The majority of role-players were exposed to video games before making their way to the table. It’s no surprise, as video games are flashy, able to be played solo (or at least without needing anyone else in the same room with you), and loads of fun. When I talk about video games, I’m not talking about casual games such as Candy Crush or Angry Birds which, while certainly fun, are basically interactive clickbait; rather, I’m talking here about ‘real’ games which have a depth of content, mechanics, and/or story. I love video games of all kinds and on any platform, from console to mobile to PC (though my heart truly loves the latter).
I would certainly classify myself as a gamer, though that term is used to describe such a wide variety of people that it is difficult to define. For my purposes here, a gamer is anyone who would describe video games as a hobby either current or past. When gamers play tabletop RPGs, the legacy of our video game heritage often comes to the table with us, exhibiting itself according to the severity of our habit. This can affect our experience with role-playing in a variety of profound ways, either positively, or negatively, or both.
1. Gamers have a good grasp of game strategy
Pro: Video gamers are often practiced strategists. While some games offer greater strategic depth than others (XCOM over CoD, for example), all video games place players in situations in which they have to plan out their actions in order to succeed. This extra practice translates well to tackling many tabletop RPG situations, whether they are fighting a battle, sniffing out dungeon traps, or planning a journey.
Con: Video gamers often get stuck in the ‘game’ aspect of role-playing games. We are so used to power gaming that it comes as second nature, whether it be min-maxing characters to get the most benefit from our stats, using the weapons or abilities with the highest damage without regard to their essence, or other various sins against role-playing. While this tendency is understandable, it really detracts from the joy of playing a ‘real’ hero with tangible weaknesses and flaws rather than the one-dimensional action hero present in all too many video games. Video gamers are also more disposed to be rules lawyers, as we are so used to playing by a game’s rules that it is almost unthinkable that a game be run out of accordance with what is in the rulebooks.
2. Gamers have a wealth of experience in fictional worlds
Pro: We as video gamers have been immersing ourselves in fictional worlds since we were old enough to pick up a controller or a mouse and keyboard. This allows us to visualize the world in which we are playing in remarkable detail, because odds are that we’ve played in similar worlds before. We can fill in the details about whatever fantasy world is being played in by drawing on inspiration from our past library of game experiences. Video games also provide players with knowledge of the time period (real or fictional) in which they are set. For example, my time in fantasy games has given me an understanding of medieval weaponry which lends itself to playing a more realistic fighter in DnD; similarly, time in sci-fi games has provided me a broad vocabulary of pseudo-scientific terms which enhances my role-playing in that setting.
Con: Video games (even RPGs) involve a remarkable lack of actual role-playing. This is most painfully obvious when it comes to dialogue. Rather than selecting from a few already-intelligent-sounding phrases, tabletop players must craft all their dialogue from scratch. This is particularly difficult for some types of dedicated gamers, as their hobby has either restricted their interactions to teabags and taunts or (like me) cut them off from other actual people entirely while in game. When I started playing tabletop RPG’s, my characters all sounded terribly awkward and unintelligent, as my uncomfortableness in having to dialogue with other players came out in my character. Beyond just dialogue, video games tend to hold players hands while they play in ways that tabletop games do not. The level of creative thinking required at the tabletop is much greater than that required by video games and can take a lot of time and practice to develop.
3. Gamers have developed unique social habits
Pro: Video games can foster players’ social skills when it comes to playing with others. More than any of the other points in this blog, this one really depends on the type of gaming you do. Those who engage in multiplayer gaming and who are in any sort of clan or team have likely learned how to play well with others. Even though there is a difference between online and in-person interactions, most of the principles translate remarkably well (i.e. respect for your fellow players, willingness to work together, etc.). That being said, most of our good social habits do not come from video games, thankfully.
Con: Unfortunately, many of our bad social skills can find their roots in a video game habit. Multiplayer games tend to make winners smug and losers sore. After losing a match to a surprisingly arrogant 10 year old, for example, it’s difficult to be a gracious loser. We as human beings like to be the best at the things we love; in gaming, there is always a more skilled player out there and that can arouse feelings of inferiority, which often leads to the putting down of less skilled players, which can then lead to their putting down of those with even less skill, etc. The anonymity of the internet allows players to act according to their worst natures without any serious negative ramifications. Combine this with video games being an outlet for frustrations occurring in real life and it’s a breeding ground for all sorts of bad social behaviors. All such behaviors won’t directly translate into in-person interactions around the table but some of these bad behaviors will inevitably come to the surface sooner or later.
4. Gamers have a passion for games
Pro: Video gamers can bring a lot of excitement to the table. A long history of witnessing (and playing out) epic confrontations on-screen can give gamers a lot of exciting material to draw upon when narrating their character’s story. Brutal kills, sweeping tactical maneuvers, and heroic charges have all been played out before, even if in a different medium. The player in video games is often unrealistically heroic and powerful, but their exploits are the stuff of legends. If players bring that same heroic mindset to their tabletop characters, great and memorable events are destined to unfold. Video games also have a vast library of non-one-dimensional characters (Commander Sheppard, Geralt of Rivia, or Ezio Auditore da Firenze to name but a few) upon which one could base a character, which can bring a lot of depth and enthusiasm to their role-playing.
Con: In order to keep their interest, video games are often set at an unrealistically fast pace. Players are constantly bombarded with action, plot points, followed by more action and explosions, then a line of dialogue, then another explosion. Even in RPGs is there an almost constant stream of action and plot to be had. When I first began to play tabletop RPG’s, I felt like we moved through the story at a snail’s pace. I’d go home after a session unsatisfied by the lack of progress we’d made in the story or that I’d only rolled my dice a few times in the entire four hour session. If I didn’t like the people with which I was playing, I may have given up on tabletop RPG’s as ‘boring’ due to my video-game inspired desire for instant gratification. Gamers should keep this in mind and have patience, for once my restlessness wore off, I was able to really enjoy and dig into the life between the action sequences and plot points which is almost entirely absent in video games.
If you take a moment to reflect on your video game lineage, you’ll be able to figure out just how your video gaming has influenced your role-playing. Every gamer is unique and I’m guessing your list will not be the same as mine. However, on the whole, I’d say that a healthy video gaming habit has a positive impact on our ability to play and enjoy tabletop role-playing games. The opposite is also true, as my role-playing is beginning to positively influence how I play video games; I find myself making in-game decisions according to how my character would think or feel about a situation rather which outcome I’d rather see. Ah, how I do love it when my gaming habits come together.
Jake is an avid board gamer, outdoorsman, and low level role-player who lives in College Station, Texas. You can read his latest article about how players can help tell a better story at the gaming table here and you can read his article about playing less powerful characters here.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.