There's a grognard in all of us, or at least the seed of one. "Grognard" comes from the French grogner, which means "to grumble." Originally it referred to old guard soldiers in Napoleon's army, and now it's used to refer to old guard gamers that are generally, well, grumblers. (Sometimes it may refer to wargamers in general, but that's not what I'm talking about here. You guys are great ... if a little obsessed with tape measures.)
If you've played games for any length of time, you've probably run into a grognard at least once. They're characterized by griping about how good things used to be and how poor they are now. There's a nearly tangible cloud of cynicism about them. Conversation is mined with sarcasm and bitterness. The Internet has served a vast breeding ground for the grognard.
While the lack of perspective is a bit silly, the grognard isn't particularly harmful in isolation. But the grognard is poisonous to gaming with others. Between the dismissive attitude and the emphasis placed exclusively on "winning," the grognard can easily torpedo an otherwise excellent game (either digital or tabletop).
In digital games, the grognard is the person screaming through their headset about where to go and what to do. Rather that encourage exploration of a suite of abilities, they point to the optimal configuration and mock any deviations. In tabletop games, they're the person that sees the tentacled monster and instead of recoiling in horror, they declare with great boredom, "It's a mind flayer. You two have the best Will defenses, get up front."
This contrast became especially pronounced for me when a friend of mind started playing D&D for the very first time. He played with some of his own friends and with my weekly group a bit as well. Having never played a tabletop RPG of any sort, they came into 4E fresh. The interaction with the rules wasn't particularly noticeable (although how quickly they picked it up was a bit of a testament to 4E), but their attitude at the table was night to day compared to some folks I've played with.
The grognard wants to "win." They have a seen-it-before attitude that reduces nearly every moment of interaction to its most ludic qualities. They tend to be unnecessarily paranoid and suspicious to the point of absurdity. Metagaming is very likely. There is no sense of wonder and little excitement.
My friend new to the game was excited, scared, curious, etc. at all the right moments. It was honestly quite refresh and I think it inspired the rest of us to get a little more invested. I actually think my current group is pretty good at staving off the grognard-ness, but previous assemblages most certainly have not been. I ended up talking to some of the veteran players about the fresh eyes they were seeing the experience though and I think we were all a little envious.
There's a little bit of grognard in nearly all of us, but I think we should do everything we can to silence it. Try to approach the games we play, digital or tabletop, with a fresh eye and attempt at being excited. When experiencing feelings of sameness, and this is definitely something that can be observed about 2009's digital games, perhaps it's time to look elsewhere. I've actually been pretty content with '09 being a bit quieter, as I've had great opportunity to experience fantastic indie games, older games I missed on the first go. And I've been genuinely surprised by a few things that might have been passed by at another time.
I play games because I love them and I imagine most of you do as well. I try to approach new gaming experiences with as few biases and preconceptions as possible. Hell, I might even try to be excited. If disappointed, I'll accept that such is occasionally inevitable and try to find something more rewarding.
Rather that succumb to cynicism and dismissiveness, I know I'll be looking for other ways to deal with those grognard feelings and I challenge you to do the same. Those that play games and talk about games with you will certainly thank you for it.