How many times have you heard that platitude and thought: “who the hell cares?” Superficial happiness from a multitude of people is akin to a politician’s black toothed grin; it may feel good for a split second, but when the novelty wears off you’re left, naked and alone, wondering where the crowds went. Games are much the same.
All things have an audience, sometimes obvious, other times unexpected. The miracle of marketing and advertising is to grow a theoretical audience because it redesigns that which the original product (Recommended Product, if you will) was designed and attempts to infiltrate it anon to the wider world. Some good examples of this would be: D&D’s cartoon from the 80s; the World of Warcraft “It’s Your Game” advertisement series, or beauty products for teenaged girls. This develops and solidifies a thing’s branding and place with in “pop culture.”
Instancing these, one could draw a similarity to high school and the notability of the marketing efforts of the products itself. It is often best to NOT take a stand; to NOT express your true likes or dislikes; to REDESIGN yourself or your perceptions to the people with whom you would prefer to feel the most kinship; and to BECOME exactly that which is expected of you. In all cases, this eliminates the freedom of an individual in a social situation: either get with the damned meta structure or completely abscond your seat at the cool kid’s table!
Inasmuch of the emphasized points written above, this type of interaction intones and nearly explicitly details a watering down of the self to fit a more highly desired social category. It is exactly where World of Warcraft went. In other words, not happy (perhaps, I don’t know if this is the case truly) with being the number one MMO alone, the logical step for expanding the audience was to present the illusion of choice and freedom, two of the tenets upon which RPGs are build, in a streamlined, insultingly simple fashion (talent trees, dungeon design, and so forth). Of all things most grievously lost, the detail of the world and her stories were muddled with far too much sugar and too little mint to make much a difference to the cheapness of the whiskey. No matter what could be said about World of Warcraft or Forgotten Realms during their heydays, you could not mistakenly forget the POWER inherent in the detail of the world you simply felt. Nothing had to be swung at your face to make you see the proverbial forest from trees.
Please, though, do not allow my WoW invectives to solely fly alone. Wizards/Hasbro did the same damned things with Dungeons and Dragons! The reinvention of the game to 4th edition rules made World of Warcraft on PAPER. This is ephemerally fun, obviously, but there is a reason why Pathfinder has an ever growing audience in comparison (though it is more of a market equality).
Ultimately, Pathfinder drew their line in the sand and said: “I ain’t changin’ for nothin’!” And, they did not. Perhaps they clarified a rule there, redesigned a faulty concept here, and added classes. It is nothing more than the D&D 3 cycle released beginning in 2000 from Wizards and is designed by nearly the same people. This is why it’s successful. You can bet on it. Good designs, tried and true concepts, more and more doors through which your character can kick. Who needs more?
The RPG community and those looking for Interactive Fiction at large, that’s who.
We live in an age and in a culture of remarkable, dizzying, and mind altering technological advancement that allows for the ever omnipresent social “interaction” of the internet. Nearly all the technological changes since 2000 have focused on these goals alone of making social interaction exist truly on the internet, instead of through text. This is why we have social media such as Facebook, battle.net, twitter, blogs that express poorly written poetry or prose or self interested whining. Why do people use these tools to express themselves into what was denoted in the telephone only 100 years previous as the “aether?” Because humans, at our barest essence, are social critters that crave telling either factual or dishonest stories!
At the intimate core of RPG/IF is this: it approximates social values, norms, cultures, and interactions in a memetic space allowed by the DESIGN of the game! A game has rules; a world has perceived rules. In all things, the perception of the world’s rules should be informed by the game’s mechanics. For example, if there is gravity on Planet X and character A falls, it’s going to hurt when they hit the ground.
However, I digress. The power of the RPG/IF is to allow people to enter this space, within the rules of the game, taking upon the perception of their character’s rules of the world and interacting with the details, richness, and quality therein. For some reason, designers have seemed to forgotten that for many year. A game may have some of the greatest, most interesting mechanics ever… but the interaction (read: immersion) with the detailed and deep world is what truly gifts the player with a positive experience. For an example free from the domain of RPGs, just look at the fact that Madden and NCAA Football franchises do just that and that is why they are successful.