I published a little essay a few weeks ago entitled the D.I.O. Manifesto. Brian at Deathtrap Games asked me about it the other day. I hadn’t thought about the post much since I hit “publish.” It had been sitting in my drafts folder for a while before I decided to put it up on the blog. His curiosity inspired me to reflect on it a little more. Thank you Brian!
I try not to use the word “should.” My wife sometimes says to me, “You are shoulding all over yourself.” She is reminding me that “should” is a word people use when they are taking on someone else’s values instead of manifesting their own. “Should” is often a self abusive way to hide from what we fear.
In this rare case, I think “should” is correct. Gamers should be making and altering games for ourselves.
I want to draw your attention to the pronoun I used in D.I.O Manifesto.
I specifically and intentionally used the word “we.” I did not mean the royal “We.” I also did not mean everyone in the tabletop role-playing game hobby. Many commentators use the word “community” in a promiscuous fashion. I am not one of those people.
I mean for you to find the group of people that you connect with; whom you have enough in common that you can work together and make something. Figure out the “we” that “you” want to be a part of or build that “we” yourself.
Brian Eno coined the term Scenius. This is a collective genius of a group of like minded, kindred spirits, who are a messy, inefficient and creative. A Scenius creates new art, new technology, new philosophies by collaboration of its contributors.
The important concept to take away is that the Scenious is a group activity.
The Lone Genius is a false narrative.
Nothing is created in isolation. Even Einstein was building on the work of his forebears and his contemporaries. He was the guy who saw how it fit together but he would not have arrived at his theory of general relativity without the work of Max Plank, Bernhard Riemann and many others.
It is my steadfast belief that tabletop role-playing games never were and never will be a Do It Yourself hobby. It is a Do It Ourselves hobby.
Dungeons and Dragons was not created by one person. It was the collective genius of dozens. Yes, Gary and Dave’s names are on it and they rightly have the authorship of that specific substantiation of the role-playing game. They did not invent role-playing games. Their Scenius did.
Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World and The Secret of Blackmoor are about this very thing. It wasn’t Dave in his basement, by himself, puzzling out how to make an RPG. He took ideas from old books, board games, miniatures games, ‘zines, and (most importantly) his friends. They iterated, tinkered and combined ideas from board games, Diplomacy, Napoleonic miniatures gaming, Totten’s Stratego, and German friekriegspiel.
Arneson the alchemist produced gold from components that were compounds built of molecules someone else discovered.
Real creativity requires risk and uncertainty.
The current owners of the world’s first fantasy game are creative cowards. This is the nature of large corporations. Corporations are built to avoid and limit personal risk. Cowardice is their nature.
They want surety. The marketing department puts out surveys and convenes focus groups to find out what “you” want. In reality, they are determining what will be universally unoffensive. They are making the oatmeal of role-playing games.
They are not going to make anything that will offend, anger, annoy, or disappoint a large group of consumers that WotC is looking to wring money out of.
The result? Vapid banality.
If you want something dangerous to play with, WotC is not where you should go looking for it.
Taking Risks is What “We” Do
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
When we stand together and encourage each other, the terror of creating something truly dangerous becomes tolerable. Creating anything good comes with fear and uncertainty.
Fear is why WotC isn’t making any new campaign settings and most of their modules are recycled adventures from the 80’s. They are doing what is safe.
When Hitchcock made Psycho he thought his career was over. He had made dozens of films and TV shows. He was one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood. He was massively successful and he was on the edge of nervous breakdown when Psycho hit the cinema.
One of the greatest filmmakers of all time was terrified at the height of the career, while making one of his greatest triumphs. What is the chance that you (a mere mortal) will not feel fear about your creations?
Being part of a scene takes the edge off the fear. We share the risk. We share the danger. Having comrades at your side helps you feel brave because you don’t want to let them down.
Putting It All Together
We Do It Ourselves means that the metaphorical “We”, whatever group that happens to be, work together to make the things that no one else is going to make for us.
You are probably not able to make it yourself. You probably need help. You will have a lot more fun if you find your “we” and make things together. Borrow. Share. Steal. Mix. Remix. Fall Down. Get Up. Do it.