Within the various RPG communities there is always a lot of space for additional content, glimpses of player experiences and healthiness (otherwise called wholesomeness). Often, however, there is no trace of criticism (constructive or not). Why does criticism appear so little in the hobby scene?
This is a comment, an invitation to thought and a grasp of absolutely personal position on the world of role playing. This is a delicate subject for numerous reasons, first of all the popularity of the Italian role-playing game and the possibility of stepping on anyone's toes at every turn.
So take this comment with a grain of salt, and see it as such. A comment from a person who is just as good as everyone else.
What would criticism be?
Let's start with a concept: what is the criticizes?
Starting from the dictionary, the criticism is "The thought activity involved in the interpretation and evaluation of the fact or document ...". If we had to translate the definition to adapt it to the world of role-playing, this would come out: criticizing a role-playing game means engaging in the interpretation and evaluation of the latter. Basically, every time we evaluate a game we are making a criticism of it, be it a numerical comparison or an 8000-key review.
From the moment, however, that we carry out an evaluation, a criticism, it seems obvious to establish what are the standards of judgment of this evaluation. In the world of role-playing there has often been talk of how there are no objective canons when a criticism is made: it is all a "for me". Even this article is! So what is the yardstick of the juries? Taking for example from the GDR of the Year Award (which could be the Bulwark of GDR Evaluation, judging by the title) of 2021, we have 5 points; introduction to play (1), the idea of the game (2), rules (3), materials (4) and graphics (5).
All commendable comparisons of judgment, and largely refined over time (the regulation changes from year to year), although they lend themselves to many interpretations. The fact, for example, that the game is fun (2), the relevance of the materials to the game (4) or even how the graphics make the game itself more appealing (5) are criteria that leave room for anyone to make complaints and clarifications. .
In any case, once the key points have been chosen, a jury is presented as impartial as possible to judge. Who can be impartial? Obviously none, and impartiality is a ridiculous request after all.
There is no (real) impartiality; one can only seek a measure of partiality as narrow as possible, or at least acceptable.
Depending on the annual results, the individuals belonging to the GDR community say they are in favor or against, in a discussion that appears cyclically on social groups and in which opinions and opinions are exchanged. All the fruit, of course, of personal opinions.
Who are the critics of the hobby?
Considering that there is no real role-playing school, the experience that dictates the judgment is mostly made up of personal experiences. Those who are chosen (or self-proclaimed) critical have something in general di più of all the others. A sort of popular elite born as a judge of the popular will itself.
Very often, therefore, it turns out that the people with "a voice" are, by contrast, also the people who have more relevance within the hobby. They are people capable of polarizing the masses (even involuntarily) or, more generally, influential. Our critics are therefore in effect the same influencers that we find on social networks, albeit of a much more niche alcove of interests.
Whether they are well-known executives of publishing houses, supporters of innovative projects, game designers or simply wise men, gaming experts for years or whatever. The people who are called to judge are people like us, tied to the reality of the hobby as much (or perhaps more) than those who play it. Basically, then, what kind of (real) authority do they possess?
Is there, or was there, hobby criticism?
If there are currently critics of the hobby, I don't know of any. There are people who give their opinion, people who try to inform the community, but in general those who try to "form" the community are currently absent. In this case, there is also a guide, as well as a criticism, to the GDR.
A while ago it existed The Forge, a site that aimed to improve and criticize the role-playing game and create a better experience (from many and various points of view). While with enormous advantages, The Forge abandoned the scenes a long, long time ago, leaving room for different and more disrupted entities.
Wanting to focus our efforts on the nation's environs, I could enunciate as a figure The Vate. Born as the alter ego of a game designer, Il Vate had the aim of creating discussion, moving the waters in a tormenting way, generating entropy (if we want to be poetic) or flame (if we want to minimize the horizon). Unfortunately, like all projects, it has ended, leaving a throne still vacant.
even Matt Mercer it could be on the list of critics of the GDR, although it is extremely biased (I don't think we will ever hear it rowing against the fifth edition) and therefore linked to a manufacturer. Impartiality in this case is lacking where economic relationships and interests exist; anyone who denies this is inconsistent in seeking a critical figure.
Doesn't the RPG hobby want criticism?
Personally, it is difficult to express an opinion that fits the whole hobby. There are realities that receive and manage criticisms in a constructive way, others that simply do not accept them and in which every word must be carefully weighed. “Working” within an editorial office that sets its purpose in trying to inform people impartially, I can say that I have had everything on hand.
Even in the light of the speech made above, it is difficult to stand up as judges, knowing full well that you do not have the absolute capacity for impartial judgment. A constant effort is made to try to separate subjective opinion from objectivity, and any criticism is liable to personal bias. It's not easy, and some of us try harder than others to be impartial.
Not to mention the climate in which criticism falls. A world, that of role-playing games, where the demand for healthiness between users and creators is constant (with good reason) but which often leads to a "let's not step on our toes that are tight here". And it is in this way that, in a combination of the said and the unspoken, popular opinions become silent statutes. Everyone knows the defects and merits of certain publishing houses, very few are preparing to announce the first aloud. Most live together and simply decide to put up with their presence.
Because, on the other hand, today's creator can be tomorrow's colleague and the day after tomorrow's playmate; better to maintain benevolent relationships than to launch into one homo homini lupus that today can see you as a predator and tomorrow as a prey. But someone who has decided to fight (whether for good or bad reason to choose it) is there, although not in the world of role-playing.
When writing and creating are alike
Following the youtube channel of Livio Gambarini - Rotte Narrative, I noticed how the lack of an institution (or a critical figure) has done more harm than good to the landscape of writers. Is fearing such a fate for the RPG consistent or is it a Gabler Fallacy? Italian amateurs writers, according to many, are without a guide, perched on their certainties and unable to improve.
When the world of writing and role-playing come together, the result is even worse. Storytellers who decide to write their own campaign, in a puree of illegibility, inability and incredible touchiness. It is no coincidence that there are hundreds of home settings among the narrators, yet very few of these manage to become anything more than a dusty manuscript known by heart only by their creator.
I look kindly on the good Livio (who offers advice that I find sensible) although the idea of authority, in the world of role playing, leaves me a bit confused. First, authority would be entrusted to those who (now or yesterday) are successful; in turn, success is not always synonymous with quality (in a market that moves on money). Secondly, a similar figure in the role-playing game would risk homologating it, and making each of its different expressions vain and prohibitive.
Can we say that we play in utopia?
The lack of a judge (and a guide, therefore) can be seen as anarchy and total freedom. Looking at this in retrospect, I realize that I seem to require a powerful person to lead the hobby world to better shores. And it gives me the chills, since there is nothing that is further away from my common thinking.
Since I know what it means to have people with more responsibility than others (and, consequently, power), perhaps the current situation is right. Is a market in which everything is apparently accepted and paradoxically skimmed by a set of individuals who decide what to buy or ignore the best of existing situations? On the other hand, isn't this the paradise of libertarianism, where people generate their own well-being through their actions, without any guidance? We could then talk for a long time about how independent this choice is, but we would fall into speeches that I cannot manage with simplicity.
Is it really pursuing the good of the hobby not to institutionalize it? Does creating critical figures, guides and influencers help him go to better shores more than they lead him to get worse? But above all, how do you improve (or worsen) the hobby? Making him more inclined to follow the common feeling or creating elitist situations?
What is the way forward for the general improvement of the community is still unknown to me. I leave it to you to discuss this, hoping to find thoughts other than these probably unfounded ruminations.