Games as Social Space

Yesterday someone asked about an online resource for comparing and contrasting every edition of D&D and retroclones. And I thought, "That could be useful." And I thought that I could probably take a stab at it, using a Consumer Reports-like grid to indicate the existence of classes and skills and level limits for non-humans and THAC0 and positive or negative ACs.

And my mind started to spin in the peculiar way that it does when the game design engineer in my head gets ramped up to pick out the nuts and bolts of rules and fiddly bits. The endorphins get released and I can see the shining PDF completed and available for download, and I forget the pile of work that it will take to get the idea to that point. I can feel myself slipping down the slope of losing myself to the idea, of blissful hours debating with myself about including non-weapon proficiencies or not, of fiddling with the rules and deciding what's important.

And I reread that last phrase: "Fiddling with the rules and deciding what's important."

In that moment, I heard this Ze Frank acceptance speech echo through my head (after the dick joke):

We're gamers. We play games wherever we can: in basements, around the kitchen table, at conventions, in a sterile conference room at work, in game rooms and dining rooms and living rooms and bedrooms, even on a roof in the rain. We play to feel better about ourselves and to create stories we want to tell ourselves for years to come. We game to create memories and share them with others, and the places we choose to game become so much window dressing. The friends and the memories are the core of the experience; where it happens fades into the background as merely setting and embellishment.

And what is a game other than a mutually-agreed-upon space in which to create those memories? We could stage a play, or form a knitting circle, or play team sports, or square dance, or a million other activities where people come together and do something, but we choose to play games. We could debate the rules and analyze the hell out of everything we do, but that's the equivalent of sitting there and talking about what color the walls should be at a square dance. It's debating about the space and not the activity, which is why we get together. Sure, it's useful in its own way, but we're missing the big point because we're not dancing.

From a gaming standpoint, the rules make the structure of the space we game in. So if we want a gothic stone cathedral with flying buttresses (WoD or Warhammer) or the ruins of a toy store filled with shape-changing dolls (Gamma World) or a shadowy house with something living in the basement (Call of Cthulhu) or a flophouse just off a rainy street bathed in neon light (Cyberpunk) or an intricately-worked manor house overlooking a dungeon entrance (D&D), we can decide to use or customize or build that structure and play in it.

So sure, I could dust off my Rules Lawyer Hat and debate the merits of a manor house vs. a toy store, or the effectiveness of rule X vs. rule Y, both of which will get me engaged but not in an altogether positive way. And I like to think I'm not a total dick, even when I act like one. And I may work on the field guide to D&D editions, but I thought I'd stop and follow my thoughts for a minute.

What's important? Spending time with friends and stengthening the bonds between us by sharing experiences. Finding new friends through the medium of gaming. Smiling and laughing and emotionally investing in the present moment. Being a social creature with people who share some of my interests. Feeling like I'm expanding my tribe.

These things are important to me, more so than the subjective "correctness" of the rules. To me, it's more important to play than be right.

So let's play.


  1. Hmm...I think you might have missed the point of my inquiry regarding a comparitive list of D&D editions. Then again, it's possible I'm overlooking your point, so apologies of that's the case.

    I just want to be clear that I wasn't asking anyone to set about generating such a list, but rather asking if anyone knew if such a thing existed.

    And the reasoning behind it isn't to define the subjective "correctness" of the rules, it's this:

    Which of these products should I purchase: Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, or Castles & Crusades? Or, should I wait for Brave Halfling to publish Dungeon Delve, and buy that one?

    I don't think any particular system is better than the other, but they offer (or should offer) different play experiences. I'd like to find out which one is right for me, but sadly I don't have the money to purchase all of them.

    Hence my looking for a "Field Guide" that would let me know what type of experience each one offers or emulates.

    Otherwise though, your gaming sentiment of "let's just play" is spot on.

  2. It's amazing how one innocuous question touches off a whole line of thoughts that take you so far from the original point, ennit?

    I couldn't think of any easy comparison across several editions of D&D that already exists. I've seen blog posts comparing two editions, but nothing that would lay the whole spectrum of D&D editions bare in an objective, clinical way. So my mind immediately jumped to building something. The Edition Wars fed into my thinking, and nothing subjective like the concept of "a better system" came from your initial request.

    And the rest, as they say, has been blogged.

    1. Thanks for clarifying your thought process; I hope I didn't sound like a jerk, I was just concerned my initial question had sounded like some kind of snobby "Which system ranks the best?" which absolutely was not my intention when I asked.

      Still, some people have expressed interest in having such a resource, and someone mentioned starting a wiki for it. I'm not sure wiki is the best format for what could be handled via a spreadsheet, but then, I don't really know wiki outside of what information (inaccurate or otherwise) I get from wikipedia.

    2. No worries. I try to assume the best of intentions and follow up with what's actually going on.

      All "Wiki" really means is a hyperlinked series of documents that a group can easily edit. There's a little more to it than that, but it's basically an HTML page with a built in self-edit button. Making a chart in a wiki is no big deal.

      Are you interested in compiling the differences between editions as someone suggested in your G+ post?

  3. I'm interested in seeing it compiled. Whether I have the time, technical know how, capability, or details (I don't own any of the retroclones) to contribute is another matter. :)

    But I'll contribute whatever I can.