"I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel." – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
This year, during my beloved’s annual absence, I set off for the local Friendly Local Gaming Stores with high expectations, a smile and a credit card as is my wont, and discovered something sad.
They’re all gone.
Of the three within an hour’s drive that aren’t Games Workshop, one was in the middle of a closing-down sale, one had reduced its stocks to a few boxes of Warhammer figures and some packs of Magic: The Gathering cards and is clearly not long for this world, and the third has quite sensibly shifted its business to chess, go, eurogames and those soft porn jigsaws with scantily-clad lady vampires in them. There also used to be a couple of bookshops that carried the odd RPG book, usually something from WotC for the latest incarnation of D&D, but they’ve given up on it.
We’re back to the 1970s, when games were something you ordered by post from small ads in modelling magazines, which for some reason newsagents always shelved with the pornography. The magazines have also for the most part long since disappeared, replaced by websites. (Other high street staples of my 1970s gaming such as A5 paper, boxes of Lego minifigures, and cheap boxes of 20mm plastic soldiers have gone the way of the dodo as well, but I digress.)
Admittedly the internet has many virtues as a gaming forum, and the variety of games available is broader than ever before; but without the FLGS, it will be harder to meet new gamers and exchange opinions with them. My hope of setting up a weekly game in a FLGS if or when the current group implodes is dashed, because there won’t be a FLGS by then. Maybe I should start going to conventions again; Dragonmeet is still going, and appears not to have been wholly consumed by D&D or Warhammer, at least not yet.
It’s tempting to interpret this as the death of RPGs; but I’ve been playing for a while now and saw the rise as well as the fall. When I started playing RPGs, they were very much a niche; most people looked down on wargamers as sad anoraks, and wargamers looked down on roleplayers as sad anoraks. Then for a while the hobby grew popular and waxed fat, although it never really became mainstream; and now the niche is again shrinking, usurped by collectible card games, which in turn were superceded by computer games.
Will the tabletop hobby bounce back? Probably not; videogames have killed it and taken its stuff, assimilating the tropes in a way that is easier to learn and to play; but there is still something about sitting around a table rolling dice that no other entertainment medium I know of can match.