Which sort of RPG is the Witcher?

By Kieron Gillen on October 27th, 2007 at 8:09 pm.

John somehow – i.e. Couldn’t Think Of A Funny Joke (But – hey! – as if that’s ever stopped him before) – missed out the Witcher from his round-up of PC game releases this week, so it’s worth bringing to your attention, as it’s the biggest release unless you’re a foot-to-ball fan. It looks like this.

Sexy albino!

And that’s you, The Witcher. No matter what you want – like, say, looking like someone who isn’t a incy-wincy bit derived from top Albino Eternal Champion and general glorious self-obsessed fuck-wit Elric - that’s still you. This threw Dan Whitehead over at Eurogamer in his review, where he argues – pretty much – if you can’t create your own character, it’s not a role-playing game. Which was such a debatable claim, it (er) immediately provoked a debate. In fact, I initiated it, because upon reading the review’s intro, I mumbled “Christ, Dan, you’re going to get slaughtered for that, mate”, so I thought by getting it rolling in a relatively pleasant way, it’ll save the inevitable Final-Fantasy fan arriving throwing a stroppy trantrum in the manner of a final Fantasy character.

But still, it is a perennial question (i.e. It gets argued on forums only slightly less often than Whether Games Or Art) and I thought I’d try and do relatively brief take on it. Feel free to provide yours, as one of the main reasons to lob this stuff in public is so people can pick it to pieces, so I can rethink gaping flaws.

Let’s quote Dan’s position to start us off…

“Let’s talk about the term “role-playing game”, shall we? It’s one of those phrases that has slipped into the gaming vernacular so easily that we tend to forget what it actually means, and end up using it all wrong. Common wisdom has it that any game in which your character earns experience and levels up accordingly can be tucked away under the RPG blanket. For me, that’s only half right. The clue’s in the name – role-playing. Games in which you create a role and then act out that character in the gameworld. Without the freedom to come up with your own virtual identity, what you’re really talking about are adventure games with a few RPG trimmings.”

Okay, Dan’s got an immediate flaw which we’ll gloss over which is irrelevant. There’s no link between the phrase “role-playing” and “create a role and act out that character in the game world”. Dan believes that the ability to create a character is absolutely fundamental to the genre. So, Final Fantasy and any other JRPG aren’t an RPG which he’d recognise. In the comments thread he says that Planescape: Torment (i.e. You are the Nameless One) is the exception to prove the rule, but – like most exceptions which prove the rule – is just a big nasty flaw. If I made half a dozen games like Planescape Torment, would there now be seven exceptions to the rule? At what point is the rule just wrong? (Clue: As soon as there’s an exception).

Riffing off him, and other people’s positions, the general argument that a role-playing game is based around the idea of meaningful character customisation. Some (i.e. most western ones) front-load some of it – so allowing you to define your character in a way before you start. Almost all will allow you to customise it as you progress – so the character you are at the end of the game will be very different from the one at the start, and almost certainly very different to what you’re mate’s character would be at the end (even if they started at the same place). Some would argue that this customisation must be irreversible (i.e. you are changed forever) and some would demand it has to be an abstract system rather than anything justified in-game (i.e. Levels and stuff rather than gaining mechanical bonuses). The latter would mean System Shock 2 isn’t an RPG, and Bioshock – which both apply to, as you’re able to swap in and out your abilities- certainly isn’t. Though the latter would also make Guild Wars not an RPG too. Or City of Heroes with its Respecs, because – surely – it doesn’t matter how big the periodical gap between completely redefinining your character is if you can redefine your character.

The second part of the RPG – which Dan doesn’t touch – is trope of RPGs resting upon some manner of abstracted statistical element. So your characters abilities will increase, they will do more damage, just because they’re a better character without any direct input from the player. In other words, while RPGs can have a player’s skill effect the result (i.e. they know when to use certain abilities or whatever), they RPGs are indirect tests of skill. Direct tests of skill are the province of arcade games.

As far as how RPG is used in general discourse, those two pretty much cover it. But in any debate, there’s a second position which comes up – what can best be termed as the Naive position. That is, “Role-playing game” – it’s a game where you play a role. That is. People who are making this argument are normally – consciously or not – trying to expand the definition to include things which are covering RPGs’ traditional terrain without without being built on Dungeon & Dragons’ foundations. We’re mainly talking about things like Elite. Elite, by entering a world of space-trading and piracy, you go forth and genuinely craft yourself a life by your choices and actions.

While there’s merits to the argument as a thought-piece or propaganda, within a half-second people of it being posed, someone will note that this definition is ludicrously fluffy and all-encompassing. In Doom you play the role of a marine trapped in a space-station, so Doom is a RPG. In Space Invaders you play the role of the pilot of a turret, as the final line in defence of a besieged Earth. In Tennis for Two you play the role of a tennis player, disembodied probably.

Reductio ad absurdum (You Wot? – Ed) would imply this argument just can’t be true, and people move on. Except you can accept the results and you end up in a position where – yes – 95% of games are role-playing games, and that’s just how it is. Which, frankly, is something I have a degree of time for – as it focuses in on some key points to do with how videogames and pen and paper games are connected.

Basically, they were designers approaching the same problem (i.e. creating an immersive fantasy world for people to lose themselves in) with massively different technologies. If you’re working with paper, dice and human imagination, one of the few (Probably only, but I’m sure that there’s a smart-arse who could) ways that you can create a game which allows you to simulate a fantasy world is something that looks a lot like D&D. They can’t put player skill being part of a game, unless they go the Physical LARP direction. Which, you may note, that some people eventually did.

So, abstractly, in a universe where D&D didn’t appear (Which is feasible. D&D is an odd one in that it’s a type of game which could have been invented for the entire length of human history only came about in the late part of the twentieth history. We had dice and paper and thinking forever, after all…) it’s possible that videogames could have been called “Role-playing games” as a group. It fits, after all.

Which leads to me my take on the RPG, at least in terms of daily use. “RPG” is a purely historical thing. In the same way “Spartan” doesn’t mean “From Sparta” any more, but rather a set of values and beliefs (i.e. Less pillows and bedclothes. Less fancy clothes. Sit-ups now, probably), “RPG” is completely divorced from the meaning of the words. It just means “mechanics derived from D&D” and even games which fulfil the aims of RPGs better than 99% of RPGs (i.e. Elite) aren’t. Any attempts to push it further than that is deliberate perversion and demagoguery on the part of the developer.

(Which isn’t a bad thing – Looking Glass considered System Shock and Thief RPGs by other means…)

Or that’s my take, anyway. Tonight. For at least fifteen minutes.

That said, the Eurogamer thread did lead to a definition I’d never heard before from AlpTighen when someone threw the Naive Position out there.

Ehhhm… no. But that’s a common misconception. A role-playing game is one in which characters have disparate abilities, and players must use cleverness to accentuate their positives and eliminate their negatives.

“Roles” in this case being things like “tank” or “healer” or whatever.

Which is an interesting take I’m not quite sure what to make of.

(And I’ve got to run to John’s 30th birthday party now, so I suspect there may be typos-a-plenty in here. I’ll fix them in the morning, so be gentle)

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54 Comments »

  1. Nick says:

    “Which is an interesting take I’m not quite sure what to make of.”

    You could make a small pile of it.

  2. drunkymonkey says:

    Just before I read this article, I’m going to be a bit cheeky and comment on something else first. I saw the comments thread for your NWN2 expansion review, and by lord, were some of the criticisms your readers gave you silly.

    And that bloke you had the big argument with? He was the silliest of the lot.

  3. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Man, I was kinda hoping for, you know, a look at the Witcher…

  4. KBKarma says:

    I like the second tag.

    “I get Enough of being a pale skinned freak in real life to be honest”

    Absolutely true, imo.

  5. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I very much agree with that perspective, and have also lamented the term being nothing more than a vehicule for an atrophying concept of statistical rather than more social character development elsewhere. The difference being I’m more verbose, less eloquent, not famous, and now also short of a girlfriend than you. I think I do have a bit more hair, though :P

  6. Robert Seddon says:

    I’d broadly go along with this article’s analysis, except that to my mind the term is a bit normative as well as descriptive: in something like the way that ‘I’m an Analytic philosopher’ implies certain probable attitudes about logic (positive) and deconstruction (less so), and generally about how philosophy should be done, calling a game an RPG often seems to get tangled up with the speaker’s general attitudes towards the various styles found in ‘Final Fantasy’, ‘Planescape: Torment’, etc. If I like it, it’s an RPG; if I don’t, it’s an adventure game with RPG pretensions.

    Of course I have no lexicographical or other evidence for this whatsoever.

  7. Tom says:

    I agree with Nick, and you could make many small piles.

  8. Tom says:

    But i don’t think i’ve ever known what an RPG is tbh.
    Was Deus Ex an RPG? Is WoW an RPG (MMO or not).
    What about System Shock 2?
    What are the core components that make a game an RPG? And if you took only those core components and made a game, a pure RPG, would it be any fun?

  9. Andrew Doull says:

    I’ve argued on my blog I don’t believe it is possible to role-play in a single player game, and that you are instead making a story up in your head. I don’t disagree that this is still valid, but to me role-playing is about taking on a role and playing it. Its a performance art, and without an audience, you aren’t actually role-playing. And a computer is not an audience. Sure, you can tell people the story later, but that’s the point you start role-playing.

    Having said that, this argument is more about the genre conventions, and with that in mind, you want to look at genre theory which basically says that you’re staying in genre if you don’t break too many conventions. Breaking a couple, such as not allowing customisation of the character before starting the game is fine.

  10. Nick says:

    I recall years ago that we had a hard fought argument about the definition of RPGs on the PC Gamer forums, I think we all agreed that Final Fantasy is crap and everyone went home happy.

    ¬_¬

  11. Xander says:

    “If you’re working with paper, dice and human imagination, one of the few (Probably only, but I’m sure that there’s a smart-arse who could) ways that you can create a game which allows you to simulate a fantasy world is something that looks a lot like D&D.”

    I’m going to be the requisite smart-arse and ask: Have you played many tabletop games other than D&D?

    I’m thinking of things like Universalis, Amber, Nobilis or Dogs in the Vineyard — simulated headspace fantasy worlds that couldn’t possibly be further than D&D, in terms of mechanical rules.

  12. Andrew Farrell says:

    Nah, bollocks. A rule isn’t a law, and the exception’s the thing that brings the rule to your attention. Like “The orange box is funny” starting you thinking “PC Games aren’t funny these days”.

    (also try and get six more text-heavy RPGs like Planescape made now!)

  13. Andrew Farrell says:

    I’ll try that again.

    At what point is the rule just wrong? (Clue: As soon as there’s an exception).

    Nah, bollocks. A rule isn’t a law, and the exception’s the thing that brings the rule to your attention. Like “The orange box is funny” starting you thinking “PC Games aren’t funny these days”.

    (also try and get six more text-heavy RPGs like Planescape made now!)

  14. Andrew Farrell says:

    Also, is there an RPS article on “7/10 is not a bad score”?

  15. Thomas Lawrence says:

    English geek: “The exception that proves the rule” derives from a now deprecated sense of the word “prove” which meant “test” (A meaning preserved in the term “proving ground” and also the aphorism “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”). With this meaning, the aphorism makes sense (the exception TESTS the rule, and thereby shows it to be inaccurate). With the meaning that is common today, it is nonsense, used only by stupid, unthinking people to shore up their rubbish logic.

  16. JakethePirate says:

    I have always taken a sort modified “Naive position.” To define a genre simply as “playing a role” is impossible because playing a role is central to the concept of video games. That being said, the sentiment behind the naive position has merit.

    Specifically, I would argue that RPGs are defined as games that have analogous intent to pen and paper RPGs, not necessarily mechanics. The point of any RPG is for the player to develop a discreet persona with which he interacts with a virtual world. An RPG allows the player to develop his avatar’s skills (or, more accurately methods; even if the game does not call the player character a rouge it still allows him to be stealthy) and opinions. The various opinions and morals of the player character have consequences in an RPG.

  17. Xander says:

    Andrew Doull: “…I don’t believe it is possible to role-play in a single player game, and that you are instead making a story up in your head. I don’t disagree that this is still valid, but to me role-playing is about taking on a role and playing it. Its a performance art, and without an audience, you aren’t actually role-playing. And a computer is not an audience. Sure, you can tell people the story later, but that’s the point you start role-playing.”

    I’d argue the exact opposite: That roleplaying isn’t roleplaying if there’s an audience present.

    I think most people would agree that the historical roots of roleplaying come from ‘make-believe’, i.e. kids running around playing Cowboys and Indians, or what have you. By your definition, the lone kid running about in the backyard with a Superman cape on is not roleplaying, unless he somehow relates his experiences to his friends later. This seems like nonsense to me.

    If you read any RPG theory, such as can be found at The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/) where they go into way too much detail on this stuff, you’ll find a rejection of the idea that roleplaying is ‘performance art’ or ‘acting’. Instead, they’d argue that it’s a shared social experience, and that you cannot really have an effective roleplaying session with an audience present.

    Imagine running a murder mystery game in your house in which half the attendees are players, and half are just people sitting around and watching. Doesn’t really work, does it? That’s because roleplaying is about immersion, not performance.

    So if you’re immersed in a single-player game, making choices for your character based on what you think that character should do, you’re creating a story from within a role. If you then go and tell someone about it… well, you’re recounting the story, and you’re no longer within the role.

  18. malkav11 says:

    I think that quite possibly the genre should be called something else, as it’s not *really* about roleplaying in the way one can do with tabletop games. But there is nonetheless an “RPG” genre of videogame which involves controlling one or more characters with stats and equipment that you improve over time, based on game actions rather than overall progress milestones, and which have significantly more to do with your success in the game than player skill. If it’s got part of that but not all of it, then it’s some sort of hybrid, or it’s using “RPG mechanics”, but it’s not an RPG.

    Seems pretty simple to me.

  19. Thiefsie says:

    I think what requires much more thought/debate is the score he gave the Witcher.

  20. Andrew Mayer says:

    Is there any more bastardized term than RPG?

    I think you’ve got it right though. It’s ultimately about “character customization”.

    But it really doesn’t matter the stats are about, it’s how many of them there are that can be modified by the player. Let’s say at least three.

    So what makes a video game an RPG is more about a threshold of depth than any more philosophical definition.

    People may argue that’s too dry and technical, but if it lets marketing put the copy on the box…

  21. Tim says:

    So Kieron, when are you going to tell us what you think of the Witcher?

  22. CrashT says:

    I’d always consider something to be an RPG when Character Skill is as much of an infulence over success as Player Skill.

  23. Bob Arctor says:

    To prove a rule means to test it. Hence in modern English it is a nonsensical idiom.

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    Proper responses later, but I’ll get around to opinions on the Witcher if and when I play it. There’s an If there just because it’s going to need a bit more critical buzz than it’s got so far to make me go out of the way and play it for pleasure.

    (As much as love RPGs, it’s got some resistance to overcome because of its Collect Soft Porn Cards Of Women You Shag feature. Playing a shag-monster character is fine – I shagged my way through Bloodlines. Turning the shag-monster stuff into an actual gameplay mechanic reduces the female characters to Gotta Catch Them All Pokemon Things, and is seems openly and stupidly sexist.)

    KG

  25. Bob Arctor says:

    Bugger, didn’t read Thomas’ post.
    Anyhow I don’t really think it matters too much as long as the game is fun.

  26. Nick says:

    Clamidia! I choose you!

  27. just_finished_okami says:

    I’m still undecided, which discussion is more pointless, the one about “are video games art?” or the “are crpgs role playing games?” one…

  28. Newblade says:

    It’s a pity the books aren’t still translated into English. If you had read them, you’d be dying to play this game.

  29. SuperEffective says:

    “Games in which you create a role and then act out that character in the gameworld. Without the freedom to come up with your own virtual identity, what you’re really talking about are adventure games with a few RPG trimmings.”

    Another counter-example: Pokemon, which has all the basic RPG tropes: stats, turn based, levels. And you have no virtual identity beyond ‘a person who plays with Pokemon’. Which, by the way, addresses the major weakness of the RPG form.

    What is my ‘identity’ in every RPG? I’m someone who wants to level up and win. I don’t assume a new identity at all, I’m just controlling characters through a menu.

  30. Tim says:

    I just assumed that the card collecting thing were optional side quests. With the usual amount of sexism in rpgs I strangely hadn’t really thought about this too much, if anything it seemed more honest about it. That’s why I loved Bloodlines so much, it was so unusually open and up front about it’s intentions (not that I think this will compare).

    I had high hopes for this game, I think I’ll have to buy it and risk being disappointed. If it’s better then nwn2 (not counting the expansion) I’ll be happy, since that was a let down.

  31. Masked Dave says:

    Bloodlines felt incredibly misogynistic to me. I mean, I guess the whole world is nerdy adolescent male fantasy, but still, it just got silly.

    Back on topic though: wow this seems like a daft argument. Games genres are weird (or at least seem so to me) in that they define mechanics rather than content. (Although I guess everything would be sci-fi, fantasy or WW2 if it didn’t. :( ) You can debate till the cows come home about what an RPG means to you, but it’s just a shorthand. If somebody says it’s an RPG then you know roughly what sort of game you’re going to be in for. Of *course* there are going to be wild variations between games, otherwise it would be dire and stagnant and nobody would play them.

    If you must, describe The Witcher as an action-RPG for added clarity.

    Am I missing something though? Do people really give a shit about what genre a game is? Don’t they just play games that they hear are good because they want to have fun?

  32. malkav11 says:

    Because genres shorthand a list of mechanics, and mechanics are a primary factor in most people’s enjoyment of games. I think it’s wise to remain open to the possibility that you’ll enjoy games in genres you didn’t think you liked, at least those of a high enough quality. But if you’ve got limited time to play, it helps to be able to prioritize. I, for example, strongly prefer turn-based games, either RPG or strategy, and adventure games, though given the relative dearth of all of the above, I wind up playing pretty much whatever.

  33. Thiefsie says:

    So can you practise elven safe-sex or similar in this game? perhaps pulling out is an option?

    Wouldn’t want to you-know… get infected or anything, seeing you can be such a sleaze etc

  34. finished_okami_a_while_ago says:

    As far as I know, STDs shouldn’t be a problem for a Witcher, since those guys are genetecally enhanced super humans (hey Poland, Games Workshop just called, said you got Elric in their Space Marines), who drink poison that would kill normal humans in order to boost their stats, so I guess their immune systems can handle most diseases. Also since the poor chaps can’t sire offspring unexpected pregnancies aren’t something to worry about.

    Of course they could become plague carriers and just spread around the diseases.

  35. Andrew Doull says:

    Xander: “If you read any RPG theory, such as can be found at The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/) where they go into way too much detail on this stuff, you’ll find a rejection of the idea that roleplaying is ‘performance art’ or ‘acting’. Instead, they’d argue that it’s a shared social experience, and that you cannot really have an effective roleplaying session with an audience present.”

    I tend not to want to trudge through the Forge too much – but I’ll defer to your explanation and readily agree that it’s a shared social experience – my use of ‘audience’ was meant to specify ‘other people who are also role-playing’ not audience in the classic sense.

    In which case, rephrase my sentence of “And a computer is not an audience.” with “And a computer is not someone you can share a social experience with.” and I think we’ll agree that the opportunities for role playing are much facilitated much more by an empty backyard, such as the example you gave, than any single player computer based RPG that I’ve seen. As in the example that I gave in the linked article.

  36. finished_okami_a_while_ago says:

    Games like Baldur’s Gate2 or NWN2 (especially the Mask of the Betrayer addon) give plenty of opportunities to “stay in character” and “roleplay”. While lacking the social component of “true” pen&paper roleplaying, these games do a pretty good job of giving you a broad choice of actions in most circumstances.

    I made a new character for Mask of the Betrayer (my true neutral Tiefling Bard I’ve used in the main game was a bit underpowered for Rashemen’s spirit population), a female Wild Elf Barbarian and found myself making choices in some situations, that I myself wouldn’t make, but which I deemed appropriate for my character. Sometimes these choices led to results I didn’t like, but I sticked with them, because staying in character was more important for me, than min-maxing my stats and my reputation with every party member.

    I guess, that’s how I judge the merit of a role playing game. Even if the combat and other systems are broken or buggy, I’ll be happy to forgive, if the game allows me to roleplay my character in a convincing way.

  37. Crolug says:

    Look Kieron, you’re acting a bit too ‘political correctly’ imo. ;) Collecting cards is 100% optional, you don’t have to sleep to anyone to finish the game. And yes, there’s much sexism in the world, and we both would agree it sucks, just like racism, but nonetheless, it’s there. And the world of The Witcher, just like Sapkowski’s books, are the parallel of our own world. We could dispute on the idea of collecting the cards, but even if there were no cards at all, Geralt would have left the option to sleep with girls. Because he’s Geralt, the witcher who does that.
    You maybe don’t know this, but Geralt is a guy, who was left by his mother, the mage, in early childhood, a guy, who was supposed to be ripped from emotions as a side effect of mutations, but by some strange twist of fate he didn’t. There were written many psychological works on Geralt so far and it is more than obvious that he has mother complex and the deep need of love and being loved. He’s a guy that is like one hundred years old, seen a lot dirt in the world, expierenced a lot, but still can act like a complete teenager schmack, especially when someone is showing him just a bit of attention and friendship.
    I don’t know yet how much of that complexity is transfered to the game bacause I’m still in Act II, but it does look promising. The Witcher isn’t marked M game without a reason…

  38. finished_okami_a_while_ago says:

    Don’t know about Geralt’s mother complex. But the whole sex thing is really harmless (Gothic2′s tame sex scene in the brothel is a lot more explicit than anything found in Witcher). I don’t think that it’s very sexist either.

    I’ve collected my second card and in both cases having sex with the woman in question didn’t feel tacked on or out of place. Actually 90% of all video games are more sexist in their depiction of women than the Witcher. At least in this game the women you bed are strong and independent and they are the ones who initiate the whole thing.

  39. Kieron Gillen says:

    Crolug : There’s an enormous difference between sexism in the game world and sexism in the *game*.

    (Bringing up Bloodlines again, there were some openly nasty misogynistic elements to it – but the game was *about* those elements, and what doing that to a person meant, etc. It didn’t turn it into a game *mechanic*. The former can be commentary, the latter is just becoming what you’re talking about)

    In other words, shagging around is fine – as I said originally – the problem is that there’s an active out-of-game-world award for the player for doing so. There’s a really important difference there.

    Actually, the using-fantasy-tropes to discuss real issues is actually one of the things I most like about the Witcher, potentially. It’s just that when they do stuff like the cards it makes me doubt their ability to pull it off if they resort to such cheap, nasty and obvious fan-service.

    KG

  40. finished_okami_a_while_ago says:

    I really don’t think that the unlocking of pictures of naked fantasy girls to be viewed using an in-game menu can be said to be an active out-of-game-world award or reward for the player. It’s just a stylized form of feedback to the player.

    Most games are about violence and about satisfying some deep and primitive part of our selves. The one that thinks splattering humans brain with a shotgun is a good way to spend some quality time. Our urge for wanton violence is satisfied by most games in a very explicit and gratitious way (gore effects, rag doll physics, dismemberments) and no gamer would call that cheap. If we kill somebody in a game, we expect to get feedback. You know, enemies in an FPS could just diapear once hit for enough damage, them flying around, bleeding, crying for mercy, whatever does not affect the gameplay, thus any visual feedback of their deaths could be called an out-of-game-world-award.

    Now, having sex with somebody is infinetely more desirable than killing them. If you think that it’s ok for games to visually reward you for hurting other people you can’t really blame witcher for visually rewarding you for having sex with them.

  41. Kieron Gillen says:

    A sex scene is a different thing from reducing someone to a permanent plateau.

    Seriously, it’s complete ludicrous fan-service and will immediately alienate 50% of the species in a way which showing a sex-scene simply doesn’t.

    KG

  42. finished_okami_a_while_ago says:

    I don’t know if it really will immediately alienate every woman on this planet (gaming girls have to put up with a lot more sexist bullshit all year round) , but I think I see your point there.

    But this really shouldn’t put you off from playing (and enjoying) the game. Nobody forces you to collect the cards and you don’t have to look at them for long when you get them.

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’ve just sent of a mail asking if I can blag a copy to have a nose at, so we’ll see how I feel.

    I suspect I also don’t like someone making my shagging around in games feel so seedy. I mean, as anyone who’s read ErotiSim knows, sex in games isn’t exactly one of my problems.

    KG

  44. Thiefsie says:

    I tend to agree, but nonetheless I will stay out of this discussion until I have played the game… which is the most interested I’ve been in an RPG pre-release since Baldur’s Gate 2

  45. Kismet says:

    When I see the RPG label in a press-release, I generally translate it as “game featuring character progression and favouring player’s empowerment fantasies” as that seems to be the general meaning in PR lingo.

    What I expect from a game carrying the RPG tag is a little bit different, and would probably require a bit more thinking not to be easily debunked by “then game X/Y/Z is/isn’t an RPG” questions, but with the entry getting older, I guess I’ll take my chances proposing it as is.

    An RPG game should, in my opinion, make a fair effort at recreating the experience of the pen and paper games, in particular the software should be able to simulate the role of a decent Game Master.

    A CRPG should both offer a living, immersive world and the ability to react convincingly to the player’s choices, while granting a certain variety of possible approaches to the game, be it at a problem-solving level (for example, diplomacy or brute force?), moral level (that is, so far, good or evil I guess) or acting level (creation of a personalized character story through game choices).

    The numeric aspect of classic RPGs has never been particularly prominent in my roleplaying experience, just a way to fit a formal system into a mainly narrative world: it can make an entertaining game into the game at times to optimize character stats or gear, but that’s not what makes an RPG to me.

    I could probably make some sort of list of game design features that contribute to make a game an RPG to me, but given that my definition is highly subjective (the game need to fool *me* into being in a living world and create a similar experience to the pen and paper sessions) it would probably be a bit pointless.

    As for the question that started the querelle though, I guess we could say that according to my definition, it’s irrelevant whatever or not the role I’m playing it’s fully decided by me or not.

  46. Alec Meer says:

    Review commitments means I must avoid discussion of the game as whole for now, but I have to say I found the sex element really sleazy, very much tokenistic hey-this’ll-make-us-mature, and not in there because someone had a really good idea about how to implement it. Even aside from the card collecting, being able to sleep with pretty much every major female character just felt like puerile wish-fulfillment. Is no maiden in the land not a sexually-forward albino fetishist?
    The Witcher’s certainly made to a knowing wish-list of what RPG fans might ask from an RPG (bickering over semantics aside), which is why so many are excited by it, but simply having all those elements – including sex – in there when other games don’t doesn’t mean they should all automatically be accepted as being well-implemented.

  47. fluffy bunny says:

    I didn’t create my own character in the Gothic-games either, and that doesn’t mean they’re not RPGs. As you point out, the genre isn’t called “Role Creating and Playing Games”, but “Role Playing Games”.

    I don’t see the point of this debate, however. Surely the game should just be judged based on how good it is, not how it conforms to certain genre conventions? Who cares about genres, anyway?

  48. Matt says:

    The sexism aspect of gaming is a strong one and persists in many games and the fantasy genre has always been one of the biggest culprits. Busty women poorly armoured and curiously enamoured with you, the heroic figure are prevalent.

    I remember playing KotOR2 with Visas Marr and being stunned by how fetishised she was. Instead of using the traditional route of busty, scantily clad nymphet Obsidian chose to use a serious of coded images to portray a sexualised woman.

    She was blindfolded, her eyes covered preventing her from seeing the main character in a normal way, and instead what she saw was something else, an idealised thing. She was featureless apart from her pouting, bright red lips, pursing suggestively as she spoke in a sultry, reverent voice. The only thing they didn’t do was put her mouth on sideways.

    I guess in a way I admired their effort, at least they used certain cinematic techniques to create the fetish doll, that was Visas Marr, rather than breast physics or dressing her in a thong and nipple clamps.

  49. Nick says:

    Er, Matt, I think you may be projecting a bit on Visas.

  50. Yarac says:

    In most RPGs, players start out weak and grow powerful. As such, your starting state is insignificant compared to the choices of how you develop you character throughout the game.

    In any good RPG (as in life), your character is the sum of your choices – not just a byproduct of their origin. If the sum of your choices and actions have consequences on the environment/story, it doesn’t matter if (as in life) your name, ancestry and back story are already chosen for you.