Part Thirty-Seven: 2003, Bring Me to Life. A Historical Overview of Role-playing from the Trenches

If all you know of this period is what you read on my blog, then things may seem pretty bleak at this point. Rants about edition wars, the coup against Gary Gygax, and corporate takeovers can really get you down. (Like a pronoun. Common cultural references… ah hell, you don’t know what I’m referring to at all, do you?)

But if you really want a downer, in the year 2003 the USA went to war against Iraq. Yeah, real-life war. Puts things in perspective.

Dungeons & Dragons

Let’s segue into the latest development in the world of D&D anyway. ‘Cause we’re like that. This year, Hasbro launched what is known as the 3.5 edition. Only three years into it. Ya know. It’s a re-write that’s significant enough that you’re gonna buy all new books, but not so big a deal that they absolutely have to call it a “new edition.” Riiiiight. Since I didn’t play the game I couldn’t have cared less, although I did get a little chuckle out of the news. But remember that there were a whole lot of little publishers out there making supplemental books for 3E, because of the licensing that was available for 3e at the time. So imagine the impact that this change had on them. A little gift from yer ol’ Unca Hasbro. Have a nice day. (And remember, don’t accept any friendly loans from your competitors.)

Midnight at the Oasis

Fine, I give up on the cultural references. Anyway, Fantasy Flight (FFG) was a company founded back in 1995, but they didn’t publish a game until two years later. That would be the huge board game Twilight Imperium. I eventually acquired a copy of that game, but it’s still sealed in the box since I don’t have a live gaming group anymore. In any case FFG would become known for publishing a ton of games over the years, but here in 2003 I’d like to note the release of the Midnight RPG line. This was a neat idea, a fantasy setting where you play the oppressed inhabitants of a land ruled by evil conquerors. I’m not the only one to see it as an alternate-universe version of Middle Earth where Sauron and the orcs won the war. That’s a pretty awesome concept, no? It even inspired a movie of its own! I didn’t see this game line when it first came out, but I managed to acquire the books in subsequent years thinking that I’d transfer it to Middle Earth. Alas, they sit on the shelf with a million other game projects I’ll probably never get to (because I’m old), but we’ll hope for the best.

Maybe not.

O Brave Virtual World that has Such People in ‘t!

Let’s surry on down to the world of computers for the latest.

Avast! Tops’ls and Mains’ls!

(What does that even mean?)

You like pirates? Then get a load of The Pirate Bay. This is connected to that whole “sharing pirated files” movement. The pirates saw a lot of action from folks who wanted product but weren’t getting what they wanted through regular channels. Consider it part of the cultural revolution brought on by the internet. The lesson remains the same. Give the people what they want, at a fair price, and they’ll happily give you money.


This idea was an evolved version of Geocities, another place where participants could make their own little websites. It also became a way to network with others, both professionally and personally. It was quite popular during its short moment in the spotlight. By the time I discovered it, it was already being superseded by Facebook. But that’s just how my timing usually goes.

Second Life

On the other hand, I was on Second Life back in its earliest days. At the time this was dizzyingly futuristic. A virtual avatar with a virtual life interacting with other virtual avatars. Online business meetings, online concerts, online classes, online networking, online creativity, online gaming, online dating and an online economy. Big talk, and yet the thing slowly, ever so slowly, neglected to live up to the hype and sank into obscurity. (Also the lag was unbelievable and that can’t have helped.) But for a while it was damned exciting to be a part of.


Get excited little computer gamer, here comes Steam! I’m sure I don’t have to explain this one to you, but let me stand in my 2003 shoes and tell you what I saw. Steam wanted you to give them money. A lot of money. Equivalent to what you would pay for a brand new game in the store. In exchange you would be able to play a game online. You had nothing in your hands in exchange for your money, nothing on your shelves. You were dependent on this company remaining in business, even maintaining its business model and its licensing agreements, if you were going to be able to access your purchases. Now in 2003 I had books on my shelves, I had movies on my shelves, I had music on my shelves, and yes I had games on my shelves. Including computer games. I may have had some formats that were no longer officially supported, but I could still use my purchases whenever I wanted and if I needed new hardware it was still available. Yes, by way of example you could still buy a turntable for your LPs. (I”ll make you look that up.) On the other hand anything that *required* an internet connection was newfangled and suspect. Just like owning a sound card, an internet connection had always been optional when it came to computer gaming. I still had vinyl records that I’d owned since I was a kid, no one could pry them out of my cold dead hands, they were mine and just because Steve Jobs had launched iTunes back in 2001 didn’t mean I had to toss them out. “Buying” something that didn’t have a tangible existence was not something I was at all interested in. Did I look like I was born yesterday? I’d seen plenty of formats disappear over the decades (8-tracks? Laser discs?), and plenty of companies too. No way was I going to throw any of my money away on this scam. Spoiler: today’s consumers think nothing of giving away their money in exchange for having access to music, books, movies and games in their virtual accounts. You don’t actually *own* anything, because those things can be taken from you without warning (look it up). It’s vaporware. Now granted, I still don’t “buy” music, books or movies this way. But I do have accounts with Steam and their gaming competitors these days. Because with all the sales they have I can be persuaded to part with $1.99 or $2.99 to access a game I missed, or because that old disk-based version won’t run on my current hardware anymore. But there will come a day when Steam will go belly-up, and I will be able to say “I told you so.” Can’t hardly wait.

So what have we learned?

See any similarity between those old 3e D&D licensing agreements, and buying games on Steam?

to be continued

2 thoughts on “Part Thirty-Seven: 2003, Bring Me to Life. A Historical Overview of Role-playing from the Trenches

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