In defense of role-playing games

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An article here presents a fairly interesting idea about the difference between action and RPG video games. To get the full idea the argument makes you'll have to read it yourself, but it basically puts forth the idea that RPGs are inferior to action games, in that they simply reward time - anyone that puts in enough time into an RPG can eventually win it, whereas action games require real skill since without that you'll never be able to win. Action games can only be won when you, the player, have beaten the game, whereas RPGs usually just require one's character(s) to be strong in order to win.

It's an interesting argument but I don't agree. RPGs actually mimic real life in a much accurate way than action games do. Though they can take forever if you simply aren't good at the game, action games can be won in a quick hour if a player is good enough, and even the longest don't take much longer than that. Real life though is not so kind, and RPGs mimic this much better than action games do. RPGs are about a steady and long-term progression of skill, about succeeding at tasks that are just a bit beyond one's current level of skill, and this is what real life is about as well.

Crawling is learned after the baby learns to roll over, and only after that can walking be challenged. After a baby's first steps then the next challenge is to walk in a bit steadier fashion, and only after that can the child begin to run. Mathematics is the same as well, as is learning a language. In fact, every single marketable skill in the world is based on skill acquired over the long term, and just like in an RPG, once you have mastered one skill it then becomes easy and now it's time to move on to the next level. In a game like Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest) the hero can technically stay around the first town to fight slimes and babbles forever, but after going up a few levels the challenge diminishes, along with the reward, and it's simply too boring to stay around any longer. This is exactly the same as real life.

Finally, on top of all of this there's no reason that an RPG simply has to be about just putting in time. Ultima 7 provides a good example of a game that is both RPG and action - one's character goes up in levels and becomes stronger as time goes on, but action and battles still take place in real time. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another good example of this. These games tend to be my favourite, as they approximate real life better than any others. They involve long-term effort, but at the same time real-time challenges that must be overcome at the moment they occur, and that's exactly what real life is about.


Steve said...

Obviously you are unaware of the magic of Progress Quest!

The problem I have with RPGs is precisely that they are close enough to reality that some people (not just the nutjobs) think they are gaining real-world experience from them. But a successful RPG strategy might not work in real life, and vice versa. It's easier to forget that than you might think, though computer RPGs are less problematic than the pen-and-paper kind.

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