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Drawing the Line: The Linear RPG

Michael Norskov suggested we play this. I did and then Walker revealed he gave it a crack a couple of days ago and didn’t think it interesting enough to post about. Which lead to a little RPS-chat-room debate about why he didn’t, and why I thought Sophie Houlden had nailed it, admittedly in a pretty mean-spirited way. And the fact we were having the debate at all probably meant it was worth posting about. In other words, it’s one of those videogame deconstruction things which wind some of you up right rotten.

It’s the Linear RPG. You can move along a line in both directions. As you do so you suffer damage. You move to the right, you gain experience points. Get enough XP and you go up a level, increasing the size of your health bar. When you reach a node, you restore your health and save your progress. Any time you die, you go back. And as you travel to the right, a story scrolls in the background. In other words, to read the story, you have to carry on walking. Eventually you get to a bit where you can’t reach the next node, forcing you to wander back the way you came and go back and forth until you’ve leveled-up enough to make it. Eventually, you’ll get to the end of the story. Oh – and the story is a openly scornful stomp through RPG tropes. Oh noes! Iz the bad guy! And Etc.

Like most of the deconstructions, the point is “This is all there is to these games”. And in an reductio ad absurdum – and man, I hope I’m that firing that particular round the wanky latin-o-gun correctly – way, show their underlying pointlessness.

Walker’s reason for not posting it? Well, he’s never played an RPG where he’s had to backtrack to gain levels so he can make progress. Therefore, its analysis of mechanics was bullshit. It was saying nowt.

This made me think two things:

1) Walker’s had a lot of luck playing RPGs.
2) Sophie hasn’t been clear about what she’s talking about.

What she’s really talking about is a jRPG rather than a western-model one. The clues are there in terms of the specifics of the story she choose to tell, and how she’s reduced it. jRPGs have traditionally been totally linear stories. The only obstacle to your progress tends to be fights. Whether you win them or not depends on your character rather than… well, there you go into the question of how much skill there is in a fight versus you just having to be harder. Sure, some RPGs slow your progress by misjudging how much power you’ll have a specific point so you can go back and grind up so you can deal with the problem… but saying all do is a bit of a stretch.

In other words, I suspect, her reductio ad absurdum is flawed – it just describes a bad example of the genre. And reducing the genre to a bad example of the genre is the thing which makes The Linear RPG seem so mean-hearted. It doesn’t exist to examine it. It exists to mock it. And that’s just a trifle cruel.

Beautiful executed, with great visual flair, though.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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