Earlier there was a comment about “Everything grognards hate is good for new gamers.” Impudent comment aside, it got me thinking. Back in the early 80s, the game had a meteoric growth rate, so it seems that the old school style of play (being current at the time) did very well in bringing in new players. Now, 5e seems to also be doing a great job bringing in new players.
Has our community changed that much that not only is there no room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers, but it’s actively harmful to bringing them in as that comment implies?
A key difference between now and the early 1980s is the state and role of video games. Old school D&D with its focus on dungeon exploration and its comparative minimising of the connection between characters and the world to me aspires to be one of a huge range of CRPGs. There is a massive demand for that sort of thing - but in 1983, if you didn't have an Apple II and Ultima almost every RPG I can think of was almost purely text based - meaning that for visualisation a map and minis was outright superior. The 1983 boom was at a specific place in time.
By 1986 things had changed. The old days were over. Gygax had been forced out of TSR. The Dragonlance Saga was dominating D&D. And more importantly what a cRPG (and computer action adventure game) was had changed drastically with two 1986 games being the start of a sea change; Dragon Warriors/Dragonquest and the original The Legend of Zelda demonstrating that you could have approachable exploration heavy cRPGs with interaction with NPCs.
I'm going to say directly that the original 1986 Legend of Zelda is a better game of dungeon exploration than all but the very best old school games and if we skip forward a decade The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time's Water Temple is a meatier exploration dungeon almost than is possible within the realms of tabletop play. And it's far faster and more responsive with it. Skip forward another decade and World of Warcraft has team exploration and dungeon mastery in dungeons more fully realised than any DM can manage.
Can players be brought in by either (a) good communities or (b) a pitch like "It's WoW but just with good people, no griefers, and where you can do things the programmers never thought of" by someone they consider a friend? Yes. A good DM is still an excellent tool for bringing in new gamers no matter what the game system or style.
People still get together to play Monopoly or Risk with friends and those are games that are not just surpassed by other media, but actively bad games because people are more important.
It's not only the OSR that struggles this way compared to their heyday. Adventure Paths are always going to struggle as The Story of Cloud Strife, the Story of Sora, The Story of Commander Shepherd, the Story of Geralt of Rivia, the Story of Aloy, the Story of Joker, or the Story of Zagreus (to name a few examples) are going to be both more detailed and better targeted than an adventure path and we've basically seen the back of the "realistic" RPG designed to cover every possible combination, with e.g. Hitman 3 or Breath of the Wild able to cope with interactions far better while handling everything in real time.
Which is why modern RPGs tend to focus on PC-PC interactions (which is a central feature of Critical Role of course), worlds the PCs are a part of and get to flesh out rather than getting Isikai'd there, and other places where tabletop RPGs still have a significant advantage over CRPGs. And it's these sorts of things that may
have been referred to as things good for modern gamers that grognards hate.