Why Dungeons Dragons video games miss the point

first_imgWhether it’s the beloved Baldur’s Gate franchise, this year’s Sword Coast Legends, or any of countless other releases, millions of people have played Dungeons & Dragons video games. And that number skyrockets even higher when you factor in the multitudes that have played games that were inspired by D&D or the growing number of digital options for playing tabletop roleplaying games. But all of those options share a massive deficiency. They lose what makes Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs best – what makes them most fun, most rewarding and most exciting.Video games have done an amazing job at replicating much of Dungeons & Dragons: They’ve developed innovative combat systems that meld real-time and turn-based aspects. Processors have grown powerful enough to support fully-realized worlds that dwarf anything your Dungeon Master could sketch out on a pad of graphing paper. Characters look fantastic and are updated with a frequency that your hand-painted minis can only dream of. Even the most powerful spells can be rendered graphically, bringing a realism to that fireball that can’t really be touched by reading spell effects from the Player’s Handbook. But all of that is just window dressing to the true appeal of Dungeons & Dragons.At its core, Dungeons & Dragons is about interacting with other people. Yes, all of the other stuff is important too, but what brings drama to your battles, what makes your social interactions mean something, what makes your game exploration fun is that you do it with friends. Single-player D&D games – though they can be fantastic for what they are – miss this aspect entirely, as an actual human being, roleplaying a character in whatever crazy way they think appropriate, is in a completely different league from even the best, most impressive video game artificial intelligence.It’s true: multiplayer Dungeons & Dragons games and platforms that allow people to play the actual D&D game in a digital environment neatly sidestep the problem of human interaction. But while they are much closer to actual D&D than their single-player counterparts, they still miss out on the real life, in-person, human interaction that makes tabletop RPGs so much fun. There’s an immediacy and an intimacy that comes from sitting across a table from your fellow adventurers, one that cannot be replicated by typed messages, voice, or even video chat.That’s because playing Dungeons & Dragons – or any tabletop RPG – isn’t just about the mechanics and rules that guide gameplay. It’s about getting together, building something as a group and interacting with real people – something that is increasingly lost with the ascendency of online, multiplayer gaming. A type of gameplay that can be classified as spending time with other people only by the most lenient of definitions.The best part of my Dungeons & Dragons games – whether I’m playing or acting as Dungeon Master – is that I get to sit down at a table with four or five friends and have an uninterrupted four hour hang. As my friends and I have gotten older and busier, this has become a harder and harder thing to plan, schedule and execute, but D&D not only gives us a reason to come together, but it encourages people not to flake, as the success of the hang depends on them and their presence, while also giving us a framework within which to enjoy one another’s company. My dad has played poker with friends once a week since I was a kid. I play Dungeons & Dragons. And just like playing online poker wouldn’t scratch the same itch for Papa Sitterson, video game D&D doesn’t do it for me either.I can heap endless amounts of praise on the social aspects of IRL D&D – and I’ve gotten a good start thus far. But praising all of the stuff surrounding the game isn’t meant to degrade the game itself. I truly love all of the gameplay and mechanics aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, and am frequently blown away by the elegant way that generations of designers have contributed to the exquisite balance and give-and-take of D&D’s 5th Edition. Not a session goes by that someone in my group doesn’t learn about an overlooked rule, a seemingly unimportant clause or even a digitally issued clarification from the game designers that makes us sit back in awe of how superbly the game as been put together.And that elegant balance? That amazing game design? It’s yet another reason that Dungeons & Dragons video games miss the point. If you’re playing Baldur’s Gate, the game itself takes care of everything but the decision of what to do and when. That means that you miss out on counting squares to determine an attack’s range, you don’t see the benefit of having a high bonus to your initiative, you don’t get to discuss back and forth how a certain spell effects an unusual creature. Worst of all? You don’t even get to roll dice, a crucial part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience that brings with it an exciting amount of chance, a shocking unpredictability that makes the game truly exciting.And when you aren’t forced to calculate your own attack modifiers? When you don’t get to see first-hand the benefit of attacking with advantage or the ways that one cantrip is far more useful than another? You become divorced from the inner workings of the game. You miss out on yet another thing that makes games like Dungeons & Dragons so much fun: The constant tactical choices, adjustments and optimization that can only come with a deep familiarity of how the game works. Even things like character sheet or dice rolling apps chip away at this aspect of the game, and rob you of the fun of keeping track of your spell slots and holding your breath as you toss that big d20 rock for your final saving throw against death.I’m not suggesting that Dungeons & Dragons video games shouldn’t exist. I’m not even suggesting that you shouldn’t play them. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, I’m of the firm belief that you should do exactly what you want whenever you want. But if you dig Dungeons & Dragons – or any of the games that it’s based on – know that by choosing to play by yourself, you’re missing out on the very things that have caused the game to be so beloved for so long.So, instead of booting up your computer or console, call around to your local gaming stores and find an Adventurer’s League game that I’m sure would be glad to have you. Or better yet, get some friends together and play a campaign somewhere that you’re allowed to drink, smoke, and swear. In my experience, that’s a big part of the fun too.When Aubrey Sitterson isn’t playing D&D, he’s usually working on his ongoing, weekly, sword & sorcery serial podcast, SKALD, available on iTunes, Stitcher & Podomatic. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website for more information.last_img read more