Monday, January 28, 2008

Gabe & Tyco's D&D Farewell

Make no bones about it: Gabe and Tyco are wretched little snots. I love them, like one loves a mouthy cornerback who performs obscene dances when they catch an interception. They have great talent, exceptional skill and are entertaining to watch, but I am not sure I’d invite either of them to dinner, because I don’t enjoy that much ego with my soup.

But we like arrogant, loud mouths in America don’t we? This is how and why we still treasure Babe Ruth. This is how Rush Limbaugh makes a living. Tyco and Gabe are just the editorial Babe Ruths of the gaming industry.

To be fair, they are more substantive than radio talk-heads, because at least they inject some craft into their work, but they also pass opinion off as factoid. They also mistakenly believe that their subjective opinion is kept objective, by just claiming that it is objective. They've wallowed in this lie for years now, and believe it. They believe their own myths, and while it is true a monkey can live off its own dung and urine for days, its health slowly deteriorates along the way.

And we have a very unhealthy monkey on our hands here.

Having said all that, I still read them with each update. Reading Gabe and Tyco as a gamer, is as essential as reading Maureen Dowd if you're a politics-nut. You may not agree with her, you may see her as snide, condescending and biased, but you still read her, because her editorials will ripple all around the blogosphere. People react to what she says, like it is "news" all in itself. Gabe and Tyco can make cannon-ball splashes in the gaming waters with a simple cartoon, or even a single sentence in their editorial rants. I admire that fact, and if there is any industry that needs the occasional slap in the head, it is the gaming industry, and Gabe and Tyco slap hard. They take their baseball bats and they beat down a bloated and hypocritical industry with great delight.

On that note, I want to say that I thought Gabe and Tyco hit a homerun today with this comic:

D&D Online Comic

Now don’t worry if you don’t get the joke. This is part of Gabe and Tyco’s schtick, they don’t print cartoon for mass market consumption, in fact sometimes the references in their cartoon are so obscure you need to read Tyco’s 900 word essay accompanying the cartoon to truly understand it.

This cartoon is catered to the semi-casual gamer, but a lot of them come from so deep in the gaming trenches, that they test the trivia of even the most ardent gamer-nerd. Just last week for example, not only did you need to read the editorial to get the joke, the editorial explained that to TRULY understand the reference, you had to download their podcast. Nerds will lovingly do this, because they love exclusivity, they love the illusion of elitism, and there isn’t a hardcore gamer on the planet, that doesn’t think he’s smarter than the average bear.

That lie in itself, is really part of the real problem with gamers in general. Watching Star Trek and slowly developing your Klingon vocabulary isn’t a particularly skillful display of academic prowess, and neither is reaching level 70 in Warcraft. Nerds often equate obsessive behavior with intellectualism, and will dissect any minutia related to their obsession endlessly to prove it.

This behavior, is of course, annoying. That’s why we nerds are a rather annoying sub-culture. We exclude others who are not as obsessed as we are, and we boost our own self-esteem by simply indulging our obsessions even more; until we eventually even exclude each other on ridiculously thin lines of division. So for example, you may play World of Warcraft, but since you don’t play Horde and you like 2v2 Arena PvP, and because you always run a DPS rogue, I cannot include you in my little group. We gamers divide our community into such tiny bits, that in the end we find ourselves alone, with our opinions with only PornoTube to comfort us.

Today’s comic rips the heart of the Dungeons and Dragons brand, and crushes it before our eyes. It was brilliant. It shouted a statement that all of us gamers know in our hearts: our old friend D&D is dead. It has become the “8 Track Tape” of gaming. No amount of 4th Edition and no amount of “gimmickry” on D&D Online will save it now. Cast it adrift onto the sea of history, and reminisce about it, like some 40 year old remembering a KISS concert when he was 12 years old.

It’s a sad truth though that Gabe and Tycho exposed today. If you are old nerd like me, you remember Dungeons and Dragons fondly. Like me, you might even still play the game once in a while (with dice and not a keyboard), but it’s not real gaming anymore, it’s a trip down memory lane. I might catch an old episode of Gilligan’s Island too, but the entertainment derived from it, is purely nostalgic now, as if watching the episode was a small glimmer and slice of your youth. You could get the same experience by thumbing through your old high school yearbook, or finding some old t-shirt you wore as a kid and giving it an unhealthy sniff.

That’s what D&D is now, an anachronism – left behind by bigger, brighter brands that seized the ideals of D&D and took them to new heights. World of Warcraft lore is terrible, it’s one of the worst narratives in an RPG I’ve ever digested. It doesn’t matter, because it’s been absorbed into mainstream culture, it helps sell trucks during commercials of an NFL game. It’s become so pervasive we can identify it on a cereal box, or embroider it on a button down shirt.

Why didn’t D&D become that brand? The answers to that are complicated, but lie firmly on the shoulders of Wizards of the Coast. Note I did not say Hasbro either, I said Wizards. Eat your lumpy gruel, WOTC, you blew it. You held the most identifiable fantasy game in America just twelve years ago, and you squandered it on a litany of sub-par books, that even your most obsessive fans failed to greet with any enthusiasm. You seized some part of the pie with Baldur’s Gate, but then you hemmed and hawed about how to exploit that opportunity on paper. You still won’t license your brand without massive deliberation in your R&D department, despite the fact your R&D department has developed a winning game in over a decade (not to mention producing some of the biggest and worst flops in gaming industry history).

Sure Atari took over with the Hasbro Interactive debacle, that saw Peter Adkinson quit your company in disgust, but what excuse is there for Eberron, and why on Earth would you choose that rubbish as the source for Atari’s first attempt to compete with the monolith WoW?

Six months from now, Gabe and Tyco are going to catch wind of the chicanery in D&D 4th Edition. They’ll see that WoW is not only the winner, but that Grandpa is dressing up in his Granchildren’s clothing and trying to download Amy Winehouse onto his iPod. All 4th Edition is, at its most fundamental level, is a D&D sheep dressed up to look like a WoW Wolf. The master has now been relegated to the apprentice and the funeral pyre has been lit. Come on old man, we’re supposed to look up to you, but now you’re prancing around in your Timberlands and reciting DMX lyrics. D&D 4th Edition is like Pat Boone trying to jam with Metallica, and you just look foolish.

To be fair, D&D Online was a disaster for many reasons, not related to Wizards of the Coast, but the systemic rot within the D&D brand grew out of the dung-infested top soil of WOTC R&D. Gabe and Tyco have declared the brand dead in the online gaming world, and we all now damn well that the cardboard version, has been relegated to clinging to a measly plastic miniatures market to justify itself.

We’ll miss you D&D, and like the Brady Bunch, maybe a delicious parody will be made of you by Hollywood, and we can enjoy you again but this time, knee-deep in irony, and nostalgic sarcasm. Oh what a groovy, groovy time that old D&D game was.

No comments:

Post a Comment