RPG aka Really Permissive Genre

Something that has always bothered me is the use of the term “RPG” or Role-Playing Game. I feel like many of the games that are labeled as RPGs are really something else. I can’t say for sure if the term is used as a marketing tactic, to make games sound more appealing to the target audience. Possibly the term has become synonymous with knights and wizards, swords and magic. Let’s examine some games that are herded into this genre.

Because this is my blog I will highlight my own definition. To me, an RPG is a game that could be played with nothing more than some talking and a source for RNG (random number generation). Usually, pen and paper are used to keep track of information, but if everyone had a fantastic memory, it could be done with just words and some dice. Essentially, there is a structure regarding the story elements, and the possible pathways that participating players can take. Any type of combat or fate driven element is decided at random, and not controlled in an physical (i.e. timing of button presses for instance) manner.  An example of an RPG that meets this criterion would be something like “Hero Quest“, a board game released in the U.S. in 1990. [I used to own this game, but I used Wikipedia.com to remind me of the specifics.]

Sure was an exciting picture back when I was 11. I'm the wizard but only dressed in No Fear shirts and cargo shorts.

Every element of the game that represents an element of chance is determined not by any type of real life skill, but instead by the roll of special dice. RPG fo sho.

From the world of Video Game based RPG I typically love to cite the first one I ever played: Final Fantasy II (aka Final Fantasy IV, gotta love localization!). In this game, you adventure around, but everything you have a choice in is determined in the end by some means of RNG. You walk where you want, but the RNG decides when you suddenly must fight. You choose to “attack” but the RNG decides if you hit and for how much. The game could be played entirely via dialogue and dice.

Games that would not qualify as RPG to me would include games like The Legend of  Zelda: A Link to the Past, which Gamespot.com would categorize as “Action Role-playing”. To be honest, I have not played this game in many years, but if my memory serves me correctly all combat is done by proximity to the target, timing, and aim. I don’t believe there are any random factors. If you meet the criteria for a hit, it will land, if you do not, it will not. Sure you’re taking on the “role” of Link, but by that definition Super Mario Bros. would be an RPG too.

Yeah yeah I know, Mario does have an RPG game. And yes I know, there are elements regarding the timing of button presses during combat. I would argue that while that is a component of the game, as is dodging mobs to avoid combat, the game is a hybrid with the bulk of its content in the RPG arena.

So what about games like… oh I dunno… World of Warcraft?

Interestingly enough, WorldofWarcraft.com classifies it as an RPG, and then proceeds to drop the “RPG” from the definition for just a brief moment.

“What is an MMORPG?

MMORPG is an acronym for “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game”. In an MMORPG, thousands of players exist in the same game world at the same time. Visit the “General F.A.Q.” section of the site to find out more

What is World of Warcraft?

As a massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft enables thousands of players to come together online and battle against the world and each other. Players from across the globe can leave the real world behind and undertake grand quests and heroic exploits in a land of fantastic adventure. Click here to read more.”

From experience I would say that WoW does not fit my definition. Many aspects of the game are determined by the players physical ability to control the character in the WoW environment. Though hits are determined by an RNG, the player must physically be able to maneuver their character to the proper location for the RNG to do its job. WoW offers a lot more flexibility in character customization than most RPG video game titles, which scores big points under my definition of an RPG. Ultimately, I’d call it a true action/RPG hybrid game. Something between 3rd person action games and RPGs. If you were to be able to zoom out and see all the action at once in a WoW Battleground, you might feel inclined to call it a RTS game where players control single individual units in order to influence the outcome of the battle.

In summation: the exact definition of an RPG will likely never be agreed upon. I would definitely not start a holy war over the matter. Why blog about it if I don’t care enough to kill for my belief? I think it’s an interesting subject. What are your thoughts?



About nofuneral

I say things. You say things.

Posted on December 27, 2009, in IRL and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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