Method Gamers

Method Gamers
A Roleplayer in Azeroth

Will Hindmarch | 31 Jan 2006 07:03
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CRPGs aren't RPGs. I'm a snob about this, always have been.

To me, Knights of the Old Republic was a complex adventure game with too many chances to make character advancement choices I'd regret later, not an RPG. The story was fun, but the longest, most difficult route through any satisfying narrative is a CRPG. I thought it was the illusion of freedom on the road through a fixed story that bothered me - I would rather have watched KOTOR than play it - but Morrowind proved me wrong. For all its freedom, I was bored.

In comparison, one game that feels like an RPG to me, but isn't, is the fantastic Thief: The Dark Project. Its castles and cityscapes are like miniature solo dungeon crawls. Its grim, creepy world is as immersive as an RPG adventure should be. Its gameplay makes me think and feel like someone else, like I'm playing a role, not just steering a themed avatar around a map.

Like a lot of roleplayers, I started with Dungeons & Dragons. My first exposure to the game was the night before I started middle school, at a friend's sleepover birthday party. His dad ran the game for four of us: his son, a quiet kid who lived down the street from us, a loud-mouthed smart-aleck with a Luke Skywalker haircut who harassed me at school (I'll call him Miles) and me.

D&D wasn't the beginning of my geekhood by any stretch, and Miles passed the time at school by using my geekiness to make fun of me. (Also, I was a spaz, so he found me to be easy work.) He was a funny guy, really, but cruel. If I'd known he was going to be at the party, I probably would've stayed home, 'cause who wants to be the butt of a sleepover? But I didn't know, so that night, I ended up sitting on my friend's floor with the old "red box" books, rolling up my first Fighter.

Miles played a Fighter, too. I was swords, he was maces. I was plate armor, he was chainmail. By the end of that night's adventure, though, we were battling giant scorpions back-to-back and working together to lure out and vanquish a minotaur.

In all honesty, we were barely playing D&D. It was what the modern RPG player might call "rules light": ability checks, attack rolls and damage were the only game mechanics we used. It was a game of problem solving and play-acting, not THAC0. I didn't even learn about leveling up until the next session, when I took my first turn as dungeon master (DM). Sure, now I get off on game rules and genre emulation, too, but they're not the undertow that pulled me into this sea. It's the real-time interface of imaginations I love, the interaction between DM and PCs, between the Storyteller and the players. That's what makes an RPG what it is.

The undeniable flaw in my definition, of course, is I'm outnumbered. Millions of people played KOTOR and called it an RPG. Am I just being contrary to flaunt my snobbery? Not on purpose. CRPGs just don't deliver what I play RPGs to get - instantly gratifying escapism in a room with friends. But if the rest of the planet agrees that any game in which a PC advances over time is an RPG, is that what an RPG is?

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