The OSR Should Die: An Addendum

Please read the original post (link!) if you haven't! I also updated the conclusion a couple hours after I published it, so you might want to read that to better understand my own view of things if you caught the post right out of the gates. Here it is, copied-and-pasted, because I want to focus on it.

Each proclamation of the OSR’s death relies upon a particular definition of the OSR. When the OSR “died” in 2012, it was because the community had attained the level of success it had always strove for; the old school was finally revived. When the OSR “died” in 2019, it was because a significant platform was deleted from the internet, and because of abuses which had rocked the community to its core. Yet it was only a death to those who looked at the ruin afterward and saw all that had been forgotten since, with no one to restore it to yet some other dubious past state; at the same time, most of the people who were there were just dispersed elsewhere, still doing their own thing on odd corners of the internet. Will the OSR really die, if it hasn’t yet? Well, which OSR, and in which way? These are not neutral claims, and any answer reveals much more about one’s relationship to a community (or lack of one) and its ideal, rather than anything about the OSR as such (especially as a play style). This is true whether you think the OSR has died or is still alive.

You cannot stop people from identifying with the OSR. At this point, it is synonymous with the specific culture of play that was originated and cultivated by players who had themselves identified with the term (and whose body of knowledge has been rendered, to many, inaccessible). Nor can you stop people from playing the way that is most often described as OSR; obviously, it’s one of the ways I like to play also. However, it is concerning to see the myth of the OSR be propagated, especially to arbitrarily decide at what point some true OSR community or movement had ceased to exist. As a play style, the OSR has not gone away and will not go away for a long time. Another term might be more descriptive, but that’s not for any one person to decide.

As an empty signifier of some relationship to the past, it is easier to say that the OSR has always been dead. Early on, grognards donned the costumes of Gygax and (less often) Arneson. They thought that the past had been forgotten, confusing it for their new history. Now, we don the costumes of grognards. The longer the OSR ‘lives’, the more dead it becomes. Let’s drop the act.

Let it die.

"The OSR is dead?!"

My view is not that the OSR is dead, nor that the OSR is alive. My view is neither, because both of those answers try to grasp at a question ("Is the OSR dead?") which is itself 'politically' loaded with ideas about what constitutes the OSR as a play style, a community, or an ideology. My post is titled "The OSR Should Die" precisely because, in many respects, the OSR is not dead; specifically, the founding myth of the OSR tends to be alive and well. Put a pin in it.

My view is also not that people should stop using the OSR as a descriptive label for themselves or for others. It is chauvinistic to try to force people to adopt your new made-up term for what is already popularly known as the OSR. It is also chauvinistic to apply some new label to people who (1) aligned with the popular definition of the OSR as a play style, (2) never identified en masse with that new label, and (3) are considered by many to be the exemplars of that label, even if they did not originate it. Those are a lot of hoops to jump through, especially for a community with many 'surviving' members. Overall, it enables the originator of the term to posture themselves as the head of the movement they think they are creating (even if, as per usual, it doesn't take off); this is undesirable.

Certain labels, such as "Nu-SR (NSR)" and "Post-OSR (POSR)" seem to have 'organically' emerged from a group for whom the OSR is already dead. I refer to this group in my original post when I say "Newcomers, unlike their predecessors, view themselves in discontinuity with the past, seeing the OSR as a specific community before their time rather than a body of knowledge still accessible to them (and still being developed to this day)." As a concession, I downplay the extent to which they really perceive that knowledge to be inaccessible to themselves; at the very least, they don't know where to find it and it is not being circulated among them. Without connections to members of the 'lost' community, no one is telling them where to find what they want. There is a worry that this new group of hobbyists is condemned to keep reinventing the wheel for themselves, or else participate in a reductive shadow of the original play style cultivated by their own loosely-connected communities. The OSR is dead to them; again, I'll leave it to someone else to figure out what all this means and what should be done.

At the same time, many of the community members from that time are still blogging, just as many of the grognards from those old forums are still posting. Declaring that the OSR is dead, knowing this, is a political statement more than a statement on the play style, the ideology, or the communities which have persisted in their own ways. There's nothing wrong with political statements (you know, I love making political statements!), but it should be considered what exactly they are propagating.

"Well, it'd be nice if it were!"

The founding myth of the OSR, that it is based either in an original play style or in the Gygaxian style, is also such a 'political' statement. My view is that many of the communities, past or present, which identify with the "OSR" are based on that myth despite it being inconsistent with the multi-various ways in which hobbyists played in the 70s and 80s, as well as with the specific vision of D&D which Gygax propagated. When I say that the OSR should die, I mean that the imagined relationship to the past is something which proves detrimental to the culture surrounding the play style known as the OSR, and also to the community which propagates it.

The quality of being neither dead nor alive is something which lends the OSR, as a signifier, a zombie-like quality. The "old school" is a myth; if you can dictate the myth, you can dictate the OSR. If we instead embrace the OSR as being basically nonsensical, embracing the acronym as a self-referential signifier instead of believing the myth which it stood for ("old-school"), we can give ourselves more flexibility and also view our hobby more critically [1]. If the OSR isn't really old-school, what is it? Does it have to do with diegetic interactions with the game-world? Does it have to do with turn-based procedural play? Does it have to do with providing players a challenge, in absence of a teleological narrative which often dictates other play styles? All of the above? These questions, besides being more interesting, are a more honest way of interrogating and cultivating the play style(s) (which already exists but can be inaccessible) than trying to find or invent a basis in the past.

If you didn't want to read all that, just look at the title of the post. It's not called "The OSR Is Dead", but "The OSR Should Die". It's a bit dramatic, I know, but it was my attempt to bypass the debate on the status of some OSR and to pose a different question instead: aren't you tired of being restrained by the same cyclical discourse about the OSR? Don't you just want to go ape-shit?

Finally, I'd like to recommend Tom Van Winkle's post on similar subject matter (link)! He explains, in greater detail, the commodification of the OSR tradition myth and the political tendencies of the community (or communities) surrounding it.


[1] In Lacanian terms, our master signifier shifts from "old-school" (and determining what that means) to "OSR" (meaningless, nonsensical acronym).

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