16 November 2018

Space Gaming vs Fantasy Gaming

Dungeons and Dragons is still the 900 pound gorilla of the table-top role playing world.

There's not so much science fiction gaming out there, or rather there's lots and lots of games that most people have never heard of.

Even Traveller is obscure outside the hobby where people who've never seen a polyhedron in their lives have heard of D&D.

I am wondering the why of things.

Something glaring presents itself when you look at this at all and you notice that not only has most everyone hear of D&D, they're already familiar with most of the tropes of the game.  I don't know why this is, but it's apparent.

Science fiction games lack this trope familiarity, even if the non-gamer is an avid science fiction fan.

Part of the problem is the most popular "science fiction" film series aren't actually science fiction.

Star Wars is a fantasy setting.

Star Trek is futurism, not science fiction.

To begin to grok why Star Trek isn't sci-fi you have to also grok something that Larry Niven noticed a long time ago, "Make changes and stick to them, no matter where the implications take you," is the core of the definition.

His adherence to this rule is why he stopped writing in his "Known Space" universe.  Dig out "Safe At Any Speed." for an example of this.

When you take all of the established, canon, technologies in Known Space, you end up with Safe at Any Speed.

It's "if the protagonist has a gun and a cell phone, will the horror movie be longer than the cartoon shown before the movie?" problem writ large.

Star Trek does not make changes and stick to them.  It's a roiling, hot ball of deus ex machina over and over again.  There's too many problems presented that are solved by something we've seen the transporters or replicators do.  Don't cop out and say, "but those were malfunctions!" because scientists and engineers will be all over those documented cases and looking to replicate the beneficial effects from these malfunctions.  The process of preventing the malfunction from reoccurring when not wanted often results in the understanding of how to make it happen at will.

When Star Wars and Star Trek are your cultural touchstones for the tropes...  It's hard to do science fiction gaming.

What you have to do is explain the entire underpinnings of the world as it is being created and presented to the players.  Your singular creation which will have gigantic holes in it because of your own biases and blindspots; holes which the players will sail entire planets through.

There's time where you didn't consider an implication and the players do... and find that another thing you've declared probably wouldn't be.  Now you have to make an explanation for that, which doesn't break two things you've declared.  It gets silly and complicated fast.  You totally understand why Mr Niven stopped writing in the world he'd created because the feed-back loop from players is much faster and personal than from readers.

This is because they're sitting right there and they're in control of some of the characters in the story.

I do keep trying, though.


  1. Star Trek is not science fiction, nor was it ever intended to be. Gene Roddenberry intended it's episodes to be allegorical moral dilemmas, using the tropes of science fiction to shield the deep stuff from TV network censors. He could have just as easily made another Western and accomplished the same goal. Everyone who came after him was just in it for the money.

  2. Though FASA's (Freedonian Air and Space Administration, for all you really old timers) STAR TREK was a pretty decent game, unfortunately ruined by, as you said, continuing evolutions of stupidity.

    Star Trek has even brought the term "Holodeck" to my house. See a movie, character gets knocked unconscious in the first 10 minutes and has a chance to relive their poor choices in a dream sequence, well, that's a Holodeck movie or show. Bleh. All the power to create 3D interactive holograms but no power to fix the replicators, Janeway? Bleh. The remakes were dying after ST4 (which was stupid to begin with, but kinda a fun romp with old friends) but after that? Holodeck after holodeck and a friggin snot-nosed kid on the bridge (made glorious fun of in GalaxyQuest.)

    Traveller is/was good but required too much thinking on the parts of the players and GM. Seriously. Too much suspension of current beliefs and not understanding that the thrust, especially in the Spinward Marches, was SE Asia or Africa in the 30's. Those that got the run-down, failing Empire not really in control of day to day stuff, only to swoop in and kill all involved when things got bad, really can't play properly. Whether in the latter days of the Solomani expansion, or the latter days of the 5th Frontier War, or even Megatraveller, people who could grok sword and sorcery milieu just couldn't transition to the failing British Empire in Space.

    Gamma World was just too shallow. Either you died quickly or your character had nowhere to go. Same problem with Boot Hill for the westerners, or Top Secret for the spy guys and gals.

    Wing Commander, the movie/books/video games would actually have made a pretty decent sci-fi game, but, yeah, what you said. Lack of players interested.

    I remember when D&D was the new hotness, and then Magic, the Stupid Card Game from Hell came out and everyone went away from rolling dice to spending absurd amounts of money for stupid cards. (I knew one dumbass who drove a crap Pinto while transporting maybe $5k worth of cards. Dumbass.)

    But of all the role-playing games I played, Traveller actually is my favorite. I like the premise of "Oh, Shirt, I'm retired/out-of-work/fired/laid off in the frickin back beyond, now what the heck do I do?" Much more believable than a bunch of 0 to 1st level characters just manage to find enough gold and experience to climb the rank structure. (Heck, half the fun of rolling up a Trav character was the whole career development and making it out alive or mostly unmaimed. Much more fun than rolling yet another Paladin or spell-slinger.)

    Ah, well, all these types of games require something I don't know if the new generation of people in this country are capable of, that is, the concept of individualism as a part of a group. They are either totally individualistic and don't mix well or all part of a group-think Borg collective. Neither work well in business or in role-play style of gaming. Gosh, to actually have to think for oneself, oh NO!!!!


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