Sunday, December 26, 2010

How old is old school?

Well, it's a relative matter of course. Watching my 2+ year old son struggle with a TV that won't react the same way to his touch the way his mom's iPhone does drives home that point every day.

So what does that mean in terms of my sense of "old school"? It means it's relative -- my old school will be older than those who started gaming later than I did, and will be newer than those who started back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

What's my old school then?

Does the period when I wanted to game -- but couldn't because my grade school years were spent in the Philippines -- count? There were many reasons why (only saw a game run once, couldn't find all the books, 700 Club said it was evil, couldn't find enough players, etc.)

I only bought RPGs and had bad attempts at running these games back then. But I did pick up not only T1: The Village of Hommlet, but the AD&D rulebooks and the Basic & Expert Set and a variety of early modules and things like Geomorphs available in different places known to Philippine gamers for this rare hobby (National Bookstore, Lil's Hobbies, Squadron Shoppe, Nova Fontana).

I rolled up characters that I'd never play, and I randomly generated dungeons that no one would ever see. And because of the strength of the TSR brand, I picked up Top Secret (not S.I.) and Star Frontiers as well.

And picked up those damn minigames (which I actually played when I strongarmed some friends and relatives into trying them out)!


Or is my real old school my exposure to the U.S. gaming scene in high school? AD&D in Bill Homeyer's "World of the Wheel" campaign, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, and -- as a San Mateo gamer -- classics of the Hero System: Champions, Danger International, Justice Inc. and Robot Warriors?

What about Car Wars and Autoduel -- are they old school?

Does being able to put together the classic Champions stat block from memory give me old school cred, as much as knowing who Black Dougal and Morgan Ironwolf were?

Or am I considered a newer breed because I collected TSR's attempt at the "Choose Your Own Adventure" market -- the Endless Quest series of books? Is there an issue with filling in some idle gaming time with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and the Lone Wolf series of adventures?

And is there any value if I am considered old school?

My understanding of the use of the term Old School Revival / Revolution / Renaissance is that it is a reclaiming of a much maligned style of game design and gameplay. It is an assertion that there is value in these old games beyond mere nostalgia, that there is -- beneath the in-jokes and the deathtrap dungeons -- something of value that more modern games have lost or turned their backs on in search of newer horizons, subtler story techniques, and novel RPG goals.

But it need not be centered on the fantasy genre, though much of it was (and still is) dominated by it.

Is there something for old school superhero gamers? The popularity of games like BASH and G-Core suggest there is. Can new school power mechanics and old school superheroic flavor intermingle and create new offspring? ICONS seems to be something very much like it.

If so, can we expect similar developments in the horror genre? Or the science fiction genre? Or perhaps an explosion in the western and romance genres?

I hope so. And I hope it comes from someone like you -- because whatever future this hobby has rests in the minds and hard work of gamers trying to make something better for that next generation. Perhaps -- if my son feels so inclined -- he'll be part of that future generation.

We'll just have to see.

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