Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Hubris, Strengths, and Weaknesses in Gaming

One of my favorite non-gaming subjects is that of personal development; who we are, why we are, what we individually do well, and how we can get better at whatever these things may be to achieve Name Level fulfillment in real life.  For those interested, I recommend checking out Strengthfinders, but self-discovery is not for everyone -- and there are certainly many ways to skin this particular cat.

I bring this subject up after checking out what appears to be the current endeavor of Ravenloft author Tracy Hickman, "XDM: X-treme Dungeon Mastery."  While I am certainly in no position to be calling anyone's baby ugly, I confess to a bit of an eyeroll when I read the name of his book and his game system ("XD20"), and began to understand his overall thrust, which appears to be to inject humor, energy, and magic tricks (I'm not kidding) into one's DM bag of tricks.  Indeed, Hickman appears to have transformed himself, rather vampire-like, from an RPG author to what can best be described as (1) a DM motivational writer and speaker and (2) a consultant for budding RPG writers.  I'm not sure whether his seminars involve a firewalk or sawing an assistant in two, but he does his damndest to make them appear "xtreme," as if he were the offspring of the union of Gary Gygax and Anthony Robbins.

Setting aside my distaste for buzzwords and useless jargon ("xtreme" is really unforgivable), I couldn't help but wonder whether Hickman isn't a bit like the surgeon who has made his millions in the operating room then believes, magically, that he is somehow able to invest that money wisely (I'll give you a hint: doctors are the number one target for stockbrokers, commercial realtors, and scam artists).  Here's a guy who, by all accounts, was the darling of the RPG world for many years writing successful adventures and novels.  I would consider buying original content written by Tracy Hickman.  I would not consider buying an "xtreme" motivational product or attend a paid seminar put out by him, for one simple reason: hubris.  Tracy Hickman's arrogance is the glue that holds his website together; it is visceral.

This sort of "I'm good at X, so I must be good at Y, since X and Y are so much like each other" is pervasive among successful people of all industries and nationalities.  Its relative is the thought of "I'm smarter than Bill, and Bill is good at Y, so I can be better at it than him."  Both of these beliefs are born of an inflated ego and pride.

I'm Good at Game Writing, So I Can Run a Game Company

This is common in the gaming world because, frankly, nearly all of the companies we know today started as one- or two-man operations where the head guy wore all the hats in the company.  Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owens ran Judges Guild for its first few years.  Bledsaw was a great content guy (particularly in map and setting design) and philosopher of the game; Owens appears to have been more of an organizer.  After Owens left around 1980, JG's production quality worsened and the company lost its exclusive license to publish under the D&D logos.  Bledsaw was not free to do what he was best at -- writing, designing, and leading -- and got stuck in the back-end of the business (editing and publishing), things for which he was poorly-suited.

I'm Smarter than the Technical Games Guy, So I Can Run a Game Company with No Technical Expertise

The same could be said, to a lesser extent, in the TSR saga of the early 80s, pitting the Blumes (and then Lorraine Williams) against Gary Gygax for control of the company.  We'll never know what would have become of TSR had Gygax retained control, but we certainly know what happened in his absence.  People with a lack of understanding and appreciation for the technical product could not be expected to appease their core demographic, design appealing new content, and keep up with the changes to the game market.

The conclusion?  Do one thing, and do it well.

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