Dungeons and Dragons is an abomination. In both term and action it has choked the birth of emerging art forms, making it nearly impossible for interactive storytelling to move beyond its infancy into the realm of being a mature and accepted art form.
The game itself is quite brilliant. There are a complex series of rules, which are used to create a fairly realistic imagined setting, one which is flexible enough that others can easily participate in controlling the direction in which the story goes.
The problem is that it is inherently exclusionary. To participate you have to undergo a relatively complex character creation process, with dozens of options available, and a variety of numeric choices to make which can boggle the mind of anyone who wants to be just a casual player.
Even if the character is made for you (removing any choice you have in its outcome) you still have to participate in a game with rules that govern almost every action. Looking at statistics written down on a character sheet, you have to numerically determine if it’s a smart decision to try and climb that wall. This isn’t Candy Land, this game is hard.
This can sap the creativity and fun from the game for all but the most number nimble participants.
In a lot of ways it’s like playing poker, except you have to go through an elaborate application process to get into a game, and then when your there, everyone’s using monopoly money.
Another major problem with the game is that it’s difficult to engage an audience. People don’t want to expand the effort to imagine that four guys rolling dice are really brave adventurers marching through and ancient castle. It doesn’t translate well to an audience, and so acquiring people to play, is a process of convincing them to go through the elaborate setup process, and then learn the rules.
LARP’ing, is a kind of roleplaying, similar to D&D, except people dress up in costumes and actually go out into the real world as the imaginary characters in the game. Unfortunately even this has not managed to find a way to create work which can engage and interest an audience.
However, the fact that it’s a difficult, exclusionary, waste of time doesn’t make D&D bad. Every hobby is like that, and spending your time collecting stamps has no more social value than exploring a cavern with your elven friends.
The problem with D&D is that it is hiding a much more potent and powerful art form behind its complicated trappings. Interactive storytelling, live action plays, real time, fictional creation, these are the cutting edge art forms which are just now emerging from the dark age of dice.
In chat rooms, forums, and on social networks we are seeing real stories being written, by multiple authors, sometimes hundreds of people all working to tell the best tale possible. These stories are being merged with photos and pictures which are being created to help bring these interactive worlds to life.
As the technology gets better, were seeing video and animation being integrated into this as well. Slowly Hollywood is merging with the box on your desk. As the future approaches, we will see movies that we create, populated by a cast of thousands, each one behind a camera, a screen, or a pen, adding their own personality to the living novels that are being born.
Unfortunately, D&D is no longer helping this process. It may have started as a way to get people to think about stories in an interactive way, but it has since turned into a demeaning and debilitating word. The inherent self indulgence of it stems from the fact that it’s a game. However as people are starting to open their eyes, their seeing that the act of role playing is more than a game, it’s a form of expression, it’s an emerging art.
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