One point that Lewis Pulsipher brought up recently deserves a little more comment:
We may be forgetting a most practical matter here, that is, “money talks”. RPGs are in a sense prisoners of capitalism. Simple RPGs, ones that are intended to stay simple, don’t make much money. People buy the simple rules, and there aren’t additional rule supplements. Complex RPGs keep providing income by increasing complexity. So we’re more or less “doomed” to commercial complexity in RPGs. Old/New School doesn’t come into it.
Lew is of course speaking from the perspective of the Industry Insider. Though I guess I have to clarify what I mean by that now as that is a term that no longer means what it used to mean. Lew is… well… I guess you could say that he is an old school Industry Insider. By that I mean that he’s created a top 100 classic board game, written countless articles for gaming magazines, has material that is incorporated into the “official” first edition AD&D rules, and so on. Nowadays the term “Industry Insider” can refer to indie tabletop publishers, indie LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, academics, and community managers. But that’s not what I mean at all when I talk about Lew’s frame of reference.
(I can almost hear Gandalf now…. “What a lot of things you do use old school for!” Indeed we do. It’s quite handy. If I say to my friends, “Lew Pulsipher is old school, y’all” that’s a pretty high accolade. It conveys a certain amount of verve and accomplishment. It implies that you’re talking about someone that made the grade back when standards were higher.)
Now… I come at this at a necessarily different perspective. In fact… you could quite reasonably say that I am an Industry Outsider. Like I’ve said before, my hobby is not about making sure that anyone stays in business. It is the difference between these two ways of looking at things that is the root cause of why Dr. Pulsipher and I end up butting heads when we dig into these sorts of topics. (That time we argued over what the definition of an rpg was is a good example of that.)
Now I don’t like disagreeing with Lew and I try not to do it unless I’m sure I think I know what I’m talking about. But in this case, I think “Old/New School” really does come into this. And rpgs is far from the only scene where this sort of thing plays out like this.
So here’s one more example for you:
UNIX is old school.
Microsoft is new school.
It’s very nearly the same sort of issues involved in that particular culture split as what we’re talking about here.