The Gamemasters

I came at this whole pen and paper gaming thing completely backwards. You see, I hadn’t played a pen and paper game until approximately one year ago. Sure I had heard of the games, seen the bizarrely shaped dice and of course, watched Summoner Geeks. I was aware of the culture, and in fact, had many good friends who played regularly. I just hadn’t managed to partake.

Electronic gaming, however, is another story.

I grew up with a PC in the house. My parents, even grandparents, saw the usefulness of the home computer from relatively early in the phenomenon. Yes, I played my share of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Frogger and Trade Wars. Indeed, from a very early age, I was bound for gamer-dom.

And then, of course, my family got a Nintendo. Really, it was my family’s. We all sat together and played, figuring out puzzles, playing against each other in Jeopardy! and mapping progress through dungeons. This NES still lives on, happily, in my current home and still plays most of the old cartridges quite well, if you put them in just so.

I’ve recently been replaying one of my favorite NES games, Final Fantasy. Until after I had played a tabletop RPG, I never knew how alike Final Fantasy is to Dungeons and Dragons, and other pen and paper games. The turn-based combat and character classes, so novel to me at the time of first playing Final Fantasy had, in fact, been around for decades.

I’m sure this similarity seems completely obvious to everyone who has played pen and paper games since they were young. But, as I had come into pen and paper games in reverse fashion (meaning, playing electronic games for years before ever rolling a D20), I was quite amazed.

The strange part comes in when I realized I didn’t feel as if I was stepping back in time to play these early pen and paper games. One might think that playing something designed over two decades ago might feel a tad … old. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a very rich, adaptable gaming experience. They certainly have more shelf life than most of today’s current electronic games, which are, I suppose, the offspring of the older pen and paper games.

Funny thing, the evolution of gaming.

And how the gaming industry has evolved from its pen and paper roots is the subject of this week’s issue of The Escapist. Allen Varney details the numerous pen and paper designers who have made the jump from tabletop to electronic and highlights some of those designers’ experiences in the evolution. Our resident Contrarian, John Tynes, returns this week to contrast the skill sets of pen and paper designers versus that needed to design a successful electronic game. Last, not speaking so much to the evolution of gaming to date, but rather suggesting a course of the industry for the future, old-school game designer, Greg Costikyan, returns this week in the second half of his article, Death to the Games Industry: Long Live Games.


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