People who like novels and reading are going through a bit of a crisis of confidence lately. There's a sense that books are dumbing down and the only reason anyone writes them is to get a movie out of them. It's as if a novel is just an aspiring script which, if it behaves itself and eats its greens, might end up being a film or TV series some day. Meanwhile, there's very depressing stuff like this to read in the far flung corners of the internet: in order to even get into an agent's slush pile, you need a blog with 5,000 readers and the mentality of a prostitute with extremely low standards. "The only way to gain approval is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens [you]," as a man once said. On the other hand, if you happen to be a comedienne who has name recognition and is the kind of person the BBC refers to as a "national treasure", an amiable radio DJ with a popular podcast and lots of twitter followers, who is mates with Adam Horowitz, or the relative of a famous basketball player, publishers queue up to give you a fat book contract whatever dreary tripe you're serving up.
All very bleak and doomsdayish. It's easy to agree with Frank Furedi that, while reports of the death of the novel are very much overstated (I shared the view of Nassim Taleb that it's more likely that ebooks and even the internet will die out before paper novels), the long story is going through a grim and unimpressive period, with novels failing to live up to their USP of offering a deep, creative and self-exploratory experience. In particular, the really imaginative and thoughtful stuff in the field of fantasy and SF seems to be getting rarer - apart from a few stalwarts it's a very bland and repetitive place indeed. If you are looking for your mind to be blown, to ruminate carefully over hidden themes, or to experience a greater and more profound sense of self, you would be hard pressed to find that in a fantasy novel picked at random from a bookshelf in a modern day book shop.
This is where the DIY RPG brain trust steps in. Think of The Driftwood Verses. Straits of Anian. Lanthanum Chromate. The stuff Arnold K puts out. The Swordfish Islands. &c. But also, think of the games you are running, planning, reading about, thinking about. Think of your special snowflake campaign setting, or the one your DM has dreamed up. Isn't it more imaginative and vibrant than anything going on in 95% of the fantasy literature out there? Isn't it interesting, creative, thoughtful, and surprising?
One way to think of this is that people who play D&D are fighting a rearguard action against the Philistine hordes of late modernity - we're the last of a dying breed, keeping our fires burning as long as we can before the icy wind of the lowest common denominator snuffs them out. But I prefer to think of the whole DIY RPG thing as part of the vanguard of something, instead. There are signs that both high street book shops and public libraries are making comebacks - which would be entirely in keeping with the search for 'authenticity' that anybody with their eyes open can see spreading throughout the Western world. In 2016, the zeitgeist is very much analog, local, anti-corporate and artisanal. This can be very easily co-opted, of course, but its also suggests that there is still a place for humanism amongst all the bogus transhumanist/post-humanist-feeling superficiality of our popular culture, with its flashy aesthetics, auto-tuners, and slickly 'ironic' advertising. And that place may well be growing. I think creating materials for RPGs, whether for your friends, the market, or just for you, is part of that growth, the revival of humanism in a digital age, and indeed is one of the chief engines of it for those who are in the know. We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams - in the green shoots of something rather than the dying embers.