Are Video Games Ruining Your Role-playing?

I love RPG video games, but they might be causing some sub-optimal habits in our tabletop role playing. So what’s a GM to do about it?

I love RPG video games, but they might be causing some sub-optimal habits in our tabletop role playing. So what’s a GM to do about it?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

It's Dangerous to Go Alone. Take This (Advice)!​

Way back when, video games and RPGs weren’t too different. The video games often focused on killing stuff and getting treasure and so did plenty of dungeon modules. But it wasn’t very long before tabletop games moved into more narrative and character driven play which video games had a hard time following. While some video games like Dragon Age have tried to mirror role playing, you still only get a selection of options in interaction.

Nowadays, tabletop gaming has branched well beyond the elements that have been automated in video games. For players coming from video games, those elements can cause a biased approach to tabletop gaming that might make the game less fun. Below are some examples of how "video game creep" can affect tabletop RPG play styles and how to address them.

The Plot Will Happen Regardless​

While no one likes an interminable planning session, they do at least remind us that the players are not just participating but driving the story. In a video game the story happens whether you like it or not. You just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and the story will happen regardless. So the bad habit here is a desire of players to ‘just move on’ assuming the GM will just give the plot to them as they go. This often comes unstuck in an investigative RPG where the players need to plan and consider, but it can cause problems in any game. Just pushing ahead will often clue in the bad guys about what is going on. Worse, without some effort to uncover clues, the players will just be floundering, wondering why the plot hasn’t miraculously appeared.

To get players out of this mode the GM might have be initially be a bit more obvious with clues. Almost to the point of putting a helpful flashing icon over them so the players can find them. The key here is to get them looking for clues and trying to understand the plot rather than just assuming inaction will solve the adventure regardless. Once players remember the clues will not come to them they will start trying to find them again.

“Nothing Is Too Much for Us!”​

With the option to save and return to a tough problem, video games offer the idea that any character can potentially tackle anything that is thrown at them. After all, the hero of a video game is a pregenerated character with all the right skills (or at least the means of acquiring them). This is also coupled with the fact that if the video game throws an army of zombies at you, then you expect to be able to fight them off. No problem is insoluble as long as you are prepared to persevere.

While perseverance isn’t a bad trait, sometimes the player characters shouldn't attempt to face all obstacles with brute force. The GM might have put them against insurmountable odds because they should be retreating. They assume putting 100 zombies in the room will make it pretty clear the way is blocked, then get surprised when the PCs draw swords and dive in. Then they are even more confused when the PCs accuse them of killing off their characters by putting too many monsters in, when no one forced them to fight them.

It is hard for some players to realise that retreat is also an option. But if you are used to facing and defeating supposedly insurmountable odds it is unlikely you’ll think of making a run for it. This attitude might also give some players the idea that any character can do anything leading to some spotlight hogging when they try to perform actions clearly suited better to other characters.

At this point the GM can only remind them retreat is an option, or that the thief should probably have first call on the lock picking. If they ignore that warning then they’ll eventually get the message after losing a couple more characters.

“I’m Always the Hero!”​

In many games the player characters are heroes, or at least people destined for some sort of greatness. But in a video game you are usually the chosen hero of the entire universe. You are the master elite agent at the top of their game. The problem is that in any group game not everyone can be the star all the time. So it can lead to a bit of spotlight hogging, with no one wanting to be the sidekick.

That is usually just something they can be trained out of with the GM shifting the spotlight to make sure everyone gets a fair crack. But being the greatest of all heroes all the time may mean the players won’t be satisfied with anything less. There are some good adventures to be had at low level, or to build up a great hero, and starting at the very top can miss all that. So, players ranking at the lower level of power should be reminded they have to build themselves up. Although there is nothing wrong with playing your game at a very high level if the group want big characters and bigger challenges.

Resistance Is Futile​

One of the things RPGs can do that video games can’t is let you go anywhere. If there is a door blocking your path, in an RPG you can pick the lock, cut a hole in it, even jump over it, where in a video game it remains unopened. If you get used to this concept it can lead to players thinking the opposite of the insurmountable odds problem. A locked door means they should give up and try another route or look for an access card. They start to think that like a video game there are places they are meant to go and meant not to go, and that they should recognise that and not fight it.

This might apply to any number of problems, where the GM is offering a challenge but the players just think that means they shouldn’t persevere. Worse, the players might think they need a key to open the door and will search for as long as it takes to find one, never imagining they might smash the door down.

This is a tough problem to get past as it means the GM needs to offer more options and clues to the players. If this doesn’t remind them they can try other things, then that opens up the following issue. So the GM should try and coax more options out of the players and make a point of rewarding more lateral thinking in their part.

“I’m Waiting for Options”​

While there may be several ways to defeat a problem, and the players know this, they might not be used to thinking of them for themselves. They will expect the GM to suggest several ways to defeat any obstacle or interact with an NPC rather than think of them themselves. This is easy to spot as the GM will notice that any clues or suggestions they make are always followed rather than taken as a helpful starting point.

The simple answer is to stop offering options and let the players think of them themselves. After all, RPGs are not multiple choice, they should be infinite choice. So the GM might also make a point of throwing the question back to the players and ask them what they will do about the encounter. The GM might offer clues if asked, but they should try and keep the focus on the players thinking of a way through rather than giving them clues.

Gaming in Every Medium​

The issues above aren’t a problem if that is how you all want to play. But they do put a lot of pressure on the GM to hand out all the answers and takes away the player’s agency to interact and influence the story. So it is worth taking a look at your group's gaming habits, particularly new players, and reminding them that although video game RPGs and tabletop RPG have a lot in common, they should be played differently.

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
On the contrary. If I have players who prefer being led around towards the plot and like having limited options laid out for them knowing they will be headed towards the "fun" scenes, then my job of entertaining them becomes so much easier. It's a legitimate preference, and not necessarily a hindrance.


I remember an old Dragon Magazine article about being a good or more likely a bad player was to give up at a place that you could not pass. If you cannot get past the door after the simple choices, return to the town and the DM will find a way to make sure you get past the door. I do not like the advice myself, but the article was talking about the DM making the adventure and spending his time and effort on it, he will make sure you can get into it.

I would prefer to give another adventure and have this one get to the point of being a threat that they need to come back in a few levels to deal with it before killing the entire town, or whatever. I might allow some boring days around town with local threats and attacks before the PCs find more information and eventually helping them figure out the solution, so I guess I would be a bit guilty of rewarding their giving up. I guess it depends on the players attitude when going back to town.


Guide of Modos
Ironically, video games present a solution to the tabletop problems they pose: the play-through tutorial.

They will expect the GM to suggest several ways to defeat any obstacle or interact with an NPC rather than think of them themselves. This is easy to spot as the GM will notice that any clues or suggestions they make are always followed rather than taken as a helpful starting point.
Just curious... why are the PC making clues, and is the GM following them?


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Did you read that correctly (or have I misread your message)? I interpreted it the other way around in that the PCs are immediately following any clue or plot thread the DM places in front of them without even considering there are alternatives.
Indeed. "GM" would seem to be the antecedent there.


I don't believe in the no-win scenario
There are tons of modules and adventure paths out there now. While I think they provide excellent GM material, GMs/Players could certainly use more advice. Probably a good idea to promote the DMG and other such supplements that assist TTRPGs.


back in 200X (I don't remember the exact year but it was early 3.5) me and my friends all played Grand theft auto (Vice city of it matters to you, but later the san adreaus one too).

The game has a 'fake sandbox' feel. You can go do what you want on island/city 1... but you can't leave until you unlock more map by following the game plot. You could spend hours...days even, ignoring the main plot, and still have side quests. Sooner or later though you want more side plots more area... so you do the main quest. that opens up island/city 2. it kinda almost feels like a living world, even though you know there are key cut scenes not on timers. If I don't start misson #8 for 3 weeks while I practice car jumps, steal cars, buy houses and find collactables, and You start mission #8 the first chance you get, we BOTH have the same timer running for mission 8.

Okay, so we used this to describe a type of game (although not the one we use all the time, it has just resently been pull out again). One where 'the clock ISN'T always running in San Demos'. I ran in a few editions what I called 'Grand Theft Games'.... it just meant you had a limited sand box until you rode the rails of a preset adventure... those rails would lead you to more sandbox... it was ALWAYS your choice to ignore or jump on the rails.


Mod Squad
Staff member
While no one likes an interminable planning session, they do at least remind us that the players are not just participating but driving the story.

You know, there are better ways to make sure that the players are helping to drive the story than have interminable planning sessions.

Time is valuable. Spending it on things that are unfun is not a win for the GM or the players.

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