen & paper RPG, the players could set out to find a distant land there, without buying an expansion pack you’ll be waiting for too long. Sky’s the limit, and you’ll never hit and invisible wall.
Second, it’s the best co-op multiplayer game out there! You don’t need to by your own copy of the game, you can play it both local and online, and there are no weird connectivity issues. Tabletop RPG’s combine elements of good old fantasy action games with cooperative storytelling, and I haven’t seen a single video game yet that tries to do that.
Last but not least: your mind is the best engine ever. Don’t you just hate frame drops, or a gaming rig which decides to implode the day that new badass game hits the shelves? Well, don’t fret, ’cause tabletop RPG’s run on your powerful internal piece of hardware called your brain, and that takes more than a hot summer day and some weak parts to overheat! Sure, modern engines and the right hardware can render some pretty images, but nothing can create more visceral, personal and touching vistas than your own mind. It becomes even more powerful when you build that image together with friends, adding layer upon layer of images, blending together to create epic, dramatic and plain beautiful sights.
Don’t get me wrong: I love video games. However, I think that no matter how advanced they become or how complex they will be, they will always have limitations, while my fantasy will not. Sitting together with friends, as we pierce together a tale of heroes, monsters and dramatic choices will always be a creative and emotional experience video games just can’t provide. That’s okay though. After all, they are different media with different goals, but I know which one I choose when I want to tell my own story.
Don’t worry video games. It’s not you, it’s me. I just need a d10 and a natural 20 from time to time.