Previously I wrote about how I don’t consider D&D a roleplaying game. You can find that here. Not surprisingly, the idea was not welcomed by all readers.
Well, this being the Internet, I didn’t really change my views. Instead, I’m actually doubling down and going much, much further. Here, I’m making the claim that D&D is not in fact only not an RPG, but it is in fact a gatekeeping mechanism that is a huge problem for the hobby at large.
What is ‘gatekeeping’? If you are not familiar with this, it’s when someone claims to have a right to keep people out of a certain community or identity. For example, when Eminem was starting, there was a lot of talk about that whites shouldn’t rap (even though Eminem was hardly the first white person to do, Beastie Boys, anyone?). When Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean first came out, MTV wouldn’t play it, because the artist was black, until the record company basically forced them to. In the 90s radio stations wouldn’t play two songs by women back-to-back, because that wasn’t seen as feasible.
These are all forms of gatekeeping. Some worse than others, but still, basically the same thing. Now, gatekeeping isn’t always conscious. For example, I play MtG at my local game store and the community is quite tightly knit, as many of us have been playing with and against each other for years. We don’t try to keep anyone out, but it might easily seem like it when we talk, often quite bolsterously, with each other using weird jargon and freely critiquing each others plays. To us, this is all just part of the friendly environment, but it might not seem as such to a newcomer.
Also, the more invested players have also have better decks, so it might be hard for newcomers to fit in, because they haven’t spent the money or don’t have the connections for the deck they might actually have a chance with. In fact, most of the new players who come alone don’t have much of a chance of coming back again. Those who have friends to join them might and often will, even if their friends drop out, but that seems to be a way for them to overcome the first hurdles.
How does this relate to D&D?
D&D is basically the face of RPGs. There aren’t any real RPG celebrities (although there are celebrities who play RPGs), who would fit that role, so it falls upon the most famous of all RPGs itself (even if it’s not actually one). You’ve seen it on Stranger Things and possibly the IT Crowd and maybe other outlets as well. To many people, D&D and RPGs are synonymous.
So, when someone hears about RPGs, they often want to try D&D. Which is kind of a horrible idea.
You see, D&D is complicated. You have this vision of being able to do anything and then you are given a huge amount of options, from where you are supposed to be able to choose good ones and then you are supposed to remember them and how they work. That’s not good. That’s not conducive to actual roleplay. This is exactly what you don’t want to present new players with.
I mean, compare this to certain approaches to HeroQuest, for example. You just describe your character and that’s it. Is your character strong? Sure, go ahead. No need to look into how much bonuses they get to their damage and whether they should now by a certain trick or whatever you call them. Your character is strong and even though it has rules implications, you don’t have to be aware of them at this point.
It’s not only HeroQuest, which is extremely simple in this regard. It’s most of the newer generation of games, where you don’t have to feel left out just because you don’t know something within the system. Like World of Dungeons, for example, which is simple enough that you can have the whole system on one half of a A4, with the other half being your character sheet.
D&D creates an artificial barrier. It requires a degree of tactical thinking and rules knowledge we shouldn’t expect a newcomer to have. Or any roleplayer for roleplaying purposes that matter. Still, for some reason this is the game we continue to push. What the fuck are we doing?
Just because back in the day, when nerds weren’t as aware of this stuff as we (hopefully) are now, we sort of felt pride for knowing the rules, but that shouldn’t be important. D&D definitely emphasizes the understanding of rules on a level much higher than those new, better designed, games, which emphasize simplicity and straightforward rules. They also have designs which actually support the thing you are supposed to be doing, which is also very good for… basically everyone.