Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Messing Up My Perfect Game Taxonomy!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 26, 2010

Gareth explains what, in his opinion, constitutes the RPG-ness of a game:

Mass Effect 2 Part 2: An RPG?

Really, Gareth? You wanna throw down? You think you can argue against my awesome well-established (well, for three years anyway) defining characteristics of an RPG? Huh? The science is settled, brothah! It’s …


Well, it’s been mildly useful, anyway, for my own purposes.  Though I have some issues with it too.  But as much as I like to draw my line in the sand and say, “If you step beyond this point I will no longer recognize you as an RPG!”, the truth is I like to see games going outside the “box” that was largely built by marketing folks anyway to reduce their need or their customers’ need to think.

Still doesn’t mean I’ll call it an RPG, though. I mean, I’ve had years to make up my mind and I’m still a little on the fence about categorizing Deus Ex. Which is probably about right – it’s the kind of game that shouldn’t neatly fall into any category. Does the fact that I get all hand-wavy and vague when talking about it as some kind of RPG outlier (as in Mass Effect, and I expect Mass Effect 2 based on these discussions) make it any less of a classic? Hell, no.

As Gareth suggests, I also believe that appealing to the  “roleplaying” term in the category name is a false god. I mean, if it was only about playing a role, then Falcon 4.0 was the best computer role-playing game I’ve ever played. I’ll tell ya, I was totally and completely immersed in my role as a hot-shot F-16 jockey in the middle of a hypothetical war in Korea.

And as far as making your own character from scratch versus playing a specific character in the game – well, as I am apologetically calling Frayed Knights an RPG, you know where I stand there. Lest we forget, back in the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons, conventions were filled with “tournament” play with pregenerated characters. If pen-and-paper D&D ever fit the definition of a “roleplaying game,” did it lose it with pre-gens because players couldn’t create their own character from scratch? Nah, that’s silly.

Hell, I’ve roleplayed in a game of Monopoly before. I AM the race car!

The problem is that while these categories have their problems, they are also a pretty useful shorthand for people explaining what they like. Violate my definition of RPG in one direction, and I find your game completely unappealing to me. Violate it in a different direction, and I may still embrace it and even call it the MOST ORIGINAL RPG EVAR!!1!11

Oh, hey, did somebody mention Cute Knight Kingdom? Or Depths of Peril?

I think we’d all be happier, though, if these very original variations on the RPG Genre were not suddenly being touted as The Future of RPGs.  That’s the sort of thing that gets folks mighty defensive.  After all, I really love mint chocolate chip ice cream, but if that became the future of all ice cream I’d learn to hate it really fast.

I still haven’t played Mass Effect 2, and I’m not planning on doing so anytime soon. This isn’t a statement of principle – I happen to like a good shooter, and I love a good RPG, and it sounds like it’s a game that figured out an awesome balance between the two. But I haven’t finished the original yet (and I’ve been told ME2 is better if you’ve played through ME1 first), and I am also cutting back on new non-indie games until I can get Frayed Knights finished.

But to me, it sounds a lot more like a “shooter with RPG elements.” To which I say, “Cool!” I may not label it an RPG. Or maybe I will. So what? RPG fans all value different aspects of the broad (and growing) category of RPGs. The important part, really, is that developers are still out there making quality RPGs that also value those aspects – be they mainstream or indie. I still see that – from guys like Gareth (which of us is gonna ship our game first, huh, dude?) and others. So for me, all is well in the RPG universe, and I have the luxury of arguing these kinds of category boundaries from a peaceful, intellectual level.

Filed Under: Mainstream Games - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Flux said,

    For a long time, the RPG genre has been made up of several sub-genres – dungeon crawlers, action-RPGs, story-based, etc. I can’t possibly see one game as being able to replace all of them. I’d say it either fits into one or more of these categories, or possibly its part of a new one. Personally, it doesn’t seem to be my type of RPG (I have not played it or its predecessor). If people want to call it an RPG, I could care less; labels have become largely meaningless, anyway. I just don’t understand why fans of one type of ‘RPG’ feel the need to stomp all over the other types of games that share the label. Is there some universal law that says they can’t all fit under the same umbrella? Its almost become some kind of freaky religion or cult.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Again – I think it’s because they feel threatened. I mean – seriously, if I was a hardcore fan of Fallout 1 & 2, and I was looking at only mainstream PC games, I’d be lamenting the loss of “my” kind of game forever. I don’t see it making a comeback there. And every move further away from that ideal from the “top games” just makes the chance of enjoying a new game of that style again even more remote.

    Fortunately, I’m an indie game fan.

  • Gareth Fouche said,

    Lol, put up your dukes Jay, I’m comin’ in swinging. 😉

    It doesn’t bother me that different people see different aspects of RPGs as ‘the important bits’, I just get a bit exasperated with folks who dismiss a game like ME2 simply because it doesn’t have one of the familiar RPG features, like an inventory system.

    We create an environment where we pigeon hole games into genres and developers have less freedom to explore new designs for fear of upsetting their ‘hardcore fans’. Some developers have a sense of humor about it, see how Blizzard handled the backlash complaining that D3 was too bright and colourful (they printed out posters with rainbows and pink unicorns around the D3 banner). But I fear in same cases it will lead to an added fear of experimentation.

    And it’s not like the industry has an over-abundance of that at the moment.

  • Silemess said,

    The thing about genres is that they’re meant to help relay some understanding about what the game is about.

    Ever try to tell someone about a game and have to reach for examples? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a computer game or a board game, you start asking if they’ve played “X” because it’s like “Y” with this part of the system.

    We pigeonhole because it’s the easiest way to say what the game play is like, and from there if it’s gotten interest we can expand and say what particular elements it has, what of those fit with the original grouping and what is new, etc…

    The only genre, to my mind, that is really tight on definitions is the First Person Shooter. If it was just a “Shooter” genre, it would be closer to what RPGs have to suffer through. Then you’d have arguments about First Person vs Third, if real time or turn based made a difference (because a Shooter genre might be argued to include games that are mostly weapon oriented, Fallout Tactics perhaps?).

    FPS had the benefit of knowing it had to declare what it was and make that niche. Which is why newer games that would be lumped into this have to claim they are borrowing or are also part of other genres.

    For myself, I just take it with the usual grain of salt. Something is an RPG? Great, then let’s see what elements it actually has. Story/Player affected plot? Leveling/Classes? Maybe we’ll move away from genres and just declare gaming elements, but I doubt it. So far as Mass Effect is concerned: “First Person” “Shooter” “Party Membership” “Leveling Class system” “Inventory Management” “Player chosen story endings * ” is a lot bigger than “FPS/RPG hybrid.”


    * I’ll note that it is a matter of debate, but not the purpose of this post

  • Badger said,

    As I mentioned in the other post, There’s a vey simple definition of an RPG…nutshelled for your convenience.

    an RPG is a game in which the player makes decisions, at his or her own speed, which affect the direction of the game. More importantly an RPG in which role-playing (IE social interaction) is the only skill which a player must develop. If a game requires you to develop physical skills, it is no longer an RPG.

    Ironically, that leaves out a lot of games which have previously been firmly (if incorrectly) classified as RPG games. The minute a game introduces a cool idea that requires the player to develop a physical skill, (Such as the lockpicking minigame in Oblivion) It ceases to become an RPG. The only way the game can retain it’s ‘RPGness’ is by introducing an alternative method to avoid that physical commitment, even if that method is generally inferior (which Oblivion managed to do, thus retaining it’s RPG status)

    Any game that claims to be an RPG and yet requires skills that could not be learned by a person with full body paralysis is no longer a role-playing game, it is an action game or an adventure game.

  • Badger said,

    yes, I know my comment will evoke flames, sorry…. I am more in favor of making up NEW categories rather than expanding the old ones to include stuff that they really don’t. ME2 is not an rpg. It is a ‘shooter with some roleplay elements’, and that explains it a lot better than just saying it’s an rpg…. or the future of rpg’s (which I pray it is not…one of my best friends, Quinn, is nearly blind, and has to stop all the time and magnify parts of the screen to see it, and I’d hate to see the genre redefined to the point where he cannot play RPG’s anymore) I will fight any definition of the RPG genre that includes ‘twitch’ skills.

  • Xenovore said,

    @Badger: “…Any game that claims to be an RPG and yet requires skills that could not be learned by a person with full body paralysis is no longer a role-playing game…”

    You’re still placing arbitrary (and personal) restrictions here. If we apply your point of view to the mental side of things, we could also say that any game requiring an IQ higher than 42 is not a RPG. Which of course is patently false.

    In a nutshell: A player’s physical or mental abilities are neither here nor there — they are completely irrelevant to defining “RPG”.

    Finally, when you’re talking about “twitch” or “physical” skills and bringing up paralysis and such, you’re really only considering the game interface. Imagine if a game provided an interface by which a player could directly see, hear, and feel what the character does — I mean directly via brain implant or something, thereby bypassing any physical handicaps — would that game cease to be a RPG? I don’t think so.

    Try to think outside the box once in a while, I say. =)

  • Xenovore said,

    “Imagine if a game provided an interface by which a player could directly see, hear, and feel what the character does…”

    “Control” should be inserted after “feel” to really quantify what I’m talking about there…

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