Gaming in the Post-PC World

Yesterday, with the announcement of the new iPad, I read through the features until I came to a phrase which stopped me dead in my tracks. It had nothing to do with the processing speed, nor the nifty new display, or anything of the sort. It was the phrase, Post-PC world. I paused and went “huh” the way my folks must’ve done when we suddenly were thrust headfirst into the Digital Age after spending the whole of humanity (as far as we know) up into that point in a strictly analog environment. Ultimately, why we didn’t take to the stars, we, took to another new environment (with such phrases as the Cyber Frontier and console cowboy coming to us via the prophets, Gibson and Sterling. It promised a world of chrome, glitz, and eternal youth.

Things turned out a little bit differently.

We have progressed to two computer colors (black or white, still, sadly, no chrome), Netflix, and collagen injections and that stuff for your hair. And consoles. And Kickstarter. We have some brilliant video game systems. We have some amazing video games. And the roleplaying game industry has not disappeared. It has evolved.

We are at a point in the industry where angels dance on pins and no one knows what the future holds. Will print go away forever, subsumed in the electronic current of the Post-PC Age?

Hold on a second. I should back up and define what the Post-PC World is. As it’s a new phrase for me, perhaps it’s a new phrase for you. Like Palmolive, you’re soaking in its technological splendor. One could say the iPhone was the herald of this new age, trumpeting in the smart phone where merely making calls was passé. This caught our eye, certainly. Then Android, the child of Google, brought it to the masses. [1. These facts I recall from memory. If not 100 percent accurate, I’m certain someone will hoist me on my petard. The fact remains, the true fact, if you would indulge me, lies beyond the superficialities, and deals with the momentum, the current of this era.] Then Jobs, as prophet, did what Gates could not, and got us to adore the tablet, even with the silly [2. At the time.] name iPad (which seems to me to be heavily influenced by Star Trek in form, function, and name).

Now, we have cell phones more powerful than the earliest desktops and capable of far more than those early, bulky grayish artifacts could ever do. We sit about and play games, listen to music, and write things [3. Like this very article.] on devices weighing less than two pounds, which boot up instantly, and do not sound like a small helicopter, nor give off the heat of a small fire. [4. Oh, the joys of early laptops.]

Today is the birthday of the Father of Video Games, Ralph Baer. While it’s obvious modern video games owe a lot to this man, I’d argue so does the advancement of technology. Gaming is one of those things which pushes the boundaries of computer technology (think of the Graphic Cards arms races in the early days and the cost to stay current). However, I’d argue roleplaying games owes a lot to Ralph Baer as well. There is a very real loop of talent (writers in the main) oscillating back and forth between the analog and digital realms of games. [5. Or tabletop versus computer RPGs as they are better (and more clumsily) known.]

The big takeaway is the roleplaying game still thrives in all these forms as there is a very real need for people to step outside of themselves, perhaps more than ever, and be someone else. It’s like a space between being an actor in someone else’s movie and reading a book. Traditional roleplaying games has the advantage of a far better processor than any computer (at the time of this writing), the human brain, hopefully one packed with enough experiences to provide a delightful campaign and/or session or, err, ummm, an experience.

As I mentioned in an early post, I’m currently exploring situational design as an alternative to more conventional methodologies (i.e. plot-driven design). It is not without its own challenges, yet does offer a different sort of experience. I’ve also come to realize some of my own design work (such as exhibited in my Realms of Cthulhu game, Frequency of Madness, toys with some of these conceits just a bit (mainly pointing to the random nature of the character set up with regards to sanity, Mythos knowledge, and phobias).

Lastly, I’ll conclude by touching upon our own shift towards more digital content last year. This has been a win for everyone. We’re getting more things out into your hands with greater rapidity than we’d be able to release otherwise. Additionally, the market wouldn’t support the volume of releases in hardcopy form at a viable price point for either the consumer (you guys) or the publisher (us). We were among the earliest adopters of modifying our style to better suit tablets with our signature, streamlined digest series which has gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback. In fact, some of you have found our design sensibilities downright inspirational. And we’ve not forgotten that some of you enjoy the print copies (and I admit to a certain thrill when holding a copy of a new game in hand) and manage such releases carefully. Ultimately, what I’m saying is it’s the 21st Century and traditional gaming is still kicking along. What do you think? What technological advantages do you bring to your game table? Sound off!

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

1 Note on “Gaming in the Post-PC World”

  1. I personally still live in denial that it is already post PC era. That name suggests that the PC is at the end of his usefulness. Sure, tablets are a great addition to ones gadgets and perfect to carry around the hundreds of RPG or other books we all have. And yes, they can do a lot of things a console or PC can. But only in a very limited capacity. It may come the day that the average household does not have a PC anymore and only a tablet. But for the time being I do not see that. Firstly in the professional area there is very limited use for a tablet. I could not do the work I do with a touch interface as effective as on a PC with mouse and keyboard.
    I think we are entering an area of more specialized devices. You have the smartphones and tablets for the internet, music, gaming and reading on the go. You have consoles of various designs that are primary gaming devices. And then you have the PC that is the workhorse.

    I applaud your focus on the digital format and I am one of the persons that you really inspire with the work you do. I like the simple design and great accessibility, even If I do not own a tablet yet, for smoother on screen reading. Keep up what you are doing here. The possibilities of the digital age for our PnP gaming are fantastic.

    Could you share more of your thoughts on “Situational Design”? I like campaigns that are not scripted and while I like plot points something even more flexible could be a great asset. Looking forward to what you can come up with!

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