We should value playing rpgs over reading rpgs

Edit – I’ve been discussing this online and I don’t entirely agree with it myself anymore.

Edit 2 — Though it’s of course more complicated than that. Those discussions have shown up a number of related issues with reading vs playing (especially wrt designing-to-read). A good article on some of them, which Pandatheist on Twitter reminded me about, is Jason Manola’s RPG books as fiction.

A while back, David Perry said on Twitter “… I think we should not place the act of playing a game/content on a separate, higher plane of value than the act of reading and appreciating it on an individual level.”

I’m uncomfortable with this.

I associate writing-rpgs-to-be-read with the hobby’s nadir in the 1990s, when non-gaming writers churned out splatbook after splatbook with no understanding of play implications. It lead to a hobby with little value to me. I don’t want to see that happen again.

And this is a risk, because the reading-rpgs hobby is naturally robust, while the playing-rpgs hobby is much more fragile. It’s easy to buy and read rpg books; it’s hard to find good players, harder to find good GMs, and hard for busy adults to find time and space to play. Anything that moves rpg materials away from supporting the act of play is, consequently, risky to the playing-rpgs hobby.

Another problem is that people who read and theorise about rpgs, but don’t play them (or don’t play the kinds of rpgs they theorise about), can also damage the online discussion of rpgs. It’s very easy for them to get lost in theorising, compared to people who encounter the reality of actual play on a regular basis.

It follows from the above that we might need to place the playing-rpgs hobby “on a higher plane” in order to protect it.

3 thoughts on “We should value playing rpgs over reading rpgs

  1. From my perspective, I only have about 4 hours per week to play RPGs, but much more time to read them. The act of reading them is only of discovery and imagination that functions nearly the same way as playing. I’m not reading these things as fiction, but thinking about ways to hook players in to little hamlets, or wondering how someone might riddle with the Great Dragon of Arnur.

    I get that some folks have baggage when it comes to the churned out 90s supplements, but I think that’s on you. Me, and others like me, we constantly hear people say that reading games is a lesser activity, and we should feel bad about enjoying it.

  2. WRT “only four hours a week to play” — that counts as “actively playing” to me. I average about 5 hours play week myself, in about two sessions, and although I don’t read game books that much each week, I easily spend that much reading and writing and thinking about games.

    WRT the past, I don’t think I just have baggage — I think I have historical reasons to think that this is a way the hobby could go again. As people have pointed out on Twitter, things are better now (easier access to information, easier access to players, at least if you like online play, and easier access to subcultures that prioritise your goals), but the basic dynamics are the same — rpgs are just not that easy to make work.

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