Call of Cthulhu *
James Bond 007
D&D 3.x *
LUG Star Trek
Star Wars: Saga Ed
Mutants & Masterminds
Seeing this list, and being remembered of many games I played at least once, got me thinking on why D&D dominates the market and whether that is important, dangerous, or whatever or not.
Suppose one argues that role-playing games are, in essence, or in very large part at least, about freedom, about an escape from the “conventions” of “real life”, about being able to express oneself, to be oneself or someone else without fear of being judged for it – and that they can therefore lead to a sense of freedom and belonging.
Then, seeing as how much has been published in this regard by many, many people, it could perhaps be said that D&D and its source material provide the most fertile basis for this, as opposed to, say Call of Cthulhu, Bushido, Gamma World,
all of which more or less “dictate” a world in which things are and happen in accordance with its premise. Moreover, at least some of these actually interfere with the PCs themselves, “punishing” them for certain behavior (e.g.,
PCs going insane in Call of Cthulhu,
losing legs and arms in Runequest
– at least in their earliest editions). I would say that nothing of the kind has to happen in any version of D&D, for its plethora of settings and source books allow one to pick and choose whatever rules and setting one prefers. Indeed, from its very beginnings, Gary Gygax often mentioned that the DM is the final arbiter of any ruling – where “DM” will often quickly become both him and the players in well-established groups.
Furthermore, I suppose it well be argued that the earliest versions of D&D were developed and played by folks who often felt that society at the time judged them for what they believed, did, or didn’t (believe) – what society would call a “nerd”, “geek”, or black sheep – who would therefore, in practice, attract more folks like them rather than any others. In this, D&D may well have attributed to these people feeling free to express themselves in their own way – of having escaped the chains they felt society put on them, of experiencing a sense of freedom and belonging.
Today, perhaps it is also a need for escape, freedom, and belonging that explains the current D&D craze affecting current generations – especially in a changing world where real life is becoming harder for many and where events may well have led to many feeling that their very existence is threatened and where even indisputable truths are in danger of becoming “just another opinion”.
If all of this is true – or even important – perhaps D&D has become so dominant because role-playing in general will typically attract people looking for escape, freedom, and a sense of belonging. Many of these folks will care little for rules systems (although some of them will, obviously so, still vehemently defend the one they use), wherefore other games with any number of followers may well count many among them with just that – an interest in what rules they use. [Ducks for cover]Interestingly, in case of games like Hackmaster
, it could be argued that they are “versions of D&D”[/Ducks for cover].
In light of the above, if D&D is the RPG that is best at leading to sense of freedom and belonging, I'd say that it doesn’t really matter that it dominates the market – but that it can matter that one large company does.
History teaches us that there will always be times that such a company will go for the money regardless of their workforce or customers and that having a monopoly can well lead to it feeling that it can get away with anything and start curtailing freedoms both product-wise and on a human level.
History also teaches us that people can only be pushed so far and that they will eventually react to limitations of freedom imposed on them, ranging from turning their back on their “oppressor” to rebelling against them.
Sadly, in the case of a large company active in a market that is subject to profound changes in such a way that it allows them to shift its hold on parts of the market without losing much revenue, this may also lead to it not giving (naughty word) about certain groups of their customers turning away from them. A point in case could well be WotC investing heavily in online D&D, effectively in ways to monopolize content for D&D, to prevent 3PPs from contributing to the game, to funnel players into a system from where there is currently but little escape other than simply turning one’s back on OneD&D
– indeed, away
from a community where “belonging” need not be a topic of discussion.
Hoping that all of this makes sense, I will say that, yes, in my opinion, it does matter that WotC, or, indeed, any company has a monopoly in D&D or actively strives to obtain it.