Before computer games hit the market, before
Nintendo and Atari and the rest, gaming existed. Back in the annals of
gaming, board games, card games, and dice games were popular. They still
are - one merely needs to go to a casino, or see the popularity of
Solitaire with workplace user on break, to see it. There were also vast
miniatures gamers who enacted elaborate battlefield strategies on giant
tables with painstakingly-pained miniatures; the inspiration for these
games, as well as classics like Risk and Axis & Allies, came from
battlefield generals who would plot the conquest of Europe in the same
Then came the advent of fantasy roleplaying and
miniaturized dungeon crawls. In many ways, video games largely slipped
under the radar of "concerned" parents thanks to the simultaneous
release of games like
Dungeons & Dragons and
Magic: The Gathering. For "concerned" parents, keeping the imagery
of dragons and demons out of the minds of impressionable children was
far more important than dealing with similar items on a television
Amazingly, I've found that tabletop roleplaying,
the good old pencil-and-paper kind, carries in it rewards that no
computer game can yet emulate. Simply put, as much as one would like to
make it so, console and computer roleplaying games are not 100%
interactive endeavors yet. True pencil-and-paper games don't stop just
at one weekend; regular gaming groups, or organizations like the
RPGA, keep their campaigns going for
years, with ongoing storylines and changes to the world structure and
heroes doing things that actually affect the world around them. This,
for anyone who missed it, was the original experience that Fable was
trying to emulate with its "for every action, a consequence" gaming. A
game doesn't consist of players taking prearranged choices of
discussion, or just mashing buttons; the players consider what their
character would do, his motivations, and the GM tailors the reactions of
the NPC's to be appropriate. Instead of one-sided arrangements, it's
two-side, interactive roleplaying.
First-person gamers form "Clans" in order to
add to their experience. Bungie, in designing Halo2, went to incredible
lengths to encourage and enable this, and with good reason. Once you
have Clans, it's not all about just one fight on Live or online; it's an
ongoing rivalry and ranking between clans. It's the blustering and
buildup on message boards, the idea of going to competitions or LAN
parties and playing against the people they've played against online.
I've done it, briefly, and can say very little bad about those who enjoy
it. At the end of the day, however, there's still something missing.
They have plenty of combat, and the "ongoing storyline", fine, but
nothing about the game world changes. Everything is as it was, every
time they enter a level they're the same guy looking for the nearest
MMORPG's like Everquest, Final Fantasy XI, and
Asheron's Call all exist... but again, the leveling mills and lack of
serious world-changing events begin to tell. Players fight each other
over the right to do the same repeatable quests. Heck, they have
repeatable quests - you'd never see that in a pencil-and-paper RPG,
because killing the same named high-level monster over and over again is
ridiculous. The problem is that most MMORPG's aren't really RPG's at
all, they're little sandboxes for hack-and-slashers to operate in.
Roleplaying - REAL roleplaying - is laughed at by the majority of the
players on them. Most of them have thrown out the ideas of alignment, of
character goals, even of interacting in any way besides "here, I need
you to do this quest" or "shopkeeper here, want to buy something" with
NPC's. The goal of an MMORPG is to make the leveling treadmill just slow
enough that gamers think they're making progress, and keep them in it as
long as possible.
Computer RPG's are more like reading a book.
Even when they're slightly multi-linear, they still have a story to
tell, and the gamers still have to do certain things, in a certain
order, "Or Else." And the players can't change that. They can't refuse
to play this or that level, or play them out of sequence and take the
consequences. Haggling with a merchant or engaging in diplomacy is a
function, not of actually roleplaying it with another person, but of
selecting the "right" responses from a list of options. In most
computer/console RPG's, half or more of the options the player
characters may consider might not even be available. Likewise,
circumventing enemies becomes nigh impossible; if it's there, the
designers assume you want to kill it. Look at Neverwinter Nights, or
Knights of the Old Republic, or Final Fantasy. They're the epitome of
console and PC "roleplaying" games, but they're nowhere near the
interactivity level of pencil-and-paper play. Even with online GM tools,
they're not REALLY set up for the major types of play required.
And so I go back, time and again, to
pencil-and-paper gaming. If you haven't tried it, you should seriously
consider it. Check your local gaming shop, or the
RPGA, for a group in your area.
Got Comments? Send 'em to
Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!