I’m not possessed of any special abilities when it comes to prognostication, but I’m as capable of forming opinions as anyone else. Two stray thoughts occasionally click together for me to form a new idea, and when that happened recently, the implications spelt out an unexpectedly rosy future for RPGs and the recording and media companies – provided they don’t annoy too many people in the meantime with overprotective nonsense like SOPA, of course.

Genesis

The catalyst for this new enthusiasm for the future derived from one of the final episodes of a BBC TV series called “Turn Back Time: The High Street”. The TV series is not yet available on DVD, but there is a book available through Amazon (shown below) which is definitely now on my shopping list. (If you want to know more about the TV series, here’s a link to the BBC’s episode guide and one to the Wikipedia page for the series).
Turn Back Time - The High Street

Getting back to the subject at hand, the series was summarizing the social changes of the 1960s in the course of the second-last episode and the rise of the social and economic force called “Teenagers”.

As an employment shortage grew, opportunities for teenagers to earn disposable income began to grow, and industries emerged to target those disposable incomes. Since it was easier for one teen to sell to another, and wages for employing them were lower, this created an ascending economic spiral for the emerging social class. During the 1980s and beyond, many of these employment opportunities dried up with erosion of the purchasing power of teenaged incomes, followed by the rise of minimum wages, and a series of recessions and economic shocks such as the oil crisis which produced a general shortage of employment.

For some reason, this economic history – which I had heard before – connected with another notion, that of an aging population, and because I was concentrating hard on preparing for the return of my superhero campaign, now set in the equivalent of about 2050 on a parallel world, for the first time, the two notions connected together.

Implications Of An Aging Population

As the population ages, the ratio of those under the age of retirement to the number of jobs available will drop, quite substantially. Employment will become easy to find once again, and as a result there will be a marked rise in opportunities for younger employees – not just for the poor-paying typical employment with which we are familiar in modern times, but even middle-class incomes.

I have seen estimates that claim the there will be as many as ten jobs available for every jobseeker. In order to attract staff, companies will have to offer more. There will also be increased educational requirements. Scholastic programmes have already started to change in anticipation of this need; I know that my cousins were studying calculus years before it was part of my schooling. Even when I was attending university, the first year chemistry course was virtually identical to the one that I had passed in High School a year earlier, so this is hardly a new trend.

Inevitably, better-paying jobs and greater competition for employees means that disposable incomes will rise, and so will the demands placed on those earning those incomes. There will he an increased need to discharge stress – these people will be working hard, and partying harder.

The New Teen Market

These factors will combine to make teenagers a major market segment once again, and what will sell best to them are independence, identity, and entertainment. Specifically, I would expect boom times in:

  • Low- and mid-priced cars;
  • teen-oriented car accessories;
  • teen fashions;
  • music;
  • Teen-oriented movies and media in general – shows like Buffy, and Charmed; and finally,
  • Games of all kinds, especially those that can reinvent themselves for a modern audiance and that are immersive in nature.

And the type of game that best fits that prescription? RPGs. You heard me: Role-playing games.

The Gaming Future

RPGs reinvent themselves all the time. They are fundamentally immersive. They are just far enough outside the mainstream that they will still appeal to teenagers looking for a mild dose of rebellion. They are priced from cheap-as-chips to inexpensive, but with almost unlimited capacity for expensive extras like miniatures and landscapes and 3D virtualizations and game-related software. They are ideal for a better-educated populace.

Whether or not this bright future includes tabletop RPGs, or will be the exclusive domain of computer-based games like World Of Warcraft, remains to be seen. My personal feeling is that there are unexploited potentials for synergies between the two.

Picture, for example, software that simulates a game world, a-la World Of Warcraft, in which an adventure-designer permits a GM to operate their home-brewed game world in a manner more akin to that of a table-top RPG.

Or software which, after the input of character abilities, permits each player to select their action for the next round and then integrates them all into an animated round of battle that can be viewed and replayed from multiple angles before pausing for the selection of the next round’s actions.

This sort of interactive roleplaying technology is well within the grasp of current software engineering, led by systems such as those developed to individualize the reactions of computer-generated characters in the Lord Of The Rings movies. I would predict the first such to arrive within the decade.

But even without such radical new developments, the future of the hobby seems assured. And that’s one heck of a silver lining for those of us who care about the hobby.

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