Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Will the “Real” RPG Please Stand Up…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 9, 2010

Kieron Gillen has a rant.

Just Die: Against “Real” Role-Playing Games

Based on the title, you may get a knee-jerk reaction and you think someone like me, a devotee of dice-and-paper role-playing-games, would immediately attack the famed games-journalist-turned-comic-book-writer.

But two things: #1 -“Just Die” is a play on words for the singular form of dice. And #2 – it’s actually a very reasonable rant against the view of there being any ‘real’ role-playing game form, whether dice-and-paper, MMO, or single-player CRPG. Or as he states:

In other words, this article isn’t about actually preferring one to the other. You can prefer either. It’s the sneer in “real”. The “real” can go f*** itself. For a Fantasy game to come down to a question “real” is openly ludicrous.

Well, okay then. Actually, I’ll enthusiastically support this position. Even if I may have been guilty of said crimes in the past (I don’t know that I have, but jussincase…)

He notes that pen-and-paper (Hey, I use a pencil!) RPGs serve three “urges” in players – the gamist urge (achieving victory through the rules), the simulationist urge (exploration), and the narrativist urge (shared storytelling).  Computer RPGs do an admirable job of serving the first two – and arguably a far better job of handling the first than a fallible gamemaster. Gillen argues that it’s more of a tie between PnP and CRPGs on the second, as the loss of the human touch is balanced by the immediacy and decisiveness of the computer’s portrayal of the environment and cause-and-effect. There’s no hunting through rulebooks to figure out what happens when the fireball hits the pitch-filled barrels.

Narrativism – well, I have my own rant there. It ain’t gonna happen. I love Din’s Curse and Depths of Peril and their awesome dynamic storylines, and I’ve played a lot of RPGs with some truly excellent non-dynamic narratives that thrilled me, but none hold a candle to what a halfway competent game master can do. And never will. Besides, most of the narrative is inside the player’s head, anyway.

I have been playing both the dice-and-paper RPGs and CRPGs pretty actively for almost *cough*thirty*cough* years now. The two are not equivalent. Computer RPGs had their origins as attempts by programmers to simulate the experience of being at the table playing Dungeons & Dragons with other players. Maybe these asocial developers thought their creations were improvements, as it got rid of the annoying other humans they otherwise had to play with.

But as a fan of both “kinds” of RPGs, I think the CRPGs were largely a failure in accurately simulating the dice-and-paper experience. At least until I played Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption in Storyteller / multiplayer mode, and multiplayer Nevewinter Nights with a dungeon master. But while I still feel a close relationship between these cousins in the gaming family tree should remain close, they are different beings now. Gillen is right – trying to compare them in a desire to seek superiority or purity of one over the other is silly.

Now excuse me while I go play my jRPG-inspired indie CRPGs and open up a brand new +5 can of worms…

Filed Under: Dice & Paper - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Wavinator said,

    I enjoyed the discussion of the three domains of fulfillment RPGs fall into. Very illuminating. I also agree that it’s silly to adopt an attitude of superiority over what is and is not an RPG.

    But I do think there’s some need for boundaries in terms of definitions, if for no other reason than so that players can find the games they like. Take, for example, the discussion of whether FPS elements water down cRPGs and the assertion you posted awhile back about Mass Effect’s developers proclaiming their game to be the future of computer and console RPGs. If you can take out something like stats being the main arbiter for success (replacing it with aim skill) then what else can you take out and still call it an RPG? Inventory, obviously, as Mass Effect 2 asserts. What about NPC interaction? Can a on-rails shooter with stat improvement and nods to narrative at the beginning of segmented levels be claimed as an RPG?

    While superiority and smirking doesn’t do much good I think it’s still valid to object to lowering the bar on cRPG standards, which I think the term “real” essentially does. By pointing out how cRPGs fail to rise to the level of tabletop RPGs in areas like diversity of problem solving options, social/NPC simulation or heck even in subject matter (must we ALWAYS have orcs???!) maybe we can inspire cRPG to do better.

  • Kieron Gillen said,

    Yeah, it’s an odd one. I obviously knew I’d get some people’s backs up, but what I’m saying isn’t particularly controversial. They’re two approaches to the same topic, each which – on average – excel in different ways. As I front loaded before wandering the terrain a little, it’s not much more than “You sound like a judgmental twat if you say this”.

    (What I didn’t cover is the interesting ways they learn from one-another. But that’s a different story)