David M. Ewalt explains — in the Wall Street Journal — why Dungeons & Dragons beats videogames like Grand Theft Auto V:
After four decades of accelerating technological and artistic growth, even the best video games are still hobbled by a fundamental limitation of the form: players can only get out of them what programmers put into them. Clever game designers can create the illusion of an open world by anticipating player behavior and accounting for most possibilities within the program’s code. But at some point, the player will try to kill an unkillable character, open a door with nothing behind it, or have a conversation with a character who seems intelligent but only parrots a few pre-recorded lines. The illusion will fail, and the player will be torn from the fantasy world.
But the good news is that gamers can find truly limitless exploration and genuine freedom of choice. They just have to look back to the pen-and-paper games that gave birth to high-tech simulations like Skyrim and GTA V: Video games are fun, but they still stand in the shadow of their august ancestor, the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
Yes, D&D — that geeky hobby with the strangely shaped dice. If you’ve never played, here’s the pitch: Dungeons & Dragons is a game where players control a fantasy hero through an adventure that takes place mostly in their own imaginations. It’s a kind of collaborative storytelling, where one participant, the “Dungeon Master,” acts as narrator and referee; he describes a scene for the players, who respond by explaining how their characters act.
Because D&D is largely improvised, it offers a degree of freedom that’s impossible to simulate in a video game.