The Future of Non-Ownership Is Now

Between the time I graduated high school in 1994 and completed graduate school in 2005, the concept of ownership drastically transformed into something else. Now in 2012, I not only cling to fond stories of obsolete technologies from my youth, but also a seemingly ancient sense of what it means to truly own something. It reminds me of the first lines in the film version of The Fellowship of The Ring:

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.

When my generation has aged and expired, it seems the concept of ownership will come to pass. No one will recall a time when an individual sought out real-world products, purchased them and physically took those products home to display them on shelves, desks and other storage centers. Media cabinets full of books, music albums and movies have already been replaced by such things and services as Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Netflix and Hulu.

“For it shows things that were, and things that are, things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?”

Over three years ago, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Scholarly Kitchen wrote about the Kindle and the freedom of not owning books:

Consider how many encyclopedias you’ve purchased in the past 20 years. Will you ever buy one again? Of course not. Wikipedia and Google have combined to make ownership of an encyclopedia irrelevant. The same thing is happening to atlases (Google Maps and GPS), and will soon start happening to cookbooks (Epicurious, anyone?) . . .

Ownership isn’t a panacea, especially in an age of information abundance. Will I be concerned if the Kindle dies and books I’ve read on it become inaccessible on that platform? Not really. If I want to read them again, there will be plenty of alternative ways in the future. And my bookshelves long ago stopped being my collection of known facts and resources . . .

Two of my favorite old Sherlock Holmes collections are on my Kindle — for free. A copy of “Moby Dick” typeset especially for the Kindle also held sway for a while. From classics to current bestsellers, I can wirelessly get books for free and for less.

And I don’t have to own them.

It is a common theme offered in support of the new concept of ownership – whether it be books, albums, movies or even video games. People are perfectly agreeable to not owning a product and are willing to enjoy the product for free or for less cost at their convenience. And how the new process of non-ownership will play out with tabletop roleplaying games is both unknown . . . and completely predictable.

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Ego Check: Mike Mearls, Senior Manager of Dungeons & Dragons Research and Design Team

Several months ago, I posted an interview with Monte Cook, which was the result of an effort that started in January to interview a member of the Dungeons & Dragons Next Design Team. After Mr. Cook left the project, I continued to communicate with Public Relations staff within Wizards of the Coast in the hopes of contacting a member of the design team. These efforts recently led to the opportunity to interview Mike Mearls, the Senior Manager for the Dungeons & Dragons Research and Design Team.

Mike Mearls

At the same time, I also realized that many others have interviewed members of the Design Team and Mike Mearls even hosted an extensive Ask Me Anything on reddit to answer specific questions about D&D Next. I decided that if I had the chance to interview a member of the design team that I would ask questions that relate to topics I have written about for this site – or as in the case of the psychology of ownership – topics I am in the process of writing [look for a series of articles on this topic in the coming weeks]. In the following interview with Mike Mearls, he was kind enough to offer responses to these questions.

Below, he talks about the challenges and opportunities posed by the shift to digital media in our culture. He discusses the benefits and limitations of designing and playing D&D as part of a job, and responds to my belief that D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have not advanced far beyond stereotypes that are approximately 30 years old. We conclude by discussing the role of the Dungeon Master and how D&D Next can be structured to take the creative burden off of the DM’s shoulders.

This week will bring a flood of D&D news and information with Gen Con, but let this whet your appetite and give you something to read as you are traveling to Indy . . . or stuck at work wishing you were traveling to Indy!

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