Take this gem I saw over on The Core Mechanic:
It Appeals to the Younger Generation. Grognards need not apply. If the D&D brand is going to survive they need to figure out a way to appeal to the masses of tweeting, texting, facebooking teens who barely have time to sit still to eat breakfast let alone play a 4 hour game of D&D on a regular basis. If WotC fails to do this - the D&D game won't make it in 10 years, or it will be marketed to people at retirement homes (that would be awesome!). The D&D Encounters organized play format has all kinds of features that are aimed at appealing to younger teens and college age "young adults" (read:young whipper snappers!). Tangible trinkets, prizes, and rewards with in-game benefits for playing in D&D Encounters are all signs that WotC is trying to lure new players to the game table. Plus, you have the D&D team pushing D&D WizBook, Facebook connections, and actively Twittering - these just reinforce WotC's connection with a new, gadgeteering younger generation of gamers.
Yikes. Where do I start?
First, I want to make clear that while I'm picking on Jonathan a little bit here, I can understand why he has the view of "them young folks" that he does, and in its broad strokes its even pretty accurate. There's a kind of teenager who will be much more interested in D&D Encounters than a traditional kind of RPG experience, for a lot of the reasons mentioned in the text I've quoted above. And most of what I have to say about "kids these days" is based on my own fairly narrow experience. So take everything I'm about to say with that grain of salt.
(And jazzy title notwithstanding, if you're reading this, you're not "old." And honestly, I think the youth obsession our culture has currently is a big source of what's wrong with it. But it does make for a snappy title.)
Nevertheless, that quote represents a fundamental, and fairly common, misunderstanding of modern teenagers in general, and modern teenage gamers in particular.
Consider, for a moment, the music industry. The last ten years have been all about mp3s, iPods, downloading tracks from the internet. The album is dead. The music industry is flailing around trying to get people to start people to pay for songs without a physical object attach to them. Music has entered the digital age. That's how young people have always known music. And do you know what's gotten popular lately?
Seriously. Check your local music store. It's not just a baby boomer nostalgia thing, either. Nine Inch Nails put out its latest record on vinyl. It's a huge part of the indie music scene. And while things like Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon top the vinyl charts, that's largely because young people are buying them. They listen to classic music, and some of them want it in the original format. I'm not discussing this in a theoretical way: my boyfriend has a record player hooked up to his media set-up, and the serious music geeks I know love it. They think the sound quality is better. They like the way that vinyl feels.
Most teenagers aren't ever going to pick up a vinyl record. They're going to keep listening to their iTunes library or discovering new music on Pandora. And even the people who love vinyl don't listen to it exclusively. Digital music is too convenient. But there are a number of young people, a significant number of young people, who want to have a place in their lives for an older, slower, more aesthetically focused, aggressively analog kind of music. They like vinyl for the very physical presence that makes it so un-digital.
Young tabletop gamers feel the same way about the games we play. The guys I know who play Magic: the Gathering, Warhammer 40K, and D&D 4e? They like buying miniatures and handling cards and seeing all the stuff of those games laid out on the table. It's a physical, tactile, social experience. They like it for the very things that make it different from the digital graphics, constant stimulation, and online anonymity of the computer gaming that they'd otherwise be spending their free time on, the features that characterize so much of the rest of their lives. It's old school. It's retro.
It's for that reason, as well as my own experiences introducing people my age to Swords & Wizardry and the old school megadungeon crawl, that I suspect, for at least a certain variety of teenager, "old school gaming" actually has a stronger appeal than the slick, glitzy, D&D Digital Initiative direction of gaming that a lot of folks seem to think the hobby is headed in. I know I don't want a tabletop game that requires an iPhone to play. If I want digital, I'll play a video game. I, and a lot of folks like me, play D&D because it's a simpler kind of game.
I've talked about my attempts to get my boyfriend involved with gaming here before; it took a long time to get him to start playing Dungeons & Dragons, and even after he'd tried it, there was a long time when he was willing to play but didn't think it was "his thing." A video game, he said, had better graphics than his imagination. Then he started making his own dungeons, and discovered the joys of drawing little worlds on graph paper. He's working on a scenario now that he's going to run online, through a chat program, but all of his notes are on paper.
Look at the kind of roleplaying that young people (particularly young women, who for various reasons aren't all that interested in the standard "bits of plastic and math" tabletop gaming that currently dominates on the strength of its appeal to those young guys I talked about a moment ago) already do, all the time: online freeform play. Yes, this is an "online," digital thing, but pay close attention to what freeform gaming is not: like a video game in any way. It's text, maybe some illustrations, based on collaboration and social negotiation and writing. Doing it in forums and chat rooms lets it happen at a reasonable speed, but otherwise it's about as analog as you can get these days.
And while I'm getting a little more personal here, maybe excessively so to be useful, I think there's a lot to be said for the appeal to young people of the rules light, exploration-focused, long-running, and sometimes deeply involved gaming that characterizes the neo-classical games I'm in now and that I see happening all over the place in OSR blogging. I know I wouldn't have gotten involved in D&D if all it was to me was an encounter a week at a local gaming shop. What interests me about gaming is the campaign, the world, the characters. Having this thing in my life that I go back to every week, and watching it evolve a little bit at a time. Because so much of my life is brief and fast and digital, there are times when I prize the slow, the involved, the difficult to reduce to a simple, forgettable formula.
But all that proves is that people like me exist. I'm willing to entertain the idea that I'm deeply weird in that preference, even perhaps when included amongst the older generation. Still. I look around at the folks I game with, mostly college-age or a little younger, and I see folks who are entranced by the things that make D&D "D&D" and not Baldur's Gate or Dragon Age. Many of them don't even play video games; these days I'm mostly in that category myself. I have better things to do with my time. Roleplaying is one of them.
Now, not all young people are like that, but D&D is never going to be a mainstream thing. The average kid is going to keep on playing World of Warcraft and Halo, no matter how hard we try to make tabletop games friendly to "the masses of tweeting, texting, facebooking teens who barely have time to sit still to eat breakfast."
But those of us who do continue to embrace roleplaying are doing because of its analog refusal to conform to the digital moment. Those teenagers and college students want something that's different from video gaming and the online, digital world. Just like there still are, and will always be, kids who read novels, play outside, and listen to vinyl, there are still kids who are going to be turned inside out and upside down by dice, graph paper, and good old fashioned D&D.