This is not my normal blog fare. This is not a book review or some creative writing. This blog is about Dungeons & Dragons, and specifically about a video regarding Live Broadcast RPGs on the internet.
If you have never watched Critical Role, then this post is probably not going to make much sense to you. If you’ve never played D&D, or some other RPG (or at least watched someone play), then it definitely won’t. If you have, then you can get the gist of the discussion.
For those who don’t know, but want to keep reading… a bit of background…
The internet (youtube, twitch.tv, etc.) has created a platform for game streaming of all kinds: Video, Tabletop, RPGs, etc. RPGs themselves are a big & expanding part of that.
Critical Role is self-described as a program where ‘a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors get together and play Dungeons & Dragons’. It can be seen live on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch Channel Thursday’s at 7PM PST (10PM EST). It is nearly up to 100 episodes, most of which are at least 3 to 4 hours long, with many going longer. You can find all the back episodes on YouTube as well. The DM & players are Voice Actors with huge presences in video games, anime, and other media. The cast is made up of Matthew Mercer as DM and the players: Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffee, and Marisha Ray. The most well known actress in the group is Ashley Johnson who plays Patterson from Blind Spot, and was also the child star who played Chrissy in Growing Pains. Taliesin Jaffee also played several child star roles, including the little boy with the woobie in Mr. Mom. IMDB these folks, and you will find a lot of credits. Anyway, it’s an excellent, entertaining show that I really enjoy watching each week.
If you want to see what it’s about, you can find Episode One here. They start out seemingly ‘low budget’ in quality, but trust me, it gets progressively better and is so worth it. If you do start watching it, start from the beginning, and please come back and let me know. I would find it quite pleasing to know that someone began their CR journey through my blog!
Now, back to the subject of the blog…
After seeing this video by TheDMsCraft cross-posted on the Critical Role Fan Club on Facebook, I just had to comment on it. As a Critter, a fan of Critical Role, it seemed to me to be a video full of opinions that were pretty much all-around wrong, IMHO. DM Scotty seems to have a bit of an ego, and I think this video shows him to be feeling somewhat threatened in his niche. Anyway, it irritated me, as a fan, so I’m fisking the video. Topic points are paraphrased or summarized.
Watch the video first. Fisking below:
- “I don’t feel that RPGs are a great spectator sport.”
Of course you don’t. That’s because you are looking at it from the perspective of control. You are a DM, and you don’t control this one. That grates on you, doesn’t it?
But, let’s examine the reason you actually stated. You are comparing it to the experience you get as a player; as someone who wants to be immersed and BE the ROLE PLAYER. However, if you actually watch the shows (which I suspect you have not, or at least not much because you are pre-biased against the possibility of it being good), you will soon come to realize that you can still get an emotional connection with the players and their characters. You can become vicariously attached to them in an emotionally satisfying way. And if the Player is great at it, it will have much more pull than you can imagine. This is no different from any long running series. Soap Operas, for instance have a very similar ongoing story that millions of people follow daily. Reality/Talk Shows pull in millions for short intense sessions of immersion in someone else’s lives (scripted or not)… think of these as One Shots. These are all spectator sport RPG analogs.
Can you get the same experience out of WATCHING an RPG vs. playing a character in one? No. It’s different. It’s not meant to give you that experience, it’s meant to give you a similar, yet unique one. And, since it’s mostly a new form of entertainment that’s evolving, we (fans and producers) are just discovering the actual format differences. Critical Role is not Acquisitions Incorporated, and neither of those is Harmon’s Quest… but none of them are ‘wrong fun’, and they all have loyal and large audiences. That fact alone disproves the initial argument.
- The Camera Effect
Yes, there is a camera effect. It was noticeable when Critical Role started. It is still there now. They do tend to keep the audience in mind… as they should. They are not playing a home game for self entertainment. Although some fans argue – ad nauseum – that it’s ‘THEIR GAME’, they ARE playing for an audience. Granted, they have fun, and they have said that if it ever becomes ‘not fun’ for them then they will probably stop playing. Fair enough. But yes, Matthew Mercer as DM, with obvious consent from the players, guides the story to be ‘non-boring’ and keep it moving forward. For example: Shopping – a boring thing mostly, is done off-line, or when it’s done live, there are lots of comedic moments involved. If it gets bogged down, Mercer clamps down on it. Other example: Crafting – planned and done off-line for the most part. Other other examples: Character Advancement, XP awards, etc. All these things are not something the audience wants to watch unfold (well, some of us really nerdy folks might, but not most) so it gets done offline. That’s for the camera. So, yes the effect is there. So what? What’s wrong with that? Answer: nothing.
If what you are really concerned about is the effect on the way characters are played, then I have to say it is even less, and as time goes by, the camera is mostly forgotten and they just play their game. This is true for all the live RPGs I’ve ever watched. The Critical Role cast is a very talented group, and they do it very well. They also had the added benefit of established characters coming into the live stream. The cast of Aquisitions Incorporated plays toward the audience more, but I have also seen them tell the audience to shut-it! The new AI C-Team is very ‘chat’ participatory (Jerry Holkins actually lets them make narrative choices and refers to them as the Shadow Council). These Camera Effects are bonuses in my opinion. They don’t take anything away from the enjoyment, they add to it. The premise that the Camera Effect is in some way ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ is another ‘your fun is wrong’ statement that should not be applied to a Live View RPG event. Again, it is not the same as playing yourself, and it should not have to be.
- DM Scotty would never make a basic mistake.
Oh come on dude! If you are as great/seasoned as you claim, then you should know that: A) No one knows all the rules, and B) The rules are made up, so changing them is OK, too. It’s right there in the DM guide… go lawyer it… I mean, look it up.
- I’m the Best DM
Who are you again? Other than this video someone posted because you pissed them off, I’ve never heard of you before now.
- Danger of Critical Role – Unreasonable Expectations
Yes, Scotty, we Critters understand that these are professional voice actors we are watching. No, they did not start out with the best equipment. It got better because the fans supported the show because they were just that good.
It is not edited, other than for rebroadcast. And why would you worry about someone watching the show being discouraged from playing because they can’t produce a twitch video? Didn’t you just say that the point of the game (paraphrase of your words) was to become a character, not show off for an audience? Your fears seem more to me like justifications for you dislike of something that is becoming more successful than you THINK you are. Again, who are you?
Also, you obviously don’t know squat about the Critter Community that’s sprung up around this show, or even Matt Mercer’s GM Tips. For those attempting to become GMs BECAUSE OF CRITICAL ROLE (tons of new face…BTW), the fact that they will not be close to flawless (aka, Mercer Level), and will have to work at it, is something that is known. And yes, they understand that playing does not require the use of many voices for characters, PC or NPC. We’re not as stupid as you must think. #WeKnow
The other thing you are not aware of, or simply discount, is that this community is very supportive. It’s a place where encouragement abounds. Tips, tricks, resources, and advice are freely shared here, and that, I believe, is going to grow Critters into a DM showcase. (Hmmm… Critter Certified DM has a nice ring to it. It should be on a shirt, maybe… or the bottom of a mug at least.) So, perhaps you don’t know enough about the audience of this show to even comment on things like this. Or, maybe you do, and that’s why you feel threatened in your niche? Either way, it’s an audience that you have very much riled up.
So, dear blog readers…to sum up…
Critical Role is a show that has succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone. It brought me into the world of D&D. I now play on a regular basis because of it. I will probably DM eventually. The rise in popularity of D&D, at this point in time, is a direct result of this show. I know it existed way before, but CR was a tipping point. I have a feeling D&D is about to peek it’s head into ‘mainstream’, which brings with it a whole other set of challenges for the ‘old school’ players. DM Scotty seems to be one of those. He’s seems worried that too many people will start having fun the wrong way, and maybe change the landscape too much for him. He doesn’t seem to realize that the side effect is that more people will enjoy the game the way he does as well, thus growing and giving new life to it. It’s going to be OK, Scotty. We can have our fun while you still have yours too.