Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Popularity Argument

I find this funny.

No attacks meant towards Cyclopeatron nor his latest post regarding the relative popularities of OSR Games (on Google+).  That which is in brackets was not part of Cyclopeatron's title ... the measuring stick is not worthy of the bigger font, true to advertising dictum.

But since he asks, "If G+ community size is any indicator..." I might as well ask, if Google search is any indicator ...

searching "Swords & Wizardry"  ... 1,050,000 results
searching "Dungeons & Dragons"  ... 9,600,000 results

The actual answer to either question is, of course, no.  No, all the numbers are in fact bullshit, and in fact indicate nothing regarding the implication that either game is 'better' or even 'more popular.'  It is, as always in these cases, a little anal number pulling, that may get a post up on the net but really, honestly, isn't more than a few shiny turds to mollify the easily distracted.

I am 100% certain that R.D. Reed of Cyclopeatron knows this.

It must be really aggravating for those poor souls who have embraced S&W, or any of the other myriad rpg farts through the years, that they're doomed forever to be slapped with the D&D label on a game they pedantically insist has nothing whatsoever to do with D&D.  I imagine they've spent years now having to explain to complete strangers - those who have even heard of roleplaying - that NO, this is not D&D.

"Swords & Wizardry?  That's like D&D, right?"  Cue aggravated, deadpan look.

It's right up there with the number of times I've had to explain through my life that no, I'm not Polish, or all the people with Limbaugh as a last name who are now quite tired of saying they're no relation to Rush.  It is just one of those things.  Nuance lacks a certain verisimilitude for the average human, so the detection of it often fails to launch.  So its perfectly natural to try an attach some kind of number to a thing, to delineate between this and that, even where the number is a reach-around of the most desperate order.

This is why, when I wrote of the number of players in D&D a short while ago, I was sure to get an actual journalistic source ... not because I felt the journalist had any credibility whatsoever, but merely to distance myself from having to pick a bullshit number out of the air.  See?  I'll let that guy pull a number, so when you want to bitch about it, you're bitching at that guy and not me.

I know the number is bullshit.

This is the fundamental problem with trying to define the value of anything according to its 'popularity.'  Not simply because a lot of really stupid people can like a thing (let's compare S&W with NASCAR), but because any number that defines even the number of people who walk into something like PAX is highly suspect.  How many people who came in the door are actually sneering at everything?  How many had a good time?  How many are now swearing that this is the last convention they will ever, ever go to?  How many are so young and so naive, so completely unjaded, that the threshold to 'astound' them ranks around the level of online banking?

Think of what used to astound you when you were young and dumb.

So is the thing popular because it has value and depth, or does it just shine really bright and have a lot of moving parts?  Because where it comes to the popularity argument, advertising has shown that depth as a selling tool is difficult, expensive and unreliable, where as glitz gives spectacular results easily for not much money.

That may seem obvious, even redundant, to you, the gentle reader.  But ask yourself how many conventions you've been do - or how much advertising you've encountered in any form - that seeks to appeal to 'depth' as opposed to 'shinyness.'  Hell, even those making  material with depth have learned it can't be sold on that basis.

This may help explain why you don't encounter many older-than-forty people at gaming conventions who haven't in some way involved themselves with the money-making angle of such events.  Sure, I'm there if I have a game I'm selling in a booth, or if I'm helping organize one of the events.  The speakers are there.  But random old people?  I see someone in their fifties at such an event, who hasn't got an angle, and I'm wondering how their kid is involved.

That's because the old are jaded ... we've seen the glitz and the shiny, and we know what it hides.  We've heard the popularity argument day in and day out, and we're not buying into it.  The numbers don't mean much, since so many of them refer to people who just haven't learned all the lessons yet.

S&W beating D&D on G+?  Big whup.

Find me some numbers on how many old guys out there have been running S&W for 30 years.  Find me evidence of a notariety where S&W is so big, that when I say to someone I play D&D, I get back the answer, "That's like Swords & Wizardry, right?"  Get me some substance on the debate, something that makes me think for two seconds that there's a significant influence on roleplaying that doesn't begin and end with a lot of googling glitz.

Otherwise, you're just the silly fellow trying to convince me Pepsi is better than Coke.

1 comment:

JDJarvis said...

If someone asked if Swords and Wizardy was like Dungeons and Dragons the answer would be "Yes".

That said, tallying posts on G+ just tells you about the folks that post on G+. It doesn't really reveal the popularity of D&D it reveals a little data on who posts on G+.