RPGs don’t die

Illustration of a heraldic sun

Not for a few billion years, at least

I wish people would stop referring to RPG lines as “dead”. (It’s not hard to find examples of this phenomenon.) RPGs don’t die; they just stop being supported. If an RPG has never been played by anyone, anywhere, but someone, somewhere is enjoying it somehow, then that game is still alive. And there are a lot of ways to enjoy an RPG — whether by playing games with it, or dreaming of playing it, or occasionally taking it down off a shelf and paging through it, or generating characters in it just for fun, or even putting it on a shelf and enjoying it as part of a collection. The only way for a game to be truly “dead” is for every copy to cease existing and every memory of it to be wiped. That doesn’t happen. Therefore, RPGs don’t ‘die’.

When people refer to a game as “dead”, I think they’re using that term as shorthand for “no longer being actively supported by the creators, and so no longer getting new official supplements for me to use in my campaign or read”. If so, I think it’s a very wrongheaded abbreviation for several reasons:

  • Your campaign doesn’t have to be supported by the publishers to continue. You can create material yourself. The publishers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, the only source of new ideas about a game. (A lot of people seem to have forgotten this, or perhaps they’re just busier.)
  • Even if you don’t create new material yourself, you can re-read things already published and have new ideas about them.
  • It seems to be an excuse for dumping on games that aren’t the New Hotness, which is a bad trend in all kinds of ways: it shortens people’s patience and attention span for enjoying older games; it’s a cheap way to seem cool by dumping on other people’s fun; and it discriminates against gamers who are poor and can’t keep buying new stuff all the time, for starters.
  • Using this kind of shorthand is damaging to the success of games, the motivation of authors and, well, the hobby as a whole; if someone keeps referring to something you’ve poured your energies into (whether as an author, player, GM, reader or whatever else) as “dead”, it will in some amount sap your interest in pursuing that game.

For all those reasons, I think referring to RPGs as “dead” when you actually mean “no longer being actively supported by the creators” is a really poor, and in fact damaging, choice of phrase.

So, hey — if you’ve referred to a game as “dead” in the past, please rethink that phrasing.


RPGs don’t die — 2 Comments

  1. I don’t generally refer to games as dead. This is a vitalist position after all, and incompatible with a materialist world outlook as the textbooks on dialectical and historical materialism used to say. Not only that but it is a teleological positionsince it is based on a notion of continual growth and development through a serial model of publication. Even when supplements are being promised, they do not always arrive, and sometimes they are not even necessary as in the case of both Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures. Or Call of Cthulhu.

    • “…it is a teleological position since it is based on a notion of continual growth and development through a serial model of publication.”

      Exactly. I couldn’t put it better.

      “Or Call of Cthulhu.”

      Which brings to mind my jokey quote that I didn’t use in the post:

      That is not dead which can eternal lie on a bookshelf;
      And with strange aeons you may even come to enjoy it yourself.

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