Experienced Points: Arr Pee Gee

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 2, 2010

Filed under: Column 116 comments

Last week you asked me to say more on the term “RPG”. This week, I did.


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116 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Arr Pee Gee

  1. Avatar says:

    It’s not that submitting your changes is difficult, it’s just that the project forks every five forkin’ minutes.

  2. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t really think this is a very big deal. There’s a type of game which focuses on some how developing one or a more characters. Now, not all games that let you develop your characters do not belong in this group, just as not all games that requiers strategy are not Strategy Games, only the ones with the focus on it. And games within this group can differ greatly nut are all united by the character building.

    This type of game, this group, genre or maybe “over-genre” needs a name, the ones used now seems to be RPG, and I’m fine with that. Some might say that to be an RPG it needs to actually have some roleplaying or meet some other requierment, but I think, since RPG has become so used, we’re stuck with it, and it’s not really a problem. The problem commes when wanting to differentiate between the different genres within this bigger group of games.

    1. What I think really confuses the issue is when you look at the defining elements of a traditioanl, tabletop RPG: What’s the difference between, say, Arkham Horror and Call of Cthulhu? Why is one a boardgame and the other a roleplaying game?

      To boil it down, the defining quality of a tabletop roleplaying game is that there is a direct connection between the game and the roleplaying. In other words, when the mechanics of the game:

      (1) Allow you to input a decision made as the character (in other words, a decision made while playing the role).

      (2) Interpret that decision mechanically and provide a result which is also explicable to the character (and, thus, can be used to continue playing the role).

      In other words, roleplaying games are specifically defined by the fact that their mechanics are associated with the game world and the character.

      But when you try to apply this standard to video games you immediately run into a problem: I’ve just described the majority of video games. (The vast majority of non-casual games.) Super Mario Brothers? Yup. Assassin’s Creed? Yup. Final Fantasy? Yup.

      Once you move outside of the “puzzle” category of games, virtually all video games feature direct control over the immediate actions of a character avatar. And not control at a distance or from an authorial point of view (that’s why neither Arkham Horror nor The Sims would qualify as a roleplaying game under the table definition of the term), but direct and immediate control. Control of a role.

      Which means that trying to look back to tabletop RPGs for insight into what should be considered a CRPG is basically meaningless.

  3. SteveDJ says:

    I haven’t been able to keep up and play the latest games (for years now), but I agree something should be done. Now when I walk into the store and look at the shelf, I have no idea what I might be buying. :-( It would be nice to see some classification so I can focus on the style of game that I prefer (turn-based… do they even make those anymore?)

    P.S. You probably meant “dividing the genre”, not “diving the genre”… :-)

  4. Irridium says:

    How about we rename boardgames “beardgames”?


    Man I wish I had a giant beard…

  5. Marlowe says:

    How would I classify them? Let me see…

    Bioware: bisexual Don Juan clubber
    Obsidian: premature ejaculator
    Bethesda: rapist down a dark alleyway with a knife

    1. Zukhramm says:

      What about those Japanese ones?

      Edit: I always get so excited to see that there’s already HALF A DOZEN comments. Then I realize half a dozen is only six.

      1. Irridium says:

        The Japanese ones would be “brooding simulators” with the occasional “tentacle” themed game.

  6. Mr_Wizard says:

    I have tried to convince other people to classify a game based on its input peripherals, since I think that will help grow the audience. RPG is an mobius strip of insular meaning, but labeling Baldur’s Gate a “Mouse game”, Half Life 2 a “Mouse and Keyboard game” and Halo a “Controller” or “Gamepad” game is both more informative, less intimidating, and is less likely to gain negative connotations for an entire genre of games.

  7. Telas says:

    Kudos on the ultimate stealth-trollery, Shamus. You’ve gotten a bunch of people who like arguing over minutiae to argue over undefinable and ever-changing minutiae…

    This conversation should last longer than a modern college career…

  8. Jarenth says:

    Ah, THAC0, you confusing lovable ruleset you, we’ll miss you.

    On topic: I’ve heard the term ‘third-person looters’ being thrown around to refer to Diablo clones. Beyond that… well, I really don’t see the problem with referring to games that allow me to play mostly as óne character and (to some degree) impact the direction the story takes through my choices and actions as ‘Role-Playing Games’, no matter how divergent those game types may be.

    Besides, I judge my games on a case-by-case basis anyway; why would I care what label gets attached to it?

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      THACO? What’s that? D&D comes in two flavors, Sonny, “Basic” and “Advanced”. There’s no such thing as an “edition”. And you can’t convince me otherwise.

      1. Lifestealer says:

        THAC0 (not THACO)-the bit in AD&D! Nice and easy!

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Mmmm, tacos…

        2. silver Harloe says:

          Peter’s referring to a time in “1st edition” AD&D/D&D when one compared the enemies armor class to their character level on a class-per-class chart, and got the to-hit number from that – the charts were not exactly 1:1 with the math of “add their AC to THAC0 to get the hit number”. He’s being really old school.

    2. Scourge says:

      Wasn’t that like.. The enemy has to roll attack and reach a 10 to hit you.
      Your AC gets added, or subtracted if negative, from the roll and so it can either miss or hit?

      So.. with -7 AC they’d only hit on a 3.

      I like the far easier 3rd edition more. Combat is so much easie<.<

      1. Jarenth says:

        As far as I can be bothered to remember:

        THAC0 means ‘To Hit Armor Class 0’ (hence the 0, not an O). It’s a number that’s character-specific, and represents the minimum you need to roll to hit an enemy with armor class 0 (geeh).

        Now, in 2nd Edition, Armor Class ranged from 10 (the worst; unarmored) to -10 (the best). No, I don’t know why it was done like that either. Rolling exactly your THAC0 allowed you to hit an enemy at Armor Class 0; rolling higher would allow you to hit better armor classes. Therefore, what the people in my group would do was subtract your attack roll from your THAC0; the resulting number indicates the lowest Armor Class you could hit with that attack. We’d then report this number to the DM, who would proceed to lie about whether or not we actually hit his monsters.

        …Aah, so this is what memory lane looks like. Intriguing. I might get a summer house here.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            To hit armour class delicious?

            1. Jarenth says:

              Possibly followed by an AoE poison attack.

          2. rayen says:

            To see what a complete homosexual tard i am, this made me think of Kim possible (yes the disney show) and the ron’s (the sidekick for those that don’t know) invention the “Naco” Nachos in a Taco.

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Haven’t diablo clones been called “hack-n-slash” (once they stopped being called “diablo clones” or “diablo like games” of course)? I know I’ve seen and heard the term used for years, at least around where I live.

      On that note, I’ve noticed a huge number of (geeky) sources use the term cRPG so as to stress the difference between binary and p&p. On that note also jRPG or JRPG, which tend to be even more linear.

      And yeah, me and people I know have generally started to compare games to specific titles rather than genres, makes it much easier nowadays.

      1. Steve C says:

        Shamas asked: “What would you name these game types?”

        Diablo style games are 3rd person looters.
        Boarderlands style games are 1st person looters.

      2. Garden Ninja says:

        I’ve always called Diablo-likes “Dungeon Crawlers”. I know some people use that term for Rogue-likes (though there are a lot of similarities between Diablo-likes and Rogue-likes). I use “Hack-n-Slash” to refer to stuff like God of War. Genre definitions and names are sticky things to figure out.

        The genre thing is an issue for all games, not just RPGs. Personally, I think if we are going to insist on describing games by their mechanics (which isn’t a bad thing; it just tends to overshadow the story), then we should use the sum of the mechanics, rather than a catch-all genre name. The problem with that is while you can enumerate all the mechanics, and extent to which they are used on a website, it is impractical to do so in conversation or an article. So I understand why genres are used; I just wish they were more meaningful.

        1. Joe says:

          “I think if we are going to insist on describing games by their mechanics (which isn't a bad thing; it just tends to overshadow the story), then we should use the sum of the mechanics, rather than a catch-all genre name.”

          Point 1:
          I’m not sure how else to describe a game other than by it’s mechanics – that is, describe a game in terms of net enjoyment. I mean, I could call God of War a thrilling and violent romp through classical mythology, but in the end, your enjoyment of it comes down more to whether or not you enjoy cutting dudes into teeny tiny pieces. With RPGs, this might be less of a problem, but it still comes down to whether you want the exploration-driven Bethesda game, the Story-driven Bioware game, or the level-driven Diablo.

          Point 2:
          I thought RPG did use the most general terms. You’re always playing some role. Whether you get to choose said role or not, whether said role is “Savior of the Universe” or “Elf with sword,” and how much that role affects gameplay, are all going to be factors in the experience, but you are always playing a role.

          1. Garden Ninja says:

            Let me restate what I meant, since I didn’t express it well. Using “insist” in that sentence made my sentiment sound stronger than it should have. My minor point was not that we should describe games only in terms of story, without describing the game mechanics: that would be useless. Rather, I meant that we should describe story also.

            My larger point, was that genre names like “RPG”, “Shooter” or “Character Action” (the worst offender in my opinion) are too broad to be really useful. Instead of describing, say, Dragon Age: Origins as an RPG, or even a “Story-driven RPG”, you list its attributes (Story elements, setting, and game systems).

            For example (obviously not exhaustive)
            – Third-person, controllable camera
            – Inventory system
            – Party with NPCs
            – Fantasy Setting (maybe broken down further)
            – Melee Combat with Swords
            – Range Combat with Bows
            – Magic

            This level of description would be useful on a website (Giantbomb has something kind of like this, but it has incomplete information, and I don’t think it lets you search on multiple attributes at once), but would be impractical for conversations or articles. Because of that, Genres names are necessary, and not going away, despite them only being useful at a rather high level.

  9. Andy_Panthro says:

    When we can decide if it’s spelled “color” or “colour”, then perhaps we can move onto RPG subtypes – top tip: it’s “colour” ;)

    More seriously, one of the only ways you’ll get any sort of shift in what we call variations of similar games is if they become marketable. By which I mean if Bethesda decide to call the next Fallout or Elder Scrolls games “explorer fantasy games” (EFG) and they pushed the marketing so that any similar games were marketed as EFG then perhaps things may change.

    After all, that’s how we got “Action-RPG”, when those in marketing wanted to tell people “It’s like an RPG, but with ACTION! Totally different to those boring, slow D&D dullfests!”.

    I’m fine with everyone calling things RPGs though, so long as I’m allowed to disagree. What I consider an RPG is based on those early games I played (Ultima, Megatraveller, Baldur’s Gate etc.) so I find it hard to consider most modern RPGs as being the same as those.

  10. DNi says:

    Personally, I think we should adopt the title Adventure Simulator for your Diablos and Torchlights, and maybe even your World of Warcrafts and a few Final Fantasys.

    I think a more pressing issue is the Third-Person/First-Person Shooter problem. The problem being, of course, that they’re the exact same eff’n genre. They control the same, they play the same, and more often than not they even look exactly the same, so therefore they should be called the same thing.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      I thought the Torchlights and Diablos already had a good name with Hack’n’slash.

      And First-person Shooter and Third-person Shooters will from now on only be called Person Shooters.

      1. Jarenth says:

        What about the games where you shoot Aliens instead of Persons?

        1. Andy_Panthro says:

          Aliens can be persons too…

          1. acronix says:

            But not all aliens are intelligent or have all the properties a person has. So, Non-person Shooter….!

  11. kikito says:

    Can we say that “game” is the correct term, anyway?

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      I was led to believe by certain elements in the media, that the term “murder simulator” is the correct usage.

    2. Ragnar says:

      No. Some of these works are known as “Movie-wannabe”.

  12. Josh R says:

    I really don’t see the problem here.

    But then I’m the sort of person who prefers FO3 to FO

    In two lines you can sum up the game, why can’t you have broad categorizations.

    But nice to see an article on RPGs in your DRM column nonetheless.

  13. eri says:

    For me, a role-playing game is one in which player choice is central to the experience, and in which the player’s success or failure isn’t driven by things like reaction times or accuracy, but by the character’s abilities and skills, which are represented in numerical form on some sort of measurable scale. Choice extends both to storyline as well as to developing a character and navigating an environment; my character should be capable because I have designed him or her to be, not because I can click the mouse button faster.

    The obvious problem this brings in is to what degree a game needs to have choice for it to be considered a role-playing game, and to what degree there need to be numbers explaining the game world. For example, I’m quite sure that deep down, Call of Duty’s weapons all have certain absolute values of damage, accuracy, etc. and in like-for-like situations, they perform very differently. In some cases, too, the proportion of things is difficult to weigh. Is Diablo a role-playing game, or an action game with slightly deeper character customisation?

    Questions like these are inherently subjective, as is the decision to classify a game as one thing or another. I tend to be fairly strict when I use the term RPG, and often gamers seem to think that if I say a particular title isn’t an RPG, then I’m bashing it. The reality is far more complex, of course; I lament the fact that we don’t have many true role-playing games anymore (the closest one I can really think of these days is Dragon Age), but I also have a deep fondness for what one might call “RPG-lite” action titles like Diablo or Mass Effect.

    It’s a bit troubling how genre classification and quality get conflated with one another, too, since I think it speaks to the skewed algorithms with which we judge games. Modern Warfare 2 isn’t just a shooter, it’s “the” shooter, in that it accomplishes everything a shooter “should” do, and for that, we think it’s good. What if I was to suddenly argue that Modern Warfare 2 is a role-playing game due to its deep character customisation options, and not a shooter? Surely, shooter fans would attack me for such a statement. Our basis for evaluating the game is how much it conforms to our expectations, and to say this is a problem in what is supposed to be a highly creative industry… well, that’d be a bit of an understatement.

    1. Audacity says:

      I’d disagree about definition being subjective, certain games contain common elements and can thus be classed by them. All automobiles have wheels, paint and an engine, but that doesn’t leave the definition of a light-truck up to personal preference. Allow me to elaborate in what will probably be a really long post.

      I think the big disagreement surrounding the definition of RPG can be attributed to a misinterpretation of the term ‘character development’. The original meaning of the term refers to how people are not static creatures, our personalities, and motivations (our CHARACTER-istics) will change overtime for the better or worse.

      Some examples: the impulsive young hero learning self control; the spoiled bitchy princess becoming less selfish; or the valiant, but ruthless knight’s fall from grace. These are tired, but classic examples of character development that have been occurring over the course of stories for centuries.
      EDIT: Curses, if I’d only added the charismatic rogue I would have had the entire main cast of Star Wars.

      Looking at a given situation and thinking, “How would Sir Ironbritches handle this scenario based on his personal beliefs and motivations?” or, “If I were Sir Ironbritches what would I do here?” is the entire point of roleplaying. You are literally PLAYING the ROLE of Sir Ironbritches, as though you were acting him in an improvised stage performance. The mechanics of the game, stats, skills, perks, traits, gear, etc, are merely props used to provide a framework in which to do this. They exist to lend veracity and detail to the story of Sir Ironbritches, but are NOT the focus.

      The misinterpretation of ‘character development’ happens when people see the acquisition of new skills, feats, and gear/loot as the focus, and the story and characters as the framework within which this takes place rather than vice-versa. Now there isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with enjoying actiony, loot-centric, dungeon crawling or powergaming for its own sake, but calling it a roleplaying game when it involves no more roleplaying than your average first person action game, is just stupid marketing-speak.

      Based on the above, hack’n’slash dungeon crawlers — aka roguelikes — such as Diablo are not RPGs. Neither are JRPGs like the Final Fantasy or Shin Megami Tensei series, which usually aren’t much more than “visual novels”* with combat. Zelda clones like Squaresoft’s Brave Fencer Musashi, or Lionhead’s Fable trilogy don’t count either, even though they might come close they lack the ability to define your character beyond what they wear or how they fight.

      — Note that I’m not necessarily saying these are bad games just that they are not RPGs. —

      So what games are RPGs? Almost any Black Isle or Troika title would count; specifically Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Arcanum, or Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Bioware’s titles often come close, the best being Bauldur’s Gate II, but their games have steadily become more akin to westernized, action focused, “dating simulators”* than RPGs.

      Why are the above games RPGs and other games with nearly identical mechanics not? I’ll try to break it down. Take Deus Ex which IS an RPG, and the mechanically nearly identical Systemshock 2 which is NOT an RPG. Although these two games have many things in common — from the engine under the hood to their designers — and play very similarly — they both have character skills, stats, and inventory management and are both first-person perspective — and each feature memorable characters in an interesting storyline; one is an RPG and the other isn’t. (I’d classify SS2 as survival horror if you were wondering.)
      Deus Ex is an RPG because you can effect meaningful change in the world around you, while in SS2 you cannot. In Deus Ex you can kill any character you meet anytime and the game will react and change because of this, or you can kill, almost, nobody and the game will also react. In Systemshock you don’t have any impact on the events of the game, things simply play out in a predetermined way regardless of what you do.

      So I guess my definition of RPG would be: “A game in which the player can define their character how they see fit, and has a significant ability to make choices of greater and lesser impact on not only the storyline but the the world at large.

      *Thank God neither of these genres have taken hold outside of Japan.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I have to disagree here: an RPG with a railroad plot is still an RPG.

        I’ll make reference to the Shin Megami Tensai games, particularly the Persona games. I’ve found them more “roleplaying” than most of the Western games, simply because they really do let you play your role. You get to choose — outside of combat — who you hang around with. Who you date. They let you choose how you’ll react to things (unfortunately, this doesn’t come across as well as one might have hoped). That the plot is fixed, to me, doesn’t change it being a roleplaying game; what makes it an RPG is that it really does let you play a role.

        KotOR has the same sort of quality. While the plot, again, is fixed, the game was generally pretty good at letting you determine your internal reactions to things. The “Light Side/Dark Side” bonuses messed that up a bit, but in general I could decide what type of person I was and why I was doing things because the game didn’t tell me.

        Ultimately, to me the heart of an RPG is the ability to be whatever character you want to be, not about changing the world or, in fact, even changing the character. It’s about being able to play a role well.

        1. acronix says:

          I´ll be pendantic and say that the ammount of possible roles should be at least 2, and not of the same kind (I.E. not 2 combat related ones) since otherwise we could argue that anything is an RPG. And that way we keep excluded the Hack´n´slashes.

          1. Daimbert says:

            I’d exclude the hack ‘n’ slashes — if I wanted to — by pointing out that a directive to “Go kill things here” doesn’t leave you room to play a role. You don’t get to express a personality in those games. For me, the big difference is in being able to express a personality, even if it doesn’t change a thing in the world.

            So, being placed in a role where you ARE a combat leader/veteran/whatever and so combat is a big part of the role is not a big deal for me, as long as the game gives me the freedom to express a personality … even if it doesn’t THINK it’s letting me do that.

            So, being able to answer in an aggressive, neutral, or passive tone to any dialogue to me counts, even if it changes nothing.

        2. Audacity says:

          Ultimately, to me the heart of an RPG is the ability to be whatever character you want to be, not about changing the world or, in fact, even changing the character. It's about being able to play a role well.

          I certainly agree, I’m just saying that the world should react, not necessarily on a grand scale, to how you define your character throughout the game.

          1. Daimbert says:

            I think the only question would be: does it have to be a MEANINGFUL change, or can it be something as simple as changing the next line of dialogue?

            I think that the latter is good enough …

      2. eri says:

        I like your post, and while I agree with much of it, I would argue that a non-linear story, or one where the player doesn’t make significant changes in, isn’t necessary for a game to be a role-playing game. I think that choice is extremely important, but at the same time, the choices one makes can be important within certain contexts and not others. By focusing on one combat style over another, I have made a choice about how to conquer a particular challenge the game has offered to me.

        I don’t think any real role-playing game can survive on combat alone (which is why I call Diablo-esque games RPG-lite), so non-combat skills are important, but whether I choose to spend my skill points on hacking computers or beating dudes up, that shows a commitment to a particular type of character. Maybe that decision won’t affect the plot, but it will affect and reflect my relationship to the game. As interactive media, we can’t simply look at story in order to determine how we engage with games. Story is important, but any theorist in game studies will tell you that things go far, far beyond that.

        1. Audacity says:

          I think see where you guys are coming from. I’m not trying to say that a game has to be perfectly non-linear to be an RPG, just that it needs to respond to your character’s actions.

          KotOR is a good example, while it’s not as free form as any of Tim Cain’s brainchildren it still lets your actions and choices impact various aspects of the story. Most of how things turn out with regards to the various central characters and locales is determined by the player’s actions. So I would therefore consider it an RPG.

          My problem with Bioware’s titles is that, while they are generally excellent well written games,* the choices offered are usually binary. Choices exist, but you’re very limited as to methods of resolution; usually whether to be a empty headed knight in shining armor or a moronic jerkass. Thus I would consider them, while good games, imperfect examples for what makes a good RPG.

          *Excepting a few of their more recent titles.

  14. Aelfric says:

    While I certainly understand the confusion over the use of the term, I am actually quite a fan of the creeping spread of “RPG elements.” I am all for the endeepening (yeah, I said it) of the average game. I think it generally makes things more interesting–although the lack of attention paid to straightforward action is a bit disappointing at times, but hey, I’ll take the endeepening all things being equal.

  15. rofltehcat says:

    That is also a side effect of everything needing ‘RPG’ elements. What those RPG elements are also varies a lot. I actually like it when they adapt good stuff from RPG games but that alone doesn’t make the game an RPG game!
    A FPS with an inventory system? RPG!
    A FPS with more than 1 dialogue option? RPG!
    A strategy game with units that have abilities? RPG!
    A strategy game with units that collect experience? RPG!

    This somehow reminds me of when I was younger (man I’m only 22 but I feel so old now O.o) and everything needed to be ADVENTURE when the normal adventure games were riddle games where you used garbage you found somewhere to solve strange riddles.
    Jump around and shoot people? Now that clearly isn’t a shooter. It is an action adventure!

  16. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Genres in general are a bloody mess to sort out as is, and I see the problem getting worse as time goes on.

    Take Castlevania for instance, an exploration-based 2D side-scrolling platforming gothic horror action RPG game, or how about Assassin’s Creed, a historical open world stealth action parkour RPG?

    Next we’ll be talking about what the definition of a “video game” is, and believe me, that’s a complicated discussion.

    1. Audacity says:

      How is the definition of “video game” complex? It just means a game you play on electronic equipment.

      1. Roll-a-die says:

        But what about when you use electronic equipment to assist you in doing a PnP or board game?

      2. SatansBestBuddy says:

        Quick, how would you describe a video game to someone?

        For most people, it will be a simple game played on a computer that keeps score, and to win you must get a higher score than other people, like a game of cards.

        For other people, it will be a game of competition, where you abide by a set of rules to best another person and win, like a sport.

        For another set of people, it’s a story, where upon you lead a character through the events presented to you until they reach the end, like a book or a movie.

        Finally, some people would call them puzzles that test your mental agility by giving you a riddle of some kind to answer, like a crossword puzzle.

        Those are just the most basic ways to classify a game, not even necessarily a video game, just a game.

        I guess it’s cause I’ve had this discussion before, between real friends and internet friends, most of which came up after Roger Ebert said something along the lines of, “video games in which you don’t keep score aren’t really video games.”

        That’s not an exact quote, and he’s written about it enough that I can’t find said quote after searching, but it did fuel the question of what a video game is between myself and my friends.

        1. Audacity says:

          But are those not all valid definitions, just of different types of games? Provided they require an electronic device of some kind I don’t see how any of those couldn’t be considered a video game.

  17. Telas says:

    As a tabletop gamer, I like that RPG is getting thrown around a lot. Now, when I say I play RPGs, I don’t have to explain it, and can usually slide by with the other party assuming that it’s computer RPGs.

    But when I have to get down to brass tacks and say “I play Savage Worlds; it’s like D&D, but different”, then it gets awkward…

    1. Roll-a-die says:

      I had that conversation with a co-worker when I explained what I did on friday.

      “Oh I play Pen and Paper RPG’s.” “What’s that?” “It’s kinda like DnD but different.” “How so?” 10 minute explanation that likely went over her head. “Oh.”

      1. Garden Ninja says:

        I started playing Pathfinder a few months ago. It’s so much easier just to tell people I play D&D. Although, considering the only experience I had with D&D prior to this was with Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, I couldn’t explain the differences between Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 anyway.

      2. Telas says:

        “A bunch of friends come over, and we kill things.”
        “WHAT? Why?”
        “Mostly for the experience, but sometimes for money and stuff.”

  18. General Karthos says:

    For me, RPG will always define the tabletop game I play with my friends, currently a group of college-aged guys and one girl. (When I was in high school, I played with one high school guy and several very pretty girls. Unfortunately, they sucked at roleplaying.)

    Anyway, my former college roommate and I always talked about computer “RPGs” in the same terms. For us, it was an RPG if… it told a dramatic story that required battling monsters (or people, or both) and thus “leveling up” to advance in the story, and continue it. If it was a first-person shooter, it didn’t fit the category, regardless of the other qualifications. If there was no story, it didn’t fit the profile. If you didn’t fight monsters or people or both, it didn’t fit the profile.

    For me, to be an RPG, it has to fit several things.
    1. There has to be a cohesive plot. (Regardless of the quality of the plot, the fact that it has a plot counts it.)
    2. The main element cannot be combat. While you may spend most of your time doing combat, those combat scenes should come between major elements of the story, either in the form of “dungeons” in the old-school games or in the form of obstacles to be overcome.
    3. You have to advance your character in level, and it often involves collecting better weapons, but this is not a requirement. Hit points increasing as you level up IS required.
    4. You have to play a character (or, more often a group of characters) who has a background, and actually interacts with the world around him in more ways than blowing things up.

    Number one disqualifies very few things claiming to be RPGs. Most things that claim to be RPGs have a story. Many things that don’t fit 2-4 still have stories.

    Number two disqualifies things like Diablo and Halo. (Did Diablo have an actual story? I’m a bit hazy on the details of that.)

    Number three disqualifies things like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear. (If number two didn’t already.)

    Number four disqualifies most of the other comers I can think of.

    For the record, I never really considered Oblivion and Half-Life 3 to be RPGs. I never played Morrowind much, but I know of the fondness on this site for it. And I did get to see OTHER people play through it. It seemed to have a fairly solid plot, and better yet, monsters that didn’t auto-level.

    1. Moridin says:

      I think that number 3 is wrong. Character advancement is requirement, abstracting that as levels is not. That would disqualify a lot of P&P RPGs, too. For example, in Vampire: The Masquerade(as well as the computer games carrying the same name and other WoD products) advancement is abstracted in XP you can spend on different things instead of leveling up. Yet it doubtlessly qualifies as an RPG.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        Amber Diceless RPG also violates rule #3 and is arguably more Role-Playing than most other RPGs.

        1. General Karthos says:

          No, you’re right. But there has to be some form of advancement. Surely we can agree that 95% (or more) of so-called computer RPGs involve leveling up through advancement. I dunno what I was thinking considering that I still play 2nd Edition Star Wars RPG where there aren’t any “levels” or “classes”. So change number three to “some form of advancement gained through your combat”. (And I’m talking strictly computer RPGs here.)

    2. Garden Ninja says:

      I suppose there are a few places I could put this, but here is as good a place as any:

      A few months ago, on the Active Time Babble podcast (scroll down, to the one labeled “Active Time Babble IV: World of Warcraft and Dragon Age | 12/10/2009”), they tried to define what an RPG is. They didn’t come up with a cohesive definition, but it was a good discussion.

    3. Jarenth says:

      Question: what if I want to role-play a character whose main form of interaction with things is blowing them up? I mean, really, legitemately, think up a character who would act like this? A roleplaying game centered around such a character would still mostly involve combat.

      To be fair, I’ve never understood why people feel RPG’s can’t be mostly combat-oriented. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of poorly-designed fighting games pretending to be RPG’s out there. But on the other hand, there’s games like Jade Empire, a game that 1)has a cohesive plot, 4)has you play a character with a background, a story, and intrinsic motivations, 3)who levels up during his or her journeys, 2)which mostly involve punching everyone who looks at you funny until they stop twitching. Would you say that because of this, Jade Empire is not a ‘real’ role-playing game?

      I would disagree, see.

      EDIT: Also, this comment editing system needs to die. Today.

  19. far_wanderer says:

    The way things are currently heading, I predict that ‘sandbox’ will grow from an adjective to a genre by itself, and RPG (at least in the concept of video games) will be just fine as a definition for “a game that has a leveling and equipment system”.

  20. squishydish says:

    A while back, a co-worker asked me how my weekend went, so I cheerfully told him that I had visited Johns Hopkins for a Role Playing Game convention. He looked thrown for a loop, obviously strained for something polite to say, and finally asked, “Did you learn a lot about yourself?”

    Ah hah hah hah! I couldn’t help laughing at his apparent interpretation that I had signed up for a weekend of group psychology. After I managed to restrain my giggles, I explained that I meant RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons (although I don’t think I actually played AD&D; it was mostly Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green, plus some Steve Jackson card games, etc., but I didn’t think that would be helpful). He looked slightly less uneasy, but I don’t think he ever again inquired about my social life after that.

  21. X2-Eliah says:

    I like ‘Maurice’, it has a ring to it. And ‘Action Maurice’ and ‘MMOM’ also work well.

    On a more serious note, the term ‘RPG’ already means nothing more than a game with levels & equipment. That’s why additional stuff like ‘Action’ is used to show what else it has beyond those two things.

    Of course, the stupidity of how vague the term ‘RPG’ is greatly increased by the trolls who always, always mention “Yeah, but see, it is a ROLL-PLAYING GAME, not a role-playing game”. Gee, really? And now you will use this half-baked word scramble to make an argument? (not directed at Shamus, btw.)

    Erm, yes, anyway, the term ‘sandbox’ mentioned above is also an overly wide term, just it is not popular yet. A GTA game? Sandbox. Sim City? Sandbox. A space game/sim of free structure (think X3:Reunion)? Sandbox. A shooter with an open level-design (Stalker)? Sandbox. MMOs? Major sandbox.

    1. DaveMc says:

      I liked the idea of calling it “Maurice”, too. Then we would have to speak of the pompatus of love, of course.

    2. evileeyore says:

      “I like “˜Maurice', it has a ring to it. And “˜Action Maurice' and “˜MMOM' also work well.”

      Or even just MOM, that way everone gets to play with your MOM.

      1. Jarenth says:

        ‘Your MOM is so poorly designed, within two months of launch she lost three quarters of her subscriber base!’

  22. squishydish says:

    Actually, the nebulosity of the term “role playing game” does not bother me nearly as much as the way the gambling industry has appropriated the word “gaming.” Now if I were to say “I wish I had more time for gaming,” most people would think I was jonesing for a trip to a casino.

  23. lazlo says:

    Simple. Look around. If there’s a guy with a rulebook sitting near you whose title ends in “M” (and who possibly has a beard), you might be playing an RPG. If there isn’t, you aren’t.

    1. evileeyore says:

      Mine tend to end in “T”, for “Story Teller”.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Not an RPG. Sorry, kid, them’s the rules.

    2. Syal says:

      So my old warehouse job was an RPG whenever the Floor Manager drove by on the forklift?

  24. Nasikabatrachus says:

    All this complicated gaming. The only way to win is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

    1. Syal says:

      Can’t the pawns change their class in chess?


      1. Simon Buchan says:

        Thank you. You just made my day.

  25. KremlinLaptop says:

    Cobble together a character portrait? Surely you mean google image search for ‘cool evil wizard’ pick something off the first page and then draw a goatee on it — if absent a goatee — before printing it out and saying your character looks like that, surely…

  26. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Personally,Im ok with calling all these rpgs.Action rps,turn based rpgs,first/third person rpgs,etc.After all,sci fi is a genre for books and movies,even though left hand of darkness is nothing like I robot and nothing like space odyssey,and back to the future is nothing like aliens and nothing like avatar.Same goes for fantasy.As well as spy thrillers(bourne identity versus bourne identity remake),and horror movies(aliens versus drag me to hell).And lets not even start about the distinction between fantasy and sci fi.Where does warhammer 40k fit here?It has elements of both.Or how about the sword of shannara where they suddenly fight a robot sentry in the middle of their fantasy world filled with druids and wraiths?

  27. RPGs aren’t the only games which have this problem. Just look at all the games which get classified as ‘indie’. It’s arguably worse, since it doesn’t describe the game at all. You get games like Darwinia and DEFCON in the same category, and that’s just from Introversion!

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes. “Indie” is a crazy nebulous term. I actually think it’s very, very close to “alternative” music, which has been mainstream for two decades now. It’s like a sort of self-applied label of authenticity.

      1. Roll-a-die says:

        That true for any genre really Shamus. “It’s techno” “What kind of techno? Trance, Drum and Bass, Electronica, Pulse, or something else” “It’s metal.” “What kind of metal, screemo, thrash, hardcore, heavy, folk, power, symphonic, death, black…?”

  28. TheZoobler says:

    So two things, on the topic of RPGs. First, the older generation of gamers (not very much older than me, just old enough to be familiar with old titles such as X-Com) are starting to make a lot of sense when they complain about not having choice any more. Second, I bet that games’ shift of focus to be heavier on writing is what has caused such a complete void of choice in games recently.

    I think writers might be ruining freedom in games. Strangling it.

    X-Com got me thinking about this. I never played the game, I was too young when it came out, but its Steam sale has been linked again and again and again on several blogs/review sites I pay attention to. So I decided to try it. The complete lack of tooltips or labels on buttons and actions and what they do is kind of frustrating at first, and I could use a tutorial, but I LOVE the game so far. In this game, you certainly have plenty of choice. My very first encounter with an alien species on a downed UFO, I decided to investigate the crash site with some of my rookie soldiers, I ordered them blindly into the warzone, and I watched helplessly as they were surprised and gunned down one by one desperately trying to obey my orders to retreat. 8 of my 14 soldiers returned to the ship, carrying one or two alien corpses and an ammo clip. It was a total disaster. But it was all my choice, and none of it was scripted except for the AI’s tactics.

    Whereas in modern games you might get an equivilent cutscene. You get ordered to a downed enemy ship (not your choice) and have to watch as Private Rob gets decapitated by the same bug that decapitates him in every file you will ever play and for any friend who ever plays it. It’s scripted and set in stone and will always happen without fail, without your input. You can only do what the writers want, when they want you to, how they want you to.

    So I guess what I’m saying is I finally listened to the elder gamers and tried X-Com UFO Defense and its freedom relative to modern games blew me out of the water.

    Is a good story in a video game necessarily a good thing? Or has the evolution of video gaming to a “valid” form of storytelling just encouraged writers to railroad the game to all hell? I mean, it keeps getting mentioned in Spoiler Warning and from gamers everywhere, “We can’t do ____, because it would mess with their precious plot.”

    It’s been mentioned here that the Choice portion of RPGs has all but evaporated due to a focus on graphics and voice acting, but isn’t the need to have a good, cohesive, “three-act” story just as toxic to a game’s freedom?

    Idk. This has all probably been said before and better. It just seems like a lot of the games that I missed when I was a kid because I was so young were a lot more freeform and unique than anything nowadays, and I believe it more the more old games I go back to play. Is it because writing and plots have become more important to games that choice has disappeared? After all, the writers want you to see THEIR story, not make your own.

    Yeah I know X-Com is strategy and not RPG, but it is still has less railroading than any game I’ve ever played.

    EDIT: I’d personally love to see more games just axe the plot entirely and put together a fun world with lots of freedom to mess around in.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      As both a GM and a player I’m more of a “storyteller/listener” than “stat cruncher” in RPGs. Sure, as a player I like developing my character much as any other guy but most of the time I’m more excited about stuff like “Don’t you get it?! He’s the chosen of Mystra! They sent us to the chosen of Mystra!”. Now with games that have little backstory or personality, like the X-com series, I tend to actually make some of this stuff up. The missions are a grind and I’ll generally make up personalities for my squad members, I’ll come up with stuff like who gets along with whom, hell, I’ll even come up with them chatting during the missions. I remember during my second playthrough through the original X-com/UFO (I wasn’t doing this in the days when I was playing it for the first time) I had 3 telepaths in my squad and it turned out nobody really liked them so they generally stuck with each other despite the fact that it would be more effective (gamewise speaking) to spread them out.

      My point is, as a player, even during p&p RPGs, I’m hoping to hear a bit of a good story. Axing the plot is what I associate with MMOs, there is some background (most often: one side good, one side bad, war of gods, world destroyed blah blah blah) but it’s generally ignored. I often like to go into an MMO and explore the world but once I’ve seen some of the more interesting ruins and such it just gets old precisely because I lack any deeper motivation to care. The world is generally static and whether the city is elven, dwarven or space aliens it’s mostly a matter of different textures.

      But you raise a valid point, one of the most important features of a good GM (for me) is being able to improvise and work with what the players do while at the same time not sacrificing the story they devised (even if it means telling the story from the exact opposite direction). Having a few years of experience under my belt I can tell you that there are fairly subtle ways of very effective railroading that still give the players a lot of freedom, or at least a deep illusion of that freedom. The problem with computer games is that there are always going to be players who’d like to do stuff their own way. Since SW featured the Pitt recently FO3 PITT SPOILERI can just think how some of my players would like to actually attempt to smuggle the baby out of the Pitt and deliver her to BoS. Since they went all goodie-two-shoes, have the tech and scientific personel and the cure for all mutations sounds like a really cool thing and they sound like the right people to have it…END OF SPOILER

      As such a game developer, or writer, is always going to be at a disadvantage since they’ll be facing millions of users trying to think of ways that things could have been done differently. Whereas it’s simple for a living GM to just “spawn” a guard if he REALLY doesn’t want the players to go somewhere a person working with a computer game would have to think of it in advance. The only way I can think of here is to actually put the player in a completely Orwellian society where their every move would be tracked and their path strictly limited. This actually stands in contrast to the fact that gamers want to have more and more freedom, not just in RPGs, and are very happy with stuff like “you can go anywhere, you can climb buildings etc.”

      I think the closest I’ve seen to the ideal between story and freedom was, IMHO, Daggerfall. Though if you chose to abandon the plot and go exploring the game world eventually (soon) revealed its repetitive nature.

      1. TheZoobler says:

        Yeah, the debate of, what were the words… I liked the terms that the writer of Check For Traps at The Escapist uses, “directed story” (the GM/developer’s story) vs. “emergent story” (player/player group generated story) is a very interesting one, and very hard to find a balance with. Especially with video games. I sort of treat games like X-Com very similarly to how you do, filling my own stories and backstories in for what the developer leaves out. Just enjoying the freedom of choice and imagining what isn’t explicit.

        Not every video game needs a lot of choice really, for several reasons. I mean, I love the Metal Gear Solid games or Heavy Rain or Final Fantasy just as much as I love games that are more than semi-interactive cutscenes. There are technical/programming/writing limitations to freedom and choice-centric games too of course: like you said, not EVERY possibility can be accounted for. And in the end, video games truly are a cool way to tell a story sometimes (that is, experience the directed story of the Writer).

        If all games were omniliberated freeform sandboxes, where you can do anything but there is a lack of narrative, I’m sure it would get stale quickly.

        I just hope that video games with ludicrous freedom of choice and possibility make a comeback sometime, because they are an extremely enjoyable flavor of game and are a refreshing change from railroad girded plots. Diversity is good, and it would be sad for complex freeform systems to go completely unremembered and unresurrected. It would be like losing a genre of music or book or film lol. It’s nice to be able to change up what you’ve been playing recently with something new.

        And yeah, tabletop gaming is definitely the best medium for improvisational, emergent, liberated gaming. The DM can interact directly with his/her players and gauge changes to the game accordingly, whether it be changing the plot or rules or tone or anything. Me and my group of 5 or so friends and girlfriend have just started to explore tabletop gaming very recently, just within this past year, and I’ve been the DM so far. It’s been a very fun (learning) experience and I hope our group stays together for a while lol. Still experimenting with the balance between Story Arc and Emergent Storytelling lol. Again, Check For Traps at the Escapist has some very cool articles I think. “Judging the Game” and “It’s Not YOUR Story.”. I liked them.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I said it before:people dont dislike railroading,they dislike bad railroading.Look at half life:You simply cannot go of its rails,but still,barely anyone wants to,because its so good.All of them,first,second,and both episodes.Especially episode 2.So there are ways you can force the players to listen to your story,and not complain about it.Its just that very,very few games know how to do it well.

        Sadly,I didnt play daggerfall,so for me the best sandbox game that still has a nice story behind it is the original fallout.And I dont know how these two compare in sizes,but I know that fallout is huge and offers plethora of stuff to do in zillions of ways.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I have nothing to add,but I can recommend some modern strategies that basically throw the plot away in order to have a good fun gameplay:
      civilization 4,or if you wait a few months,civv,which looks like it will bring panzer general style battles back.
      Sword of the stars
      Galactic civilizations 2
      Sins of the solar empire

      Or,you can go for the old style master of orion 2,which still dominates space strategies.Or,the civ spinoff alpha centauri.

      Actually,any civ game is still awesome,because it was always so moddable that you can make tons of new games from any of them.Which civiv proves with beyond the sword,which offers 4+ games at the price of one expansion.

      1. TheZoobler says:

        Cool! I was thinking that Civ IV / V would be something I would enjoy, especially after I got to experience the fun that is X-Com lol. I’ll have to try it out! Think I’ll wait for V. And thanks for the list, I think I’ll definitely have to look into some of them. I have a vague memory of Alpha Centauri being pretty fun lol and the rest sound interesting.

        And yeah railroading can be done well I suppose… Half Life 2 was a great example *I was just playing through it again earlier today lol*. I guess I’m just so neck deep in the modern gaming culture that stories without rails have really come as a pleasant surprise to me lol

  29. Nathan says:

    I honestly don’t think the term “RPG” is all that vague. It generally refers to a large collection of games in which the effectiveness of a character’s actions is based on something other than pure player skill. In other words, a game where the game characters have malleable stats that control gameplay as much as player skill. It is also a generic genre term, so it is always overruled in any situation where a more specific and clear genre can be applied (like for most realistic sports games). Also, there is a pretty classic link between the RPG genre and both a big emphasis on story and a more fantastic setting, though neither of the latter is strictly necessary. There is no link whatsoever between the term RPG and the idea of player choice affecting the plot.

    In many respects, I think “RPG” and “Action Game” are the two ends of a wide and highly varied spectrum, and there are a whole lot of other factors and more clearly defined genres that sit within that spectrum. “Action Games” like traditional shooters, first-person shooters, fighting games, and platformers have almost no “stats” and rely purely on player skill. “RPGs” are on the opposite end, where player skill is limited by in-game variables. Both are broad catch-all terms that contain countless sub-genres, but are still widely used because there are a great many games that don’t fit very cleanly into well-established sub-genres.

    I also don’t think that the origin of the term RPG, tabletop RPGs, really have any bearing on this discussion whatsoever. D&D stopped being relevant to videogaming more than a decade ago, and the term “RPG” has evolved greatly outside of its original context.

    1. Shamus says:

      “I honestly don't think the term “RPG” is all that vague. ”

      Mass Effect and Torchlight are both RPGs. It’s vague in the sense that I can tell you a game is an RPG and you’ll still know next to nothing about it.

      “D&D stopped being relevant to videogaming more than a decade ago”

      I’m not sure what you mean by “relevant”. I mean, it was the origin of many, many games. You could say that the Beatles are no longer “relevant” because they aren’t putting out albums anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that they shaped the industry for decades.

      Also, they’re still making D20 based games. NWN2 is the last one I can think of, and that was 2008. I know I’m gettin’ old fast, but I’m pretty sure that was less than a decade ago.

      1. Syal says:

        I thought people were complaining that D&D was imitating Warcraft now. If that’s true, it’s safe to say they’re not relevant, even if their derivatives still are. (I’m assuming NWN2 was based on the same system as NWN1.)

        Why are you still awake?

        1. silver Harloe says:

          I believe Mr Young’s point would be that the argument is like calling Shakespeare irrelevant.

          (And old school D&Ders, while divided on whether the game stopped at 1st, 2d, or 3d editions, are universally agreed that the 4th edition “WoWclone rules” are right out).

          1. Syal says:

            But that’s the whole point; the latest version of D&D contributes nothing. It’s copying it’s own creations now; how can it still be relevant?

            Would the original stories that Shakespeare’s plays were based on still be relevant, or are they irrelevant because Shakespeare did them better? Is the source that inspired the source that inspires someone still relevant or not?

            EDIT: I guess I’m trying to say that D&D evolved into something irrelevant now, and saying that it’s still relevant is blurring the line between where it started and where it ended up.

            1. evileeyore says:

              Except that as D&D is still the most played PnP RPG… it is still relevant.

            2. Simon Buchan says:

              The original statement was that D&D is irrelevant *to video games*. I’m pretty sure D&D as a culture is still pretty relevant, since we still talk about it – not to mention I keep finding people who play it (both in the internet sense and in meatspace).

              You second statement is quite interesting; I think it is equivalent to the question of who should get the praise for an influential trope/meme/story: the author everybody first heard about it from, or the author who originally invented it? I’m kinda torn on this one, especially since it is often not possible to determine either the original either due to it being lost to the mists of time, or the surprisingly common case of simultaneous independent invention.

        2. Ranneko says:

          I still disagree that it is mindlessly imitating World of Warcraft.

          What it has done is reduce the number of different resolution systems used within the game, increase the variety of play available within combat for the various classes and formalised the class roles.

          I think it is formally referring to roles that has had some people pull out the MMO imitation label. These are roles that have always existed, but now you can easily refer to them rather than saying well, we need a fighter-type, a cleric, a mage and maybe someone to deal with traps.

          In any case, just as video games learn from RPGs and board games, there is feedback in the opposite direction. This is how it should be, lessons can be learnt from what others choose to take from your game.

      2. Tizzy says:

        “Relevant” is such a vague term anyway. It is true that computer RPGs are more and more finding their own voice and their own way, but so long as there are some game designers out there who enjoy playing seated around a table with pen and paper, or even enjoy fond memories of having done so at some point, we can safely say that PnP is relevant to computer gaming.

      3. Nathan says:

        In this case, I’ll flat out disagree with you Shamus. Of course saying that Mass Effect and Torchlight are both RPGs says something about the two games. They are both games with classes, leveling systems, loot, and various other game elements. Of course, I haven’t played Torchlight, so I don’t know too much about it (other than that it is a Diablo-styled game, which says a lot, I guess), and I consider Mass Effect to be on the very edge of what you can call a proper RPG (it is pretty much a slow third-person shooter with really clunky RPG elements), so I can’t say too much more than that, I’m afraid.

        Anyways, you do know something about both games based on the use of the term “RPG”. You don’t know a lot, but you know something. That is exactly why I described RPGs as being something akin to a super-genre rather than as a pure genre. It is a term that is very clear and accurate, but not very precise. It tells you about the coarse details of a game, but not a lot about the specifics. It is very much like the vague, but still valid and useful terms “Action” and “Strategy”.

        Actually, on that note, I want to revise my description of the broad gaming spectrum just a bit. The spectrum is actually triangular, with three end points: Action, Strategy, and RPG. Action games are pure moment-to-moment games that focus on the player’s skill in controlling a single character. Strategy games focus on the broad control of lots of individual pieces, without any direct control of any one unit. RPG games focus heavily on the art of preparation, winning a battle before it starts by selecting the best characters and giving them the best skills and equipment. Sure, each is very broad, but having these really broad terms are very useful. After all, there are countless individual games and minor genres that would be impossible to define unless you had really broad terms to organize them with.

        Honestly, I think the problem isn’t the inaccuracy of the term RPG, it is the lack of good and heavily used terms for more clearly defined sub-genres. For example, Diablo and Torchlight are both members of a very clearly defined genre (popularized by Diablo, but it arguably goes back to and includes Rogue and all the Rogue-likes, and probably also includes the popular Mystery Dungeon games from Japan). This is a sub-genre of the RPG genre. Saying that a game is part of this genre says more than enough about the game. Still, I can’t really say that I ever heard a good name for this particular genre…

        As for the whole subject of D&D’s relevance… At the beginning of the RPG genre, sure, D&D was relevant. The western PC RPG market started with D&D-brand videogames (and there were a ton of them back then). The original Final Fantasy was a shameless D&D rip-off (it borrowed Tiamat and Bahamut, used the Dragonlance scheme of White, Red, and Black wizards, and even had illithids and a marilith). However, in the time since, this influence has not been continued. A few western RPGs still carry the tradition of D&D influence (Dragon Age has too much for me to take it seriously), but more often than not games that have elves, dwarves, and the like are simply copying the tradition of “vanilla fantasy”, and there have been several fairly strong backlashes against D&D-style vanilla fantasy across the last few decades. At the same time, series that started with strong D&D influence like Final Fantasy have since discarded most of that influence, and have struck out on their own to create their own identity, and many modern RPGs take more influence from those games than they do from D&D.

        It should also be noted that neither 3E D&D nor 4E D&D have ever really set the gaming world on fire with their ideas. I mean, I’m a big fan of 4E D&D myself, but it is not like the introduction of that edition created a large rebirth of D&D-brand games or had a noticeable impact on videogame RPG mechanics or styles, even though 4E was itself a pretty dramatic change from previous editions. These days, D&D’s designers are probably reacting to gaming innovations introduced by videogames more than videogame developers really are looking at innovations in D&D.

        1. Nathan says:

          Actually, to sum up the whole “D&D is irrelevant” thing rather succinctly… Dragon Age: Origins has a spell called “Cone of Cold” that is taken directly from D&D. Dragon Age: Origins was released after the release of 4E D&D. 4E D&D does not have a spell called Cone of Cold. 4E replaced Cones with Blasts, so it is now called Blast of Cold in D&D. I don’t think the people at BioWare are in a rush to rename Dragon Age’s spell to Blast of Cold.

          It’s minor, but I think it is fairly indicative.

  30. Coffee says:

    Other possible names for RPGs are “the space cowboy” and “the gangster of love”

    1. evileeyore says:

      That is simply pompatus.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        I saw a movie called “the pompatus of love” and I had to wonder – am I the only person who thinks the singer was just mumbling “properties”?

        1. Coffee says:

          What is a Pompatus anyway?

          1. Wayoffbase says:

            I always thought it was “pompousness,” but that doesn’t make any sense either.

            This thread has led me to tha’google:
            wiktionary: Pompatus means to act with pomp and splendor.


            1. Coffee says:

              That makes more sense than my best guess… The offspring of an Englishman and a Hippopotamus.

              Don’t ask.

              1. Wayoffbase says:

                That is completely logical, no reason to ask :P

                1. Coffee says:

                  Completely logical until you examine it further.

                  I mean, for example, who in their right mind would want to mate with an Englishman?

    2. Shamus says:

      Nice. That lyric popped in my head as soon as I typed Maurice, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. :)

  31. Vegedus says:

    I’d probably call them “Level ups”, if I could, since that seem to be the one central mechaninc that all RPGs use directly or indirectly. I wouldn’t divide any of the sub-genres into different genres, because I do believe that all RPGs have something crucial in common. Yes, it is a very broad term that doesn’t explain that much about the game, but it’s still important that it’s an RPG because some people, myself included, play all kinds of RPGs. I play JRPGs, WRPGs, TRPGs, Hack and Slash, Bioware, Bethesda. I am more inclined to buy or play ANY kind of RPG than, for instance, any kind of FPS, so therefore, writing “RPG” on the cover is useful to me.

    What would help, though, is to properly use the terms of the subgenres. It’s more useful to know what kind of RPG something is, rather than that it’s just an RPG. Most of the abbreviations above are essentially fan “nicknames”, not necessarily industry-accepted naming schemes. Simply put, everyone knows what an RPG is, and what an MMORPG is, but not the rest. I would like for those terms to come more into circulation because having a sticker that says “WTRPG” on a product would be an instant recommendation for me.

  32. Wayoffbase says:

    I really have no problem with such a wide variety of games being lumped in to the RPG category, since I generally like most of the different permutations for one reason or another. If a game is labeled “RPG” I will look in to it and see if it is something that I want to buy; if a game is labeled “shooter”, I know not to waste my time.

    That being said, there is one thing that I can’t live without in an RPG: character customization, and the gear upgrades and leveling that go along with it. Lack of avatar customization is the reason I could never finish The Witcher, and a big reason why I don’t like JRPGs. Different gamers that otherwise like the RPG genre are going to have different aspects of it that they can’t live without.

    Also, has anyone else considered the idea that more precise labels for the different sub-classes of the genre might actually lead to even less originality between titles? A broad and loose definition gives developers more leeway to do something original (whether they take the opportunity or not), where a more strict definition would compel them to stick more closely to the defined rules. Imagine if Mass Effect had to be shoehorned into the “Baldur’s Gate” or “Diablo” or “Elder Scrolls” style instead of pushing forward the “third person shooter/RPG” style.

  33. Syal says:

    Subgenres are built around mechanics in game design. Labelling those mechanics wouldn’t have any influence on creativity, unless some parent company wants to cash in on Diablo and tells their staff to “make an RPG”, which I just can’t see happening (if they’re going to make cash grabs, I think they’d at least have the foresight to specify which game to rip off.)

    EDIT: okay, apparently I missed the “reply” button.

  34. Simon says:

    People will be arguing about the definition of RPGs forever, but I think there will be a lot less confusion if all the marketing drones are shot. That way, a game will be described as an RPG by someone who believes to be, rather than some ******* who wants to include the “RPG demographic”.

  35. acronix says:

    While I really disagree with the definition I´m about to give, it´s what I understand when I read that something is an RPG: A game with a levelling-system, sets of skills, inventory management and whose combat system requires you to click on stuff. Then comes the problem that some games may not have some of these elements, so defining it is kind of tricky.

    My own definition of what I think is an RPG: anything with the above, plus dialogue options. Ergo, I understand why Fallout 3 is called an RPG, but I don´t think it is one.

  36. Corylea says:

    LOVED the thing about English being open source. People type “LOL” all the time when they really mean that something was mildly amusing, but that line really did make me laugh out loud — hard enough that my husband came running to see what was so funny.

    If you enjoyed The Witcher, check out my new adventure for it, “Medical Problems,” at corylea.com. (And if you didn’t enjoy The Witcher, what’s wrong with you? :-) )

  37. Adam says:

    As far as I am concerned, factors such as dialogue options, non-linearity, and ability to affect the plot have no direct correlation with the term RPG. The single game series with the greatest ability for the player to affect the game’s plot in existence is the Way of the Samurai series, and they are billed as Action-Adventure games; I have never once seen anyone refer to them as RPGs. If the greatest example of a quality is found outside of a genre, then that quality can’t be a defining element of that genre.

    At the same time, some of the greatest RPGs of all time don’t have that much ability for the player to make dialogue choices or affect the course of the story.

    By the way, why does everyone always talk about Japanese RPGs as if they are always more linear than western ones? Various classic Japanese RPGs, such as the original Dragon Quest, many of its successors, as well many entries in Square’s SaGa series are far more open and non-linear than many western RPGs like Mass Effect.

    1. Otters34 says:

      I believe the use of the word ‘linear’ is meant to show that the destroy happens in a fashion that can’t be altered, while less linear games let you at least choose when and how you embark into a new area of the map/land/path. For example, in Lost Odyssey(the only JRPG I’ve yet played to the finish)for the Xbox 360 you have to go to a particular part of the field to continue the story, you can stew around outside it for as long as you want, but completing the game requires you to advance in that direction and that alone. In Morrowind, you can go gallivanting off into the wild blue yonder and still get onto the plot. But the beauty of the latter’s approach is that you can completely change the way you complete the story. There’s a website that the TvTropes page for Sequence Breaking links to that lists a variety of ways of derailing Morrowinds plot in favor of acheiving monstrous power.

      In short, I understand the criticism of more or less linear games to be made under the assumption that the Elder Scrolls series freedom should be the rule, not the exception, and that most else is of secondary importance.

      Alternatively, it may also be based on the problems Mr. Young explicated in the Experienced Points post, mainly how concerns over having an unignorable story was hamstringing the ability of modern RPG’s to function as enjoyable games.

      The problem that serves as the central point of the article(the label of Role Playing Game becoming meaningless), is honestly something that had never occurred to me. I had blithely assumed that if it had a system of statistical advancement in place, it was under the umbrella term of ‘RPG’. Of course, as has already been said, changing the term is quite difficult to imagine as anything other than a concerted effort over a long period of time. Which, this being the internet is likely to be about four months or so.

      By the way Mr. Young, have you checked up on OnLive as of the last few days? I’ve tried it, and it ourperforms my fondest hopes and dreams.

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