Hello, my name is Jason and I’m a gamer.

Posted: January 10, 2010 in Gaming
Tags: , , ,

One of the things I used to be in a former life (I’ve had so many former lives now, it’s not even funny) was a gamer. I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, the entire White Wolf universe (Vampire, Werewolf, etc.), Paranoia and so many other RPGs that I’ve lost count. I’d still be playing if I could find the time. When I saw that Wil Wheaton got the opportunity to try out the new 4th Edition of AD&D, I was extremely jealous. I enjoyed the podcasts of Al’s adventures with Acquisitions Inc. I cried when he died in the acid pit. But most of all I enjoyed the memories of the games that I used to play that flooded back into my consciousness.

When I was much younger, I decided to collect all the Dungeons and Dragons Books. In retrospect, I understand that this was a foolish idea, yet I’ve actually succeeded at collecting the entirety of the 1st Edition AD&D books. However, when 2nd Edition came out, there were just so many of them. I’ve managed an extensive collection, but it’s by no means anywhere near complete. One day when I’m rich (scientists never get rich btw) I plan to complete my collection of 2nd Edition AD&D books. 3rd Edition came out and I gave up. Now that the 4th Edition has come out, I know that there is no hope of actually completing my collection, which brings me to the real topic I wanted to write about this week:

If you are an unscrupulous type, EVERY book ever printed in the AD&D system (all of them from 1st-4th Editions) are available online as scanned, OCRed PDFs. You just have to know where to look. I happen to know where to look, but I haven’t downloaded them. As a purist, these just aren’t the same. Sure they are searchable, and never get Mountain Dew stains, but they’re not REAL books. However, they do offer a number of advantages: primarily that they are both infinitely more transportable, and a great deal easier to search through.

So my question is this: Why don’t game designers publish their books this way? Is there a business model here? We’re living in the future, aren’t we? Why is the most consumable form for this media only available illegally? (If any of you know legal means to acquire OCRed PDFs please let me know in the comments)

Now myself, I’d really love to see the following: Free PDFs with purchase of regular book. That way those of us bibliophiles who like to expand our physical libraries can do so, enjoying all the tactile sensations (and the smell, I just love the smell) of real books. It also gives us the ability to transport our library to gaming sessions; carrying around seventy tomes is a bit much, even for the hardest core gamer. I’d also like to see PDFs available for purchase separately, for people who don’t want the burden of a physical library.

The publishers seem to want no part of this nonsense. Putting out a legitimate PDF of a book cuts into their profits, because such a critter makes it onto the net faster than a speeding cockroach (where anyone can download it for free). Then there’s the inevitable whack-a-mole phenomenon that occurs between publishers and pirates. So what to do? It’s the same problem at the core of the google books settlement. If every book on the planet is digitized and searchable, why would anyone buy them?

I don’t pretend to have an answer. I’d like to say that I do. I really like the idea of moving to these types of digital books, with an option to print a real copy on demand. The problem of piracy is never going to go away. My own opinion on that issue is a bit complicated. On one hand, more people accessing the content is more better. On the other, artists (and game designers are artists, just like musicians or authors) need to be paid for their work. Personally, my faith is in the people who play the games. These people are, in their hearts, geeks. And geeks generally understand and support the hard work of other geeks.

I think that, for the most part, people tend to be decent, and the ones that download stuff illegally tend to be of the “try before you buy” opinion. When they decide they like it, they buy it. When they don’t, they delete it and move on to the next thing that strikes their interest. There are exceptions, but perhaps I’m naive in that I think that they are in the very small minority.

We’re living in the future. However, in the future of the future (how does that work?) I hope that we move toward an open information society. This society I envision is one where information and ideas are free. We pay for physical things – computers, concerts, etc. but the information (software code, music, etc.) is free for everyone to access, change and redistribute to their own social networks. In this open world, people will buy physical objects because they were exposed to the ideas and intellectual content in a free and open manner. You buy a book because a friend lends you a copy and you love it. You go to a concert because your friend sent you some songs by the artist.

People can call me a stark raving socialist for my opinions on this, but that’s ok. I can live with that. Let the capitalists make money by making STUFF. Real physical things. Set the ideas, and your minds, free.


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