So, at PAX East (whatever that is) various bigwigs, high-ups, grand poobahs and éminices grises got together to discuss What is Happening to Tabletop Role Playing Games?
It's worth reading the transcript of the discussion between Ryan Dancey and Mike Mearls on EN World, because it's interesting, but I think it's just more of the same: the established order, who rely on RPGs for a living, panicking and trying to repackage something that is fundamentally old in character as something that is new.
What do I mean when I say that RPGs are fundamentally old in character? Partly I mean that they're from a predigital age, but really what I mean is that they've been superseded by technology at the instrumental level. RPGs have become like vinyl, like typewriters or antique fountain pens, and like board games and books are becoming: an inferior format for people who are instrumental about their entertainment.
What do I mean by that? If what you are interested in is being challenged, solving puzzles, engaging in tactical play - in other words, if you take an instrumental approach to games - then video games are better than RPGs. If what you are interested in is an entertaining narrative that will distract you from your boring life and help you relax after a hard day at work, then TV is better than a book. If what you want is to hear a lot of good pieces of music, then mp3s are better than vinyl. If what you want to do is write a letter, a laptop is better than a fountain pen. If what you want to do is communicate in a written form, an email is better than a letter. Etc.
But not everybody engages in everything in a purely instrumental way. People get attached to different technologies because of more ephemeral and emotional concerns. Vinyl is not a dead technology. People collect fountain pens and typewriters, because they like them. Some people still write letters because they prefer the personal touch and there is a nostalgic charm in doing so. Some people buy old vintage cars and spend hours doing them up. I know somebody whose hobby is to buy broken antique watches, fix them up, clean them and sell them - and who made enough to live off for 4 years of university. I know somebody else who was a semi-professional (a semi-professional!) scrabble player. In the morning sun Maggie May's face really showed her age, but Rod Stewart still wanted to shag her.
The extra games and entertainment options will distract people from RPGs if all they ever did was play RPGs for instrumentalist reasons. Arguably, that process is more or less complete anyway. But there will be people who don't play RPGs for instrumentalist reasons. And the format will go on.
I am utterly and completely comfortable with RPGs occupying a vinyl-esque niche. Mike Mearls and Ryan Dancey will want something more because their careers are to a certain extent wedded to there being this lumbering, near-dying arthritic beast called the RPG industry, but for the rest of us I think the message really ought to be: Keep calm and carry on.