Online, many articles have covered the relationship between console or computer gaming and cryptocurrency. The pairing seems to be not only logical, but beneficial to all parties, as more and more developers incorporate cryptocurrency into their babies, allowing players to buy equipment or upgrades in-game and trade or swap them later. Since tabletop gaming seems to be further removed from the online experience, the symbiosis between an immersive storytelling session and currencies like Ethereum and bitcoin may seem less evident at first, but it’s still there… and in a big way.
One of the theories why gamers tend to be more interested in alternative currencies than the average Joe is that they are generally more tech-savvy than your run-of-the-mill internet user. The principles behind state-of-the-art technology like virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning are easier for them to grasp. Still, if this was the only major motivation, tabletop gamers who prefer acting and developing their characters in a more immediate social setting would be much less interested in cryptocurrency than they usually turn out to be… so what gives?
In most tabletop roleplaying games, players first create personas called ‘Player Characters’, usually by rolling dice and/or distributing points amongst inherent abilities and learned skills appropriate to the genre or setting. If needed, RPG’s also present rules for more esoteric things, like magic or superpowers.
Most RPG’s also need a Game Master, who might be known by another name in some RPG systems – he’s the ‘Dungeon Master’ in Dungeons & Dragons, the Keeper of Secrets in Call of Cthulhu, the Loremaster in The One Ring, the Storyteller in World of Darkness-games such as Vamprie: The Masquerade, the Referee in Cyberpunk 2020, and so on. One of our favorite ones might be The Bartender in Tales from the Floating Vagabond, which is loosely inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Gamers also sometimes call him or her Asshole, Bastard or Bitch. Honestly.
Whatever the case may be, the majority of tabletop roleplaying games need the Game Master to be knowledgeable about the setting and the rules. He or she is in charge of the narrative structure and the adventure, which can be played out over one up to a sheer limitless number of gaming sessions (gaming sessions that follow up on each other and have the same Player Characters evolve are called campaigns).
Adventures can be written down in great detail, complete with handouts and maps, or can consist of scribbled notes and the GM’s ability to improvise. He or she acts as the Player Characters’ senses: (s)he tells them what they feel, hear, see, smell and taste. In a very palpable way, the Gamemaster is their gateway to another world, which is described to them in his or her words, even though some games allow a lot of player control and input in this world-building process.
Whereas the Game Master describes their surroundings to them, players crawl into their Characters’ skins (figuratively speaking – the literal meaning would probably be quite yucky) and decide what their personas will be doing and saying. Most Game Masters and players prefer to talk like their Characters whenever they would do so in real life, but actions or most often described instead of acted out, with Live Action Role-Playing standing as an exception. Rules cover actions that have a chance of failure and usually require dice to be rolled, cards to be played and/or points to be invested.
The key here is that Game Masters and players alike gradually get to know the world they’re playing in better. Some games provide stunningly rich background information, such as the world of Glorantha, which was originally designed with RuneQuest and HeroQuest in mind. Even though the entire world is fictional, there’s an encyclopedic guide available that comes in at a weighty 800 pages and 12 pounds. Many RPG’s are based on existing comics, books, movies or TV series (ranging from Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek, to Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars or Green Ronin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, to name but a few). Others are utterly unique (just take a look at the great Freeport setting, the chilling Kult or the lost civilizations of Numenéra, for example) or delve into real or mythical history.
It stands to reason that many roleplayers are history buffs. Universal gaming systems like GURPS, HERO System and Savage Worlds have historical settings available that don’t just stick to whatever rules are needed to play, but also present mankind’s history in great detail.
To illustrate the point: just a few weeks ago, I ordered a latte macchiato with almond milk and sugarless vanilla syrup at a local Starbucks café. When I told the young man standing behind the corner what my name was, he immediately reacted: ‘Oh, Dirk! That’s a long thrusting dagger!’ I immediately knew he was a roleplayer, as most of us know a lot more about medieval arms and armor than other random people you might meet. We tend to know about feudal systems, ancient customs, martial arts, warfare and lots of other different subjects.
So what is the point we’re trying to make here? Well, a lot of RPG’s are science fiction games. They run the gamut from space opera to hard SF and they provide information on lots of different subjects and theories: astrophysics, faster-than-light-travel, parallel worlds, quantum physics and… alternate currencies and advanced technology.
That’s right: our gaming books teach us about AI, AR, crypto, VR and much more. It may not be knowledge we can immediately use in real life, but we’re familiar with concepts and ideas many other people tend to struggle with.
In Shadowrun, our future Earth has been hit with a virus that has turned many humans into dwarf- or elf-like creatures. Goblinization has even reshaped some into orc or troll lookalikes. Magic has returned, but efforts to curtail access to the Matrix have mostly failed. The primary monetary unit is the Nuyen (or ‘New Yen’) and hard currency is getting rarer every day. Most transactions are done through E-cash, electronic certificates that consist of a given format signed by private government-issued encryption keys. E-cash is found on certified credsticks, although Electronic Fund Transfers also still exist. The Player Characters are Shadowrunners, hirelings who sell their services to employers nicknamed ‘Mister Johnsons’. They often get involved in money laundering schemes and investigate shady financial transactions. Needless to say, a lot of cryptocurrency-related themes are covered.
In Cyberpunk 2020, the vast majority of transactions is fully digital in nature, although paper currency is still used (most often for illicit, illegal and/or street-level transactions). Common carriers are credchips (classic debit or credit card/USB-stick hybrids) are standard carriers and the less popular corporate scrips.
The transhuman roleplaying game Eclipse Phase even presents three types of economy, with different regions heavily invested in one or the other, but rarely all three.
The above are just two examples of original settings, but did you know the Galactic Credit Standard used in Star Wars is backed by the immense resources of the planet Muunilinst and the InterGalactic Banking Clan? The libertarian-socialist, post-scarcity economy presented in Star Trek tends to use currency outside of the Federation only, in the shape of unreplicatable latinum (a rare silver-colored liquid). Buck Rogers used ‘Currency Discs’, whereas currency in the Mindjammer hadn’t existed for thousands of years before the Commonality had to reinvent currency in order to interact with fringe areas and the region of space beyond its borders.
With so much emphasis on futuristic trading, it stands to reason that tabletop roleplayers are often able to grasp the concepts behind alternative currencies and exchanges much faster than non-gamers are… even though they may not be using virtual currencies to power their MMORPG’s. As for board gaming, card gaming and war gaming: there’s definitely an overlap of interests for many gamers, but many prefer a certain kind of game to others and only specialized games about trading cover cryptocurrencies as much in-depth as most tabletop RPG’s do… but let’s talk about that in – you guessed it, baby! – an upcoming article.