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?

signal-3655575_960_720.png

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.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


log in or register to remove this ad


Play my campaigns straight without springing shocking swerves without consulting the players and then trying to demonize them online for not loving me for it.
The sci-fi equivalent of a flat tire is a shocking swerve in a sci-fi game?

Also, only one player seemed to have a problem. Everyone else ran with it. Should the annoyance of the one outweigh everyone else's fun?
 




So what's the point of insulting that poor dude or somehow blaming him not want to engage with something he didn't like on video games.
Where's the insult. One guy chose not to engage in the game. That was his choice, and he had every right to make it. I just don't see one player's choice as an indication of a GM issue.
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
So what's the point of insulting that poor dude or somehow blaming him not want to engage with something he didn't like on video games.
It was an attempt to give an in game example of what the OP referred to as “the plot will happen regardless”. Before it got characterised as “springing a shocking surprise“ and “demonising a player“ and other straw man stuff.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Wait, it's miserable to provide a game the players want to play? Interesting take.
Not quite. It sounds miserable to have to constantly wonder if the players are having a good time, to the point of needing to consult the players about surprises and story arcs. All of the loaded terms like 'springing,' 'shocking swerves,' 'demonizing,' etc. gave me the impression that it wasn't a very enjoyable experience.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Not quite. It sounds miserable to have to constantly wonder if the players are having a good time, to the point of needing to consult the players about surprises and story arcs. All of the loaded terms like 'springing,' 'shocking swerves,' 'demonizing,' etc. gave me the impression that it wasn't a very enjoyable experience.
It sound miserable to engage with players and find out what kind of game they like and what things they like in game? I gotta tell you, if so, I have to be one of the most miserable people and it's pretty great! If this is misery, sign me up for more!
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
It sound miserable to engage with players and find out what kind of game they like and what things they like in game? I gotta tell you, if so, I have to be one of the most miserable people and it's pretty great! If this is misery, sign me up for more!
Not what they said either.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Not what they said either.
Sure it is. @CleverNickName said it was miserable to worry about if the players wanted to play any given idea the GM has come up with. To me, that's just checking to make sure I'm providing the game everyone wants to play. If we can't agree on this, the path isn't to do it anyway and expect the players will suck it up, but to part ways as a group because you all want different things from play.
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
Nope. They said
to have to constantly wonder if the players are having a good time, to the point of needing to consult the players about surprises and story arcs.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
It sound miserable to engage with players and find out what kind of game they like and what things they like in game? I gotta tell you, if so, I have to be one of the most miserable people and it's pretty great! If this is misery, sign me up for more!
Sure it is. @CleverNickName said it was miserable to worry about if the players wanted to play a....
I think you know that's not at all what I was saying. (I was actually agreeing with @Vaalingrade.)

Confused Always Sunny GIF by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
 

I'm not actually if videogames have really ruined anything for me.

I mean unless the situation has changed in the last two years.

For about two years (before the pandemic) I hosted an open table public D&D game at the local brewery. It was old school D&D via Basic Fantasy. Straight up old school dungeon crawl, start at first level, high lethality, die at zero hit points, explore the dungeon get the loot... the whole classic D&D experience. I have a roster of close to a dozen slain characters.

But I advertised the game as such, I made it clear exactly what one was getting into if one joined the game.

I typically had 6-9 players every week and after a point, 12+ and I had to split the game up. It was a core group plus several others who would join in and out for sessions at a time.

You can have success running any style game you want as long as you are upfront about it and clear about expectations. I don't know if videogames had any influence on what was going on then, but people had a blast in the game.

Roleplaying games should be a change of pace from video games. You can't get the experience of a roleplaying game from playing a video game. You'll never have the freedom and agency in even the most sandboxy of video game.
 


I don't know about any impact on the role-playing aspect of my roleplaying games, but Baldur's Gate III has made me a more deadly DM. Those goblins play smart.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Nope, not a chance. I think I played around 5 minutes of the first Halo game with my friend's son, and could not figure out how to use the controller. Then never touched a console game system again, until I got hired as freelance to create all the multi-player maps for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Strategy Guide, at Activision Game Studio, in Santa Monica for 8 days. On the first day, I played the game in single player mode, and managed to get through 4 levels, I finally figured out how to use the damn controller. Then on day two, I asked the engineers to shut off the other players, put me in godmode, so I could fly around and record every map space onto my laptop. As reference material when doing the maps, at home. However, that was the last time I touched a controller at all, and that was going on 8 years ago. So no, video games do not impact my life at all, therefore has no impact to my tabletop gaming... I've never cared for video games, so do not play.
 

Plot twists are always going to be somewhat controversial. If you go to watch an M. Night Shyamalan movie you expect there to be a major plot twist, and are disappointed if it turns out to be predictable or illogical. If you go to see a Star Wars movie you expect it to be more straightforward. When your are running an RPG you have to manage expectations to suit the players. D&D is very broad, so it's a good idea to indicate what kind of story you will be telling in session zero. If it's a more specific RPG, like Star Wars, Star Trek, CoC etc you need to match the type of story to the IP. CoC players probably didn't sign on for a comedy!

It also affects the kind of characters people make. A couple of sessions into Witchlight we had a player decide their character was too dark broody and serious for the story, and switch to a different one.
 

Sorry, there's no easy-peasy skill check in real life to get out of that situation; but it's not really that much harder than that.
The player leaving the game is A possible resolution of the situation. A better resolution would be the DM not being so set in his/her ways that he imposes his scenario on his players without obtaining player buy-in.

To go back to @HammerMan ’s example, what is lost by warning the player’s ahead of time that he wants to run a game based on survival?
 

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top