As long as D&D is the major outward-facing text of the RPG industry, said industry will always be identified with escapist juvenilia, power fantasies, and the worst sort of generic-fantasy codswallop. Videogames are that plus awesome moving pictures, so they win.
Wally, in response to Grognardia's recent bit of flamebait
I think he's got a point, which is one reason I've been surprised by commentary I've seen on 4e, which doesn't seem to capitalise on the unique selling points of the TTRPG experience. But:
if video killed the tabletop, I think that's partly because it nabbed so many of the TT designers, with such attractions as reliable monthly wages. It might also be to do with a generalised cultural shift away from board- and parlour-gaming toward solitary screen-based entertainment, a shift that had gathered a broad public only 10-20 years before 1974, the eventual effects of which were then only starting to become apparent. Maybe it has something to do with the way computers have conquered all parts of our work, leisure and social lives, and the arc of RPGs in the age of computers triumphant is comparable to those of other non-screen entertainment and interaction. They never found a family niche, instead spreading from the older wargamers who invented them to schoolkids and teenagers, exactly the videogame demographic, but they required social time from this demographic - something parents, school schedules and he demands of adolescence were reluctant to give them.
Or maybe, just maybe, James is right and RPGs were inevitably a fad - one with a long tail, to be sure, and possibly open to re-fadding (like card-collecting), but a phenomenon with a lifespan. After all, RPGs require a great deal of investment from their players in time, imagination and effort, which is why they're called "hobby games." As hobbies go, they're more like model railways than home improvement or golf: they don't generate family-building or business-building social capital. They happened to be born at a cultual moment when deciding for yourself what to do with your time was fashionable: no matter how far Lake Geneva might have been from California or Woodstock, all of them were about DIY entertainment, taking a break from the business of business (or deferring entry to it), and hanging out. Who has time now to bum around India for 6 months, or live in a commune, or spend hours writing and crafting games? And then we can't forget how the image of RPGs and RPGers has developed over the past 30 years: it's relatively easy to imagine a popular gaming tent at Woodstock, much harder to see it being a vibrant part of Burning Man. They're just not very punk.
Maybe RPGs needed their initial novelty, mystery and specific environment to ever take off in the first place. They'll probably need to get those factors back for their next incarnation, if they're going to have one.