This is a common enough sentiment, but I had to question it recently after reading this article by David Wong. Granted, he admits to "pushing 40," but most of the computer games he mentions are hits from the past 10 years. And some of his criteria for a great moment in computer game play seem lifted straight from the Old School roleplaying ethos. Such as:
- "When you feel truly powerful for the first time:" Means that you have to spend some time paying your dues, hiding and skulking and killing rats with a stick. Power is earned, not granted from the start.
- "The first time you see an awe-inspiring enemy." Means that you have to face things you're not sure you'll survive.
- "The first time you see the universe running without you." Right on. To continue: "Here's a quick way to separate good fantasy stories from bad: The good ones leave you feeling like the universe continues whether or not the camera is there to see it."
But here's my suspicion: there hasn't really been a change with the generations. Maybe there's less tolerance for pointless grinding at the tabletop because of the ready availability of electronic timewasters. But running a naturalistic world always has taken insight and a certain amount of grit when faced with the players' desire to win. Steering clear of pointless reward and pointless sadism as a DM - and of the self-consciousness that you might be indulging in one or the other - has never been easy. It's also not easy as a player to stick with such a campaign, even though it ultimately brings deep rewards.
You can see from the fulminations of Gygax in the AD&D books that many of his contemporaries ran overly easy "Monty Haul" campaigns. Dice fudging is openly discussed. Clearly, not all old-time players had the Old School mentality. And evidently, a minority of roleplayers today embrace it.
This way has never been mass-market - which is why Mike Mearls feels the need to surround his old-school advice in D&D Next with a slew of padded safety mechanisms. That's OK; those of us who care know how to unbolt the training wheels.