“What’s a Grognard?”
I’ve recently just turned 47, which means I’m into my 35th year of gaming. Just thinking about that is mind-boggling really as some of the memories I have about those early games are as fresh and vivid as the ones I have about my Symbaroum game last night. I remember our epic ‘Summer of WFRP’, my first ever game of Runequest and that sodding 18% language skill, and complex games of DC Heroes, Golden Heroes and Superworld; we loved our superhero games! I also remember some of the less great moments – the persecution of one player with character death over and over again in the same scenario, people character suiciding to get a re-roll of poor stats, Cthulhu games that were all about shotguns and dynamite and, of course, many many great games that crashed and burned after one session.
I remember the magic of going to the games shop in town and seeing those amazing books and boxes that I had only seen in the back pages of Imagine or White Dwarf. I remember going to the model shop every other week to buy one solitary Citadel miniature – the one I could afford – and having to make a ridiculous choice each time. Ages spent deciding between a cool orc or a brutal looking fighter. I recall spending hours and hours talking with my friend about plots for my DC Heroes game and making reams of details about my D&D game world that was simply a mash-up of whatever influence happened to be on my radar at the time. Those were wonderful times.
In my previous post I mentioned the Twitch phenomenon that has been sweeping through gaming of late and my resistance to the burgeoning arms race in games presentation. There is a flip-side to all of this and that is the current ‘golden age’ of gaming participation we are seeing. It has been bubbling under for a while now as ‘geek culture’ and mainstream culture begin to converge. However the rise of board games was the true herald and now the coolness of D&D5e has brought a slew of new players to the table (or digital interface, as it may be). Sales are strong and virtually every gamer has a story of new players coming on the radar; a lot of them young people.
I wonder, therefore, what their years of gaming will hold? What will be their abiding memories of games when they are my age? I’m not naive enough to imagine that they will all still be playing in 2053, but some of them might. One thing is definite though – their initial experiences will be very different indeed. These gamers may have been attracted by fantasy but it was probably Game of Thrones rather than Lord of the Rings. If they came through superheroes it was probably Marvel Cinematic Universe than Crisis on Infinite Earths. Discovering H.P. Lovecraft is an infinitely more mainstream activity now than it was in the 80s. It is so very different.
The gaming landscape has changed too – never have gamers been so easily in contact with other gamers; their thoughts, their opinions and their prejudices. Whereas my gaming thoughts were formed by my peers, a few ‘veterans’ at a club and the letters page of Dragon magazine, nowadays our new breed of gamers have the full force of of our connected online world to contend with! Even considering that ‘second difficult game’ is mind-boggling now. When I moved on from D&D the choices were minimal. Nowadays they are myriad and in many ways, controversial. Make a choice and inadvertently you may have nailed your colours to one of the many factions or belief systems. Are you trad or indie? Story gamer or OSR?
Seriously, how will these neophyte gamers react when they are faced with the news that there have been [insert your favourite number] of editions of D&D prior to 5e and well, some people are quite adamant that their newly chosen game is a bit pants. Or that there is an entire parallel hobby going on with Pathfinder borne from a rules split a decade ago? Or that a slither of the gaming world thinks they are simpletons for not embracing the old magnetic fish? What happens when they hear the words ‘power gamer’, ‘grognard’, ‘munchkin’ and ‘trindie’? I shudder to think…?
This new crop of gamers are, possibly, the holy grail that we have been looking for in the gaming community for so long. How we let them grow and experience the wider world of gaming will go a long way to answering my initial question of what their gaming years will hold because if we get it wrong, their gaming years will be very short indeed.