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?

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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

payn

Legend
Police Quest was the first game I played the whole way through. I adored those games up until you couldn't type commands directly into them (at some point they shifted to giving you bubbles with options which I just didn't like as much, but I can see how it made the game more playable. I remember liking the Lucas Film games as well. I do remember the relief of getting some of the Sierra games on the 3 1/2 inch disc (I remember most of my Kings Quest games being 5.25 inch, but at some point, at least on the Apple IIGS we had, we started seeing them on 3 1/2, which was more manageable.
The Dig was a fantastic game. I also miss the Maniac Mansion series. Taking me back Tuesday!
 

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payn

Legend
I think some of it is the medium is just very different (with my personality, I don't know how interested I would be in modern video games were I born today). But also you tend to like what you came of age with. That 2000 cut off point is pretty much across the line for me for most media. I am very aware of music, movies, etc going up to about 2000, then it is like I just stopped paying as much attention to what was getting released and only saw or heard new things occasionally (now I tend to listen to and watch stuff prior to the early 2000s). That is just normal generational differences I think. My grandfather listened to opera, crooners and Italian music. My father listens to the Doors, Leonard Cohen, and classical music. I like a lot of those things because they were playing in the house when I was a kid, but also enjoy the heavy metal I grew up listening to. I have a lot more trouble getting into newer music (occasionally I hear something I like, but mostly my brain is comfortable with older stuff. I think it is a mix of what you came of age with (the term nostalgia I find is a bit too dismissive of the things that shaped us----like we should feel guilty, or like my grandfather should have felt guilty for listening to Sinatra), and the mediums changing. That early 2000 cut off seems to be around the time there were also very big shifts in tech (more widespread internet, digital movies, digital recording techniques, etc: if you grew up to music recorded on tracks in the studio, with no autotune, you are going to have different tastes than someone who grew up with more modern recording techniques and more modern film making techniques. I prefer movies with practical effects for example to movies with CGI.
I read somewhere that most folks have formative years when it comes to music. They latch onto whats happening for a 10-20 year period and then just kind of stay there. A common thing, but not a sure thing. Im 42 and know more about new music than any of my brothers who range from 3 to 16 years younger than me.

I wouldnt be surprised if TTRPG playstyle has a formative period either. Just a theory though.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Thankfully, while some of my players (but not most by far) play video games, it is fairly clear at my table that D&D is not run like a video game here. It is just a different kind of game - kind of like you expect different kinds of game play in Stratego vs. Chess despite both using a board or UNO and Texas Hold 'Em even though both use cards. CRPGs and TTRPGS may share some things in common, but they are different games - so just be clear they are different.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I read somewhere that most folks have formative years when it comes to music. They latch onto whats happening for a 10-20 year period and then just kind of stay there. A common thing, but not a sure thing. Im 42 and know more about new music than any of my brothers who range from 3 to 16 years younger than me.

I wouldnt be surprised if TTRPG playstyle has a formative period either. Just a theory though.
yeah that makes sense in general (even if there are exceptions)
 

Oofta

Legend
I read somewhere that most folks have formative years when it comes to music. They latch onto whats happening for a 10-20 year period and then just kind of stay there. A common thing, but not a sure thing. Im 42 and know more about new music than any of my brothers who range from 3 to 16 years younger than me.

I wouldnt be surprised if TTRPG playstyle has a formative period either. Just a theory though.
I find the same thing. I'm always looking for new music (thanks Spotify!) and my DMing style and preferences have grown and changed over the years. But there's nothing wrong with liking what you like. Same way that I'm an avid video game player - even though the first video game I remember playing was pong.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Thankfully, while some of my players (but not most by far) play video games, it is fairly clear at my table that D&D is not run like a video game here. It is just a different kind of game - kind of like you expect different kinds of game play in Stratego vs. Chess despite both using a board or UNO and Texas Hold 'Em even though both use cards. CRPGs and TTRPGS may share some things in common, but they are different games - so just be clear they are different.
the biggest diffrence I have found that I need to spell out (sometimes many times) to new TTRPG players comeing from modern games is just HOW open your options are.

"The DM mentioned in passing 3 weeks ago a king of the dwarves to the north... it was just fluff, so we shouldn't go there to see what he is like" (yeah in some games that's good, but in general not only can your party go north to see the dwarven king... but you can go right past the mountains and go north 'off the map')
"I need to figure out how to get X, but can't find the right answer" (there IS no 1 right answer... there may be a billion wrong ones you hit much to the DMs sanity loss, but there are always multi right answers)
 

nevin

Hero
Generally what I see is DM’s build up player interest in something. Say a town get them hooked then throw what they think is and obvious run for the hills encounter but then the players won’t leave because they are good aligned and defending thier new home/base/people whatever. Or the opposite the DM is totally not invested in something a player is and not paying attention the DM goes after the players self chosen now main plot line for them whatever and the DM is totally blindsided that they’d die for it.

But the general answer to the initial question is YES video games are killing games. And what I’ve noticed is myself and other DM’s when caught in a crunch will pull stuff straight out of a video game reinforcing the behavior we don’t want.
 

Oofta

Legend
For the OP, I don't really see an issue. Occasionally people will want to scrounge for every last copper, because that's something you typically do in video games. I simply let people know I'll give them the treasure they received at the end of the session.

As far as always winning, not being an open sandbox with no direction and so on, I think that was our expectation before there were video games. There have always been DMs that wanted to tell their story and put you on railroad tracks, but I think some of that is because of the nature of published modules that people try to emulate. Most modules are fairly linear because they're easier to write and follow.

So I'm not sure I see as much influence from games for the core play cycle, although obviously video games and TTRPGs have always and continue to influence each other.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Generally what I see is DM’s build up player interest in something. Say a town get them hooked then throw what they think is and obvious run for the hills encounter but then the players won’t leave because they are good aligned and defending thier new home/base/people whatever. Or the opposite the DM is totally not invested in something a player is and not paying attention the DM goes after the players self chosen now main plot line for them whatever and the DM is totally blindsided that they’d die for it.

But the general answer to the initial question is YES video games are killing games. And what I’ve noticed is myself and other DM’s when caught in a crunch will pull stuff straight out of a video game reinforcing the behavior we don’t want.


Or maybe players don't want to conform to the behaviors certain DMs expect?
 

SirGrotius

Explorer
I took this at a very basic level, i.e., do video games kill my ability or willingness to play RPGs in person.

Witcher 3 and AC Valhalla soak up so much of my limited time in my busy 40s, thus, to me, they absolutely are my ruining my role playing. ;)

That said, I can't really imagine that somehow I'd be less deeply engaged or somehow distracted from "real" role playing were my time to allow.
 

Weiley31

Legend
Just because I want to play a Rune Knight Grey Wolf that swings a Great Sword, ala Great Wolf Sif from Dark Souls 1, doesn't mean the Video Gaming is ruining the Role-Playing.

But I sure as heck won't lie that certain things/tropes/character ideas haven't been influenced by em.
 


HammerMan

Legend
Generally what I see is DM’s build up player interest in something. Say a town get them hooked then throw what they think is and obvious run for the hills encounter but then the players won’t leave because they are good aligned and defending thier new home/base/people whatever.
that sounds like fun,

Or the opposite the DM is totally not invested in something a player is and not paying attention the DM goes after the players self chosen now main plot line for them whatever and the DM is totally blindsided that they’d die for it.
that seems rough
But the general answer to the initial question is YES video games are killing games. And what I’ve noticed is myself and other DM’s when caught in a crunch will pull stuff straight out of a video game reinforcing the behavior we don’t want.
what's wrong with pulling from video games? I pull from everywhere (games, books, comics, movies, tv shows)
 

nevin

Hero
Or maybe players don't want to conform to the behaviors certain DMs expect?
No what I mean is if DM starts describing say orcs, Like World of Warcraft orcs. Then spells get described like you see in say final fantasy, then the players consciously or unconciously follow along and start acting like they are in one of those games. It’s not about DM expectations it’s about the base programming of our brains. We are programmed to mirror those around us. It’s what keeps us from killing each other. DM is obviously the biggest tone setter but it can come from the players too. I don’t know about everyone else but when my DM defaults to World of Warcraft descriptions, or Final fantasy, or any game I know well then I have a hard time not feeling like I”m in that game , and since thone games have a reset every time you die that can be very very bad for an RPG.

Short version if I’m getting rehashed Video game ideas or giving them out then In my opinion it huts immersion. Sometimes it’s just little things like the description starts a 15 minute conversation about an awesome video game moment. Fun, but totally sucks the steam out of the current game.
 

King Babar

God Learner
My group and I are all new to D&D and ttrpgs in general (starting in 2018), but since we range from mid-20's to early 30's we're all video game literate, so some aspects of the games were really easy to pick up. At the same time, I've noticed we've had to unlearn some things that are the norm in rpg video games but don't really work in D&D. Some examples:

  • looting and hoarding everything enemies were carrying, Skyrim-style.
  • being able to find or craft items with the expectation of incremental upgrades (like most video game rpgs).
  • main character syndrome*
  • passive play

*I have one player in particular who is averse to any kind of flaw in there character. We use point buy, and he'll always put at least a 10 in each attribute, even though an 8 isn't necessarily a death sentence. In addition, his roleplay is generally shallow, with him usually playing himself. This isn't necessarily bad, but I think he struggles separating himself from his character. If his character mistakes or has a setback, than he'll sometimes take it personally.

Whether this behavior comes from video games or just general inexperience (I think about the game much more than any other member of my group) is blurry, though.
 

Von Ether

Legend
I’m waiting for the day we can just call tabletop role-playing games RPGs again and drop off this “tt” nonsense.

If we need a distinction, video games can take back their old CRPG abbreviation. It only got dropped because the AAA publishers back then were trying to push the idea that their products (at the time) were as good as the original.
 

Yora

Legend
The negative impact of videogames is not on players, but on GMs.
RPGs work very different as a medium and you shouldn't try to emulate videogames. It only wastes the unique potential of RPGs. (They are also not books or movies, but I think those are less tempting for GMs to emulate.)
 




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