A common topic has come up several times throughout various discussions that has been wracking my brain lately. The discussions it has been most prevalent in are ones that pertain to game design, and specifically tabletop games or computer games. About two days ago a reader commented on my post which was mostly ranting about the intricacies of the comparison made between 4th Edition D&D and World of Warcraft. Part of the comment echoes something I’ve heard time and time again from people, usually ones who would rather not make any points and instead just wish the discussion to go away. The part of the comment I’m referring to is:
anyway its imho a bit hard to compare D&D with WoW, one is a Computer and one a P&P game, do you also compare birds to fish?
Let’s start simple here, and as I’ve said many people have used this argument to try and stifle any kind of discussion on the subject: all of them are wrong in their base assumption that when you compare two things they must be similar in numerous ways. This is a closed-minded assumption which limits our capacity for creative thinking. You can , quite easily, compare birds to fish. They are both animals, they have two eyes, they both need oxygen to live, birds do not live in water while fish do. That was a simple comparison of birds and fish, and yet when it comes to a game like D&D people make it sound like you’re killing the Pope by comparing it to a videogame.
The absolutely easiest bottom line of comparison between WoW and D&D is that they are both games, people play them for enjoyment (we assume), and they both are an assumed set of rules in which players work to act as a character other than themselves. Oh, and let’s not forget that they both happen to strongly feature fantasy settings and themes. None of these preclude them being extremely different games, but that does not mean there is no merit in comparing the two. In fact, what Wizards has done is shown us that there is merit in it. World of Warcraft is a game that has grown in the span of 5 years to attract millions and millions of players worldwide. I haven’t seen a comprehensive count of D&D players but it sure as hell seems like Blizzard has been doing some things right. If you can’t acknowledge this than it is that much clearer why you’re not in the game design business. The borrowing back and forth of concepts and design elements is an common occurrence in the gaming industry.
What we should do is look at what can be gained from comparing these very different games. WoW has attracted a lot of players, provides a very refined online computer gaming experience, and has clearly built upon both the tabletop roleplaying game and the MMO computer game templates to refine the inherent ideas into a polished product. Now, you might be saying it doesn’t incorporate anything worth noting from tabletop games. But remember that MMO’s developed from MUD’s, which were like a tabletop game except accomplished via text through the internet. Thus, MMO’s are a derivative of the same source as tabletop RPG’s.
Design ideas such as class balance and player involvement, two of the biggest issues that even WoW struggles with immensely, can be solved in some elegant and interesting ways when it comes to an RPG. What Wizards has done is looked at some of the techniques used in MMOs and adapted those ideas to change how D&D functions. What people are incorrectly focusing on is where the idea has come from, and not the idea itself or how well it functions. People shy away from any comparison between these two because of the immense stigma that comes with MMO’s: they’re impersonal, full of douches, and the gameplay can quickly erode to mind-numbing repetition. None of those features, however, mean that the concept of having a character party made up of specialist characters who each gets to be uniquely successful at what they do and feel useful at the same time is a bad idea.
If you’re still of the mindset that comparing these two games is a travesty, and that even suggesting it makes me a terrible human being, just consider how many great new inventions, innovations, and ground-breaking game ideas have come about because someone decided to combine elements from two very ideas.