Escapist Podcast: 035: What Defines An RPG & More Mass Effect

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035: What Defines An RPG & More Mass Effect

This week, we talk about our personal feelings on what makes an RPG an RPG, and we talk more about Mass Effect. Warning, various spoilers for Mass Effect 1 and 2 throughout.

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The one game that I hated with a red hot passion was Silent Hill: Origins, outside of the music, there was nothing about that game that I enjoyed or thought it did well. I stopped playing it for months, but it bothered me because I know I didn't finish it.

So, I sucked it up and finished it. I felt relieved that it was over and I didn't have to play it ever again. I finish every game I play because I figured well I bought it so I'm just going to go all the way. In that game's case, I just had to, not because I wanted to, but had to. Also, if I'm going to bitch about a game I might as well see the bitter end so I know what I'm talking about.

The Escapist Staff:
035: What Defines An RPG & More Mass Effect

This week, we talk about our personal feelings on what makes an RPG an RPG, and we talk more about Mass Effect. Warning, various spoilers for Mass Effect 1 and 2 throughout.

Watch Video

It's interesting to draw a line between "RPGs being about PLAYER agency" and "RPGs being about CHARACTER ability"** (which actually undermines player agency, in a sense). That's the area in which I feel definitions of RPG are actually polar opposites.

As for me, I'm in the Player Agency camp. And I believe stats are important in that they provide an objective, external measurement for that Player Agency. As is the case with many things, the cart works its way in front of the horse, and we begin defining things by their most superficial characteristics -- we start to define RPG based on the stat systems, rather than understanding the stats as a vehicle of player choice.

If I were to boil it down to the root of the "problem:"

1. RPG isn't a genre. It's a gameplay style that can be used in several genres. And, like any style, it can be laid on pretty thick or pretty thin. Final Fantasy games have a thin layer of RPG (more in some, less in others), while Skyrim has a bit more.

2. There are two main genres to which RPG style is often attached, and they are often mislabeled as RPGs: "story-driven adventure games," and "strategic combat simulators." Some of these are RPGs, others are not.

3. The quick and easy answer to wild cards like Zelda -- people consider it a roleplaying game because of the puzzle element. Outcomes in the game are based on how well you figure out the puzzles. Link is only as intelligent as you (Or your hint guide...). This adds a lot to the feeling that this is a roleplaying game, instead of just a story-driven adventure. (Personally, I disagree with the RPG label here, but I feel that's the reason it sticks.)

Now for the real question: Is a game like The Sims, in a sense, a roleplaying game? Even though you're not stepping into the role of your characters, you're playing a role in this "God game," aren't you?

**This quickly becomes a semantic argument, but I feel the difference is this: Yes, you're "limited" by your character's stats, rather than your own ability... but it's just the mirror at work. If you can have an impact on the world, it's necessary for the world to have an impact back. Your "limitations" are simply the game world responding to and enforcing the choices you've already made. At the core, it's still about player choice, even when it's about character stats.

First of all, congratulations on an absolutely brilliant podcast! I found the discussion of player agency and gameplay mechanisms very interesting.

Personally, I tend to associate RPGs with deep characterization, which is how I can incorporate Western and Eastern games in the same category. You may not be able to change anything that happens to Yuna over the course of "Final Fantasy X", but the game goes to great lengths to ensure that the connection between the player and the player character is strong: you discover Spira alongside Tidus, you grow closer to his teammates as he does, and you probably react in similar ways when Rikku drops the bomb about the pilgrimage. And I don't think that kind of rapport is true of, say, any of the Links in "Legend of Zelda", because the focus tends to turn outward towards the world and its inhabitants.

Western RPG protagonists like the Nameless One, Hawke and Shepard are different because they're blank slates; in theory, they're just vehicles for the player to project into the story. But I think the brilliance of BioWare games is that the story gradually shifts from players acting out their whims to players choosing courses of action that are consistent with the character they've created. The first time I played "Dragon Age II", my Hawke was a warrior and a man of honor. Lots of blue wings and green olive branches. He fell in love with Anders, and at the climax Hawke killed him. And that wasn't the choice I would've made - Hawke #2 spared him even though she was with Isabella - but you experience the meta-narrative of BioWare focalizers so powerfully that you can be compelled to do what's right by the _character_ rather than by you.

Awesome podcast. Wasn't expecting the discussion on sports games but I reckon that was the highlight.

However with regards to Mass Effect your own personal decisions are still limited and generally lack impact beyond the making of the choice. It's moreso the fact that there are so many of them kind of fools the player into thinking more of the game is being influenced by them than it actually is, though then again that's understandable considering just how much work would have to be put into the game to make every little option have consequence or proper continuity. Anyway it's just not really the be all and end all of story driven entertainment or whatever. The most profound moments of the ME series happen mostly the same way regardless of past player decisions.
Also it's curious that the encounter with Ashley on Horizon is repeatedly highlighted in the podcast but that situation in particular goes almost exactly the same way regardless of the player's past or current choices. If it's Kaiden instead it's still very similar. Its funny that bringing that moment up sort of reinforces that in ME you don't really have that much freedom of choice or influence.

Box art wise all of the non-collectors covers have sucked and showing default dude Shepard, which is supposed be modified to the player's personal liking, is stupid. Maybe instead they should've had several different figures in N7 armour each implied to be different examples of Shepard with differing genders, classes, renegade scars, gear and whatever else doing the classic walk up to the camera thing. One could look at these different examples of the same character and essentially see, at least hypothetically, that their own character can be anything like or unlike any of them.
While ME2's collectors edition box is awesome, another cool one might be schematics/blueprints on each different version of the Normandy. Looking at your CE cases and seeing the old SR-1, then the redesigned SR-2 and then the new ME3 design would be pretty cool.

Also, if I'd stopped playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. SoC because it's first couple hours pissed me off, I never would have discovered one of my favourite games and been insanely psyched up for the hopefully not too distant sequel.
It was probably the many characters and plot elements from the sucky early sections pointing towards the upcoming and more intriguing areas which kept me playing it. For instance in the starting location NPC's keep going on about how much greater the inner areas of the game world is, so I guess I kind of thought to myself, 'Hells yeah I'm get through this crap to get there,' so I did, and it was awesome.

Podcat was fun as usual.
Now it is time for me to inject my thoughts on the RPG battle of the definitions into this thread.

1. Effect on the world:
This can mean in the:
-Gothic 3 sense of you fight the orcs to liberate town and that means the skill trainers that worked for the orcs are now dead or mia.
-Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines where I make choice that can lead to someone's death it counts if I care enough about the person's life or at least they seem human enough that I have to think about my action before knowingly ending a life or refusing a mission.

-Alpha Protocol where you make choices and then the missions/items/info change based on your choice. Shoot the guy and sure you are safe from him, but his gun selling friends are not going to sell to you after that.
KOTOR and ME have some obvious changes to the world save/destroy race or which side of the conflict you support. While I loved KOTOR and ME1 they lacked the humanity to make me care for the most part.

2. Story/dialogue
This is a simple goal of open enough that I have a feel that I can make a choice rather than an image of me being dragged by the nose. Multiple endings and factions help this part. Needless to say good storytelling, dialogue and voice acting are integral, to this.

3. Player agency
- Skyrim: You can be a farmer for the whole damn game. You have many options on what you want to do and you are only limited by a few rules. While Skyrim doesn't do well for points 1 or 2 it nails this one.

- This ties in with the multiple endings or factions as those allow the player choice in how they act in game. Some player agency can be shown in gear and weapon/skill choice/customization but that is a small part of a big topic.

- Faction choices seem to be less jarring than the good, neutral, and evil setup. Although Deus ex HR seemed to have a glimpse of a risk/reward in it. Such as when you went to save someone and you had to choose if it was worth it to take the shot risking the innocent's life or let the target go to ensure the safety the innocent.

The FPS asks: How are you going to beat the bad guy?

The RTS asks: How will you manage the resources?

The RPG should ask: Who are you?

Level up +5 LP!

I found that the title RPG is so open to interpretation that it holds almost no meaning. I have found Stalker SoC and x3tc to be more of an RPG than some games wearing the RPG title.

I may have missed games or points due to multitasking or my own personal stupidity. If anything is unclear please let me know and I will try to explain. If you think I am wrong I will be egotistical and verbally attack you please let me know where and why. After all this is one hell of a minefield of a topic.

Yay, Scusan are back!!1
Coincidentally, there was much less talk about pee in this episode. Strange, that...

I really liked the discussion this week. I had a hard time with the discussion about the meaningful choices, though, because nearly every example brought up failed for me in some way :(

For example I was a survivor Shep like Justin (or was it Mr Tito?) brought up... Not having the options to properly express that made it feel like I was being railroaded somewhat when characters comment on it.

In Deus Ex:HR, I really liked that character who ended up dying. On the one hand it was a very effecting experience (in a later scene when you can find out what happened to them, I totally went to town on that whole gang despite my mostly non-lethal stealth character. Every. Last. One of them.)... but it was soured for me when I learnt later that there was another option. My only thought in that scene was to save the character, but I failed it without even knowing it because the options were badly explained.

Also: I think theres an interesting subject regarding roleplaying that isnt discussed very often. What do you guys think about the difference between "playing the role youre given" and "setting yourself a role to play"? These are two different views of what roleplaying "means" that I find have a lot of people supporting each side, but most people dont even notice that they might have a different definition to someone else.

To some people, sometihng like Mass Effect is the core of roleplaying: You are given the role of Commander Shep, veteran soldier in the human space navy, and its up to you to play that role.
To other people, being told they are Shep is the opposite of roleplaying: They want to create a role, with its own name, background, history and motivations.

Ill love to hear you discuss how well (or even whether) these two views can go together in a single game; and where do you guys individually come down on the line?

The problem with all games being immediately enjoyable and accessible is that this can seriously limit what you can put into a game - Crusader kings 2 is an example, I'm loving the game but to learn it and to discover what I wanted to do with it, I had to watch let's plays.

If the game had given me a nice goal at the start and held my hand, introduced me slowly it would've been much less enjoyable, so much of the appeal of the game for me is that the goal is fluid and just how much freedom you have, not to mention the awesome choices and consequences that crop up... I just don't see how to merge that freedom with an effective introduction, partially because understanding the mechanics doesn't matter much and it's so difficult to tell people how to deal with an open sandbox - see minecraft.

I think Steve is like my nemesis or something. He keeps saying things that make me go "No no no!" at him.

So anyway, I had the exact opposite reaction to Horizon as he did, likely because I too was playing a Sole Survivor FemShep and so the entirety of ME2 had me going "Cerberus? Really? Why Cerberus? Can I punch this guy yet?" (I totally blew up the Collector base JUST because it was the only way to say FU to TIM.) So when Kaidan called me on it, I wanted the "I KNOW! Can you help me get out of this mess?" option that wasn't there. Totally ruined the tiny sense of enjoyment the game had given me thus far.

(Though I get to disagree with Susan here for once, because instead of going "Oh my god, the Normandy, that's my home!" I was going "What? Seriously? That's the opening? Are you stupid?" And then having the rest of the game effectively say to me "Yes, yes we are stupid." Mass Effect 2's a sore spot of mine, you might notice.)

I think it was Steve, though, that did hit on the thing I use to define RPG for me: who's responsible for victory, my player or my character? That's why JRPGs get to be RPGs; it's the character's skills that matter for victory, not the player's. How good I am at shooting, or how quick my reflexes are, should not be determining whether my character is triumphant in an RPG. It should be how good the character is at shooting, how quick the character's reflexes are.

Telling a story and making decisions in that story are good things, player agency is a good thing, and many good RPGs have these elements, but if you use that definition, Choose Your Own Adventure books are RPGs, and I simply don't think they are (fun, sure. RPGs, no.)

Okay, only listened to the first 25 minutes so far but anyone who says Susan always dominates the conversation needs to listen to this because she's been mowed over by the guys like three times so far.

5:56 "Every game is a roll playing game"
I get extremely annoyed at that statement. A friend of mine says his favorite RPG is Splinter Cell Chaos Theory because he "Plays the roll of Sam Fisher." And I just don't buy it.
But by Justin's logic Tales of Vesperia isn't an RPG, and I don't buy that either.
I agree with Steve, Justin's definition of RPG is far too narrow for my liking.

36:23 and 1:01:08
I try my best to avoid things I don't like (especially in situations where I'm not allowed to talk bad about the things in question) but when you splice Miracle of Sound into the middle of the podcast avoiding it is really hard. I don't expect that you'd stop using them because one person complained, but it would be nice if you'd call it out in the run time breakdown so I'd know when to skip. Pretty please.

When you say "Shepard" I think Femshep.

But mostly Femshep, and I think that's because designed to be male. You can see it in the way she moves, stretching her neck or cracking her knuckles, the way she sits or dances. It's not lady like at all and (to me) it adds a depth to the character that you don't get with the male Shepard. It also doesn't hurt that Jennifer Hale is a far better voice actor than Mark Meer.

Justin, I've basically said the same things about what makes an RPG. As much as I like Zelda and JRPGs, they aren't the same experience to me.

Also, I had the thought that NFL Blitz and other related strategy games could be considered as cousins of the RPG genere, but are not the same thing. I do find the relationship interesting though.

Separately, what was the name of the castle building game that was spoken of? I'm having internet troubles and couldn't hear the name.

Now for Mass Effect talk: You actually do have the opportunity to turn Cerberus against itself from the inside - for the most part, by making Paragon decisions (not necessarily dialogue, I mean the choices). For example, you send the Cerberus data to the Alliance, you blow up the Collector base, you turn David in Overlord to the Alliance program, you convince Miranda and Jacob to leave Cerberus, etc. It just requires your Shep to be a little sneaky in how s/he acts.

Also, for Mass Effect default choices, I noteced that all of them were neutral except for the "kill the Rachni queen" one, and that removes a scene that otherwise would make no sense (the quasi-possessed asari with a message from the Queen).

Thanks for the great podcast!

RPGs as all games are defined by their mechanics or rules. In this day and age gamers seem increasingly blinded by the surface of games such as their graphics, story (and the choices that may exist within), voicing acting and other things that serve as backdrop to one's main engagement with the game.

An rpg is defined by the stats of the character or characters one is controlling and the overlying system that determines the effectiveness of action based one or more characters stats. Turn-based (and phased-based if it need be mentioned) rpgs are completely focused on the characters abilities. The player just chooses how to develop the character(s) and what abilities they'll use. The reason one would focus on a mage's magic modifier(intellect/wisdom/mentality) rather than strength, is dependent on the fact that their magical abilities won't improve and that that class generally doesn't have aptitude(stats&abilities) in physical combat. Now however, a mage-fighter would benefit from some increased stats in strength; there's the expectation that one will balance out stat increases in both magic and strength for that character while not doing so with a pure mage since it would be a waste.

Turn-based RPG Series: X-Com, Wizardry, Realms of Arkania, Metal Max, Chrono Trigger/Cross, Etrian Odyssey

Action-rpgs simply, or generally, remove the stats governing accuracy or hit and dodge. They typically only focus in on one character being controlled, allowing the A.I. to control the actions of one's other party members. Ultimately however, one's performance is dependent on the stats of one's character. After a certain point, due to scaling, one's character can't take on greater foes without increasing one's stats; this of course neglecting abuses to the system.

Action RPG (Series): The Witcher 2, Dead Island, Mount&Blade, Star Ocean, Last Story, Parasite Eve 2

The word role in RPG has nothing to do with story, but the abilities of one's character.
Rogue is a role in an rpg.
Cleric is a role in an rpg.
Farmer is a role in an rpg.
Miles Standard is a rather unassuming gentleman from the town of Elbe in Ugar, located on the Felkin continent of Sume. At the age of ten he was enrolled in the Magic Academy of Dindom, where he learned of the intricacies of magic. At the age of fourteen, a game of oneupsmanship with his colleagues resulted in him being blinded in one eye; in actually he gained the ability to see the little viewed world of phantasms. At the age 18 he found himself drafted into a war between the Principality of Ugar and the Holy Sumen Republic. At the age of 30, he was released from captivity and made a general in the Holy Sumen Republic due to his masterful commanding when he rose to the rank of lesser knight at age twenty-five and served as such up to his capture at age 28 at Azul Creek. Now in charge of his life, he returns home in order to decide what to do with his life.

None of that is a role in an rpg, just the founding of the player's starting point. One knows Miles has some experience in magic, but one doesn't know anything important to gameplay. Lesser Knight and General are just titles that give one no idea of how his skills have developed.

Choice is ultimatly insignificant compared to the purpose of the start and endpoints in an rpg. Multiple paths and faction allegiances serve to limit or open one's options. However, they will eventually submit to the end. Those games that could be played indefinitely end when the player says it ends. The path be it straight or webbed functions the same as levels, tracks, rooms, areas and stages in other games. The ability to either use magic, a sword or a gun to kill enemies also falls into this category dubiously and only then on the account of using more than one option to solve problems is widespread through video games. In Smuggler's Run, one's choice of vehicle can make difference between easy success, hard success, neck and neck failure and guaranteed failure.

Leveling are insignificant compared to stats. Levels simply allow one to improve a character's abilities and stats, or just increase a character's repertoire of abilities. A great example of stats being more important than leveling is Trapped Dead. The reason you would give one character a gun and another a melee weapon is dependent on their stats. Take the doctor, it only makes sense to give him the shotgun, do to his low accuracy. Giving the bandages to anybody but him is lunacy, given the fact that he is the only one that can heal characters. Everybody else except for the photographer I think, just stop the bleeding.

I purpose this simple question. What is Dungeons&Dragons without the stats and D20 system, but keeping the lore?

To me, it's a just a collection of information and a bestiary. One could say that without the dice rolls and character sheets, one just has the components for creating a story. One could say its a Create-A-Your-Own-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Kit.

The idea that one doesn't play rpgs for the gameplay is absurd. Story is context, it explains the how and why. Story is the alpha and omega.

Zelda is an action adventure game, the genre that relies entirely on player skill and none of what makes Link. To the adventure genre entirely, puzzles are their most important aspect or the concept of how this puzzle prevents one's progression into the next room. Action adventure simply adds constant and ideally competent combat. Link's items, be they weapons or tools, are no different from the pistol and gravity gun of Half-life. The idea of comparing Zelda to rpgs stems from the fact that it has few competitors in the genre; especially not one's that are re-occurring. Heck, the whole reason that one saw people constantly comparing Skyward Sword and Skyrim is because they both lack what one would call competition; the contest between rivals of attempting to redefine or improve the basics of their genre.

In short:

Systems and stats define rpgs, player choice and character advancement are marginally important in determining what an rpg is.

Dutch, hmmm, Oven? You let women pay? You look like Ed O'Neill?

Captcha: tsagembe pron., (heh)

Well fun as always, we missed you Susan as for that question at the end well there's Custom Robo for the Gamecube, I mean I didn't hate everything on it because I did like the combat and personalizing my robot but it got really tedious after a while regardless the reason I hate that game is because of the story mode, seriously if someone has played that game's story mode I think they'll agree with me that it is complete and utter shit, I mean you can see the plot twists coming from 1000 miles away and you're character acts like he has no idea what's going to happen and it's so frustrating that you actually feel the game is insulting your intelligence, regardless even though I hated it and was so ridiculously mad and frustrated at it I finished it not sure why since I don't talk with people about that game but if I had to guess it's just because I liked the N64 version a lot but never had a clue of what the story was since it was on Japanese, after playing that game I was so grateful that I didn't understand the previous ones.

Just wanted to say that my two year old daughter already knows how to turn on our tablet, navigate through the touch screen menus to the one her educational games are on, and start up the apps without any help at all. I started learning basic programming on a TRS-80 when I was four, and I am just giddy thinking about the technical aptitude that my daughter will be capable of now that devices that I would have considered downright mystical earlier in my life have become commonplace. And games will be a strong part of my daughter's educational experience.

Regarding the Bioshock Little Sisters business:

I read an interview with someone who was involved in developing the game. Apparently the original plan was that harvesting the sisters would result in an animation in which Jack would shove his arm down the kid's throat and rip the adam slug from their stomach. Yeah... and it was all in first-person perspective.

For obvious reasons the publishers put their foot down and so we got the obscuring green 'poof'.

Great podcast.

I agree with Justin when it comes to RPGs, and I also agree that I don't consider JRPGs to be real RPGs.

Big fan of Mass Effect 1, enjoyed 2 to a degree, just very wary of all the changes they are making. I am also wary of the effects of adding multiplayer. I'll still play it, nothing else out in March, so I guess I'll have to see for myself.

The guys on the podcast think they are so smart without employing scientific mehtod which would be smart but then they would loose the listeners. It hurts me every time to hear these guys talk about what "is" an RPG. They do not consider anything. They have no premises but a conclusion, but think they have made a sound argument.
This way of thinking they display in the conversation displays the core problem of the community of the so called "gamers". Gamers being the selproclaimed intellectual elite of people who play videogames. The people who cry for videogames to be more than just games you have fun with but try to apply a philosophy to gaming like the aformentioned what a rpg "is" which is ontology. To answer the question is important to game development. To be honest it is only important to game developers because they are the ones making the game. It is because knowing what certain mechanics are and what you can use them for to accomplish certain goals is what makes good game design. If a game has good design the players will most of the time not notice design choices. Only the hardcore players will want to deeply understand the mechanics to optimize their gameplay of the game.
To guide you I take the example of Baldur´s Gate and Final Fantasy. We agree that they are both RPGs. So everthing that is different is not essential to being an RPG. So this will be the different styles of presenting the narrative. Final Fantasy having a stringent narravtive with little choice, Baldur's Gate having a non-liniar but fixed story. What I am saying is Baldu's Gate has multiple choice dialogue you decide wether your player avatar is good, evil, rightous or chaotic but you end up defeating your evil brother. The narrative is not important to be a RPG.
If we talk about player's agency within a game regarding RPGs we think about how we the players affect the narrative of the game. But because the narrative is not important for a RPG to be a RPG player's agency is not important to a RPG.
You eliminate the rest of the differences comparing more games of the genre and have one conclusion. The one thing that makes a RPG is the game mechanics. That is statistical growth through repetitive action. For everyone that is called grinding or leveling.
Now you may notice that many games have a leveling system. Are they RPGs? Is Call of Duty an RPG for having a leveling system? Well, no of course not. But now we know that Call of Duty implemented RPG mechanics.
Talking about the importance of player's agency within a RPG is a marketing move. Bioware wants you to think they are making the real deal RPG and SquareEnix makes a dumb kiddy version you should not play because you are the adult and need the adult Bioware product. Either that or the designers of Bioware are stupid. But assuming they know what game design is they are just trying to mislead the community to get more sales. The problem is that magazines like the escapist are fooled. But they are not only fooled by the PR department of Bioware and the like but they are also forced to spout this nonsense because the readers who are the aformentioned "gamers" want to read that stuff to feel like the smart gamer he/she thinks he/she is without thinking because they already have those thoughts and want to be prooven right by media outlets. There is a whole world of wrong with such a method of aquiring information. But that is how the PR department is also forced to keep spouting the lies and the media outlets are forced to report those lies and the readers consume those lies. We now have erected a bulding of lies that we cannot just tear down because everyone has had helped build it. So everyone must work together for the lies to stop. But that doe not seem to happen any time soon. The cooperations are comfortable how much money they make and the consumers are too comfortable because they like the lies. Media outlets are everyone's slave in such a matter. So what has to happen to fight this selfimposed ignorance and the spread of lies nowadays so prevalent in hte industry?

What makes an RPG for me? Level ups, story, and choices (if it's western generally). There are exceptions of course. Not that anyone cares... just throwing it out there.

What makes an RPG for me? Level ups, story, and choices (if it's western generally). There are exceptions of course. Not that anyone cares... just throwing it out there.

Saying you make exceptions for western to opposed to non western (say japanese) production is racist.
Also there are no exceptions to the rule in this case because it is not some case of a chaotic system with too much elements of random. If you want to define RPG give us a definition that applys to all what is called RPG. Why is that you might ask. I can answer that. It is because of logic. There is a method that is called deduction. If you know what a RPG is because you have defined what makes a RPG a RPG you may deduce if a random game you are looking at is a RPG.
Here is how the argument works:
1. All RPGs have statistical growth through repetitive action.
2. This game has statistical growth through repetitive action.
3. This game is an RPG
Also works like this:
1. All RPGs have statistical growth through repetitive action.
2. This game has no statistical growth through repetitive action.
3. This game is not a RPG.


What makes an RPG for me? Level ups, story, and choices (if it's western generally). There are exceptions of course. Not that anyone cares... just throwing it out there.

Saying you make exceptions for western to opposed to non western (say japanese) production is racist.
Also there are no exceptions to the rule in this case because it is not some case of a chaotic system with too much elements of random. If you want to define RPG give us a definition that applys to all what is called RPG. Why is that you might ask. I can answer that. It is because of logic. There is a method that is called deduction. If you know what a RPG is because you have defined what makes a RPG a RPG you may deduce if a random game you are looking at is a RPG.
Here is how the argument works:
1. All RPGs have statistical growth through repetitive action.
2. This game has statistical growth through repetitive action.
3. This game is an RPG
Also works like this:
1. All RPGs have statistical growth through repetitive action.
2. This game has no statistical growth through repetitive action.
3. This game is not a RPG.

What the hell are you talking about, what does racism have to do with anything I just said? I think you misconstrued what I was saying amidst all the trolling/ego masturbation. Anyway, I meant choices (story choices) generally apply to western games more, because they do. Most (meaning not all) JRPGs don't give you a lot of choices, as far as progressing the story along how you want. And I said exceptions because there are exceptions to all three of those personal criteria in regards to what makes an RPG for me. If you noticed, I said personal and 'what makes an RPG for me', so that means this is a personal outlook. If someone else has different criteria, so be it.

Great podcast yet agien, though I am sad that we never really heard Susan's response to the pee theory.
The one game I played to the end even though I hated was the signal player in Battlifield 3. I bought the game for the multiplayer, and when I buy a game for the multiplayer I always play through the signal paleyer befor I go online to get use to the controls and get a feel for some of the guns. So I started playing the Battlifield 3 single player and it was horrible and I was hated it, but I still felt obligated to finish the story befor I went online and, that motivated me to finish the game.

Wow... I don't know why, but whenever the two big questions of "What makes an RPG?" or "What's more RPG, Western or Eastern?" I always seem to run into the "JRPGs aren't RPGs because you don't play a role!" and I always die a little inside. I'll turn to a very old post, which I will edit a little to incorporate further knowledge gained since I first posted it, but for the most part expresses why JRPGs are RPGs and are no more so than Western ones. (sorry for the typos in advance)

"The main flaw with this argument is that you're comparing two culturally different experiences (WRPGs vs. JRPGs) with one culture's back story (D&D). The fact is, the Japanese don't view role-playing in the same light as us Western folk. Where as Western RPGs revolve around choices, customization and overall free form thinking, Japanese role-playing involves more storytelling, immersion into pre-set characterizations and realizations about personalities you never may have recognized before. It's more of a learning experience that gets you out of your shell to take on another's viewpoint, where as western philosophy on the matter encourages learning about and using your own personality to overcome extraordinary circumstances. Let's get some examples up here, shall we?

First I'll delve into Dungeons and Dragons. As most of us know, D&D is a game about character creation. It lets you pick from a wide veriaty of classes, who have a robust line-up of abilities and powers to conquer a world in the way you see fit. It allows statistical customization of your characters, while throwing in chance by having you roll to determine your overall strength. The character then plays out a determined personality, chosen from the beginning, and grows as a person in both personality and statistics as he or she adventures through the world before them. It encourages out-of-the-box thinking as well as puzzling solving and good judgement. These campaigns are mainly set in western-esque settings including broadswords, heavy armour and Tolkien races as well as monsters from common mythos, but have spread out to accommodate wuxian (asian kung-fu style, think Journey to the West) adventures as well.

Now what do the Japanese have to counter this? While possibly not the first tabletop RPG to ever come out in Japan, my first taste of their style was from Tenra Bansho Zero. This particular game is steeped in a sort of cyber-punk feeling as humanity has now gone into space to find habitable planets. So who's going into space? Well, children who pilot mecha, warrior caste with shiki demons bound to jewels inside them called "Samurai", cyborg "Kijin" who obtain perfection through replacing flesh with steel and a "Shinobi" caste of spies who insert battery packs into themselves to give them super-human powers! The main differences are how the characters interact with the world through the mechanics of the game. It plays out more like a Kabuki play, where your overall goal is to form a coherent and compelling story rather than to make choices. You interact with others and reactions are never determined by solely by personality, they're rolled for. Sure, you can get modifiers for persoanltiy traits, Karma points and such to effect the outcomes if you feel you need to sway a bad roll (much like how combat modifiers work in D&D), but on the whole your reactions are not your own and are determined by the role of some dice and a chart. You then have to act, in character, that reaction to NPCs or other players, trying to immerse yourself into your newfound, developed role and then deal with the consequences of this new revelation in the story.

So we stand here at a cross-raods, where there are similarities, but also some big differences between the two cultures. If you look at their progression into video games, however, you can see huge similarities. The Japanese prefer story, where as the West perfer choice and gameplay. It's a style and both have stuck to what they do best. So take each for what it is and enjoy both!"

Where WRPGs present the opinion that a character should be an extension of the player, JRPGs believe that the player needs to become the extension of the character. I think this is a profound difference in philosophy of role-playing and both have great advantages and disadvantages. However, can one really be called better than the other, or are they simply different and appeal to different beliefs in how we role-play?

Now, to come full circle, I believe the disconnect for JRPGs within the video gaming world is that no one can make you choose a particular path without it being seen as a straight narrative. Unlike Tenra Bansho Zero, JRPGs, as with Western RPGs, are wholly personal experiences and that the singular invention of the reset button means that no one can enforce the outcome of the game without eliminating that mechanic altogether and just making it a singular narrative. This is why JRPGs are more story driven, choice lacking games and may not be as attractive to some people. It still upholds that ideal of self-discovery through experiencing another (wo)man's perspective and seeing your identity of self flow out through opinion but it's not as profound, I believe, as it is with the pen & paper style. In the end, however, both are philosophically grounded in the same thing: a journey of self-discovery. To me, that's what defines an RPG.

Really enjoyed the Mass Effect talk.Always glad to see the opinions of the Escapist staff regarding the Mass Effect games.

Keep doing a great job guys and girl!


What the hell are you talking about, what does racism have to do with anything I just said? I think you misconstrued what I was saying amidst all the trolling/ego masturbation.

I did not misconstrue what you were saying. You just don't know what you are saying. The whole WRPG vs. JRPG debate is about racism. Excluding RPGs produced from japanese developers and saying RPGs using certain mechanics are japanese is racist. You may call it what you want but the principle is excluding something from something else thus treating it as something different, special or foreign and alien to be wary of. You were probably raised to not be racist. You also were raised to not accept racism. Thus your reaction of me saying you saying racist things. You think of yourself not as a racist. You saying something racist with malevolent intent is something you cannot imagine yourself actualy doing. That is superficial racism. There is also a deeply hidden hidden racism which we almost never notice like with the "western" and "japanese" RPGs. You may think them just labels and names who can do no harm but then you are mistaken. Words always carry meaning. I thus take the stance that our language dictates how we are understanding each other. Thus concluding you expressing those words have an affect on another ones outlook on the world because he gets the meaning of your words you yourself do not intent to transmit thus getting the message wrong you want him to receive.


Anyway, I meant choices (story choices) generally apply to western games more, because they do.

Your argument is very sound. If something is true then this something is true. I cannot argue with that. You have proven that something must be true if it is true. Listen, if you want to argue learn how to argue. You cannot prove something by assuming that which you are going to prove. You may assume somehting which you are trying to prove the opposite of because proving your assumption wrong leads you to the conclusion that the opposit of your assumtion must be true. The opposit being any status that is not-somehting you assumed.


Most (meaning not all) JRPGs don't give you a lot of choices, as far as progressing the story along how you want. And I said exceptions because there are exceptions to all three of those personal criteria in regards to what makes an RPG for me. If you noticed, I said personal and 'what makes an RPG for me', so that means this is a personal outlook. If someone else has different criteria, so be it.

Here is how it works. You say that what makes a RPG a RPG for you is random. Why are you saying that you might ask. That is easy to answer. "Most" like "some" are not "all". If you define a type, a sort, a kind of something they all have a certain something in common. Not most of them but all. You agree? Thus leading us to the conclusion that which is not shared by all is not relevant but optional to what we define. So if you say "most" and "exception" this just means it is not the important matter which we are talking about. It is not what makes a RPG a RPG.
Having different criteria is ok as along as the argument is sound, valid and of interest to the discussion. Your argument is sound and valid assuming what you are saying is true, but not interesting because of our assumption that what you are saying is true.
You see I studied logic. There is such a thing. I know how to argue. You are just displaying your ignorance of the matter (not ment as an insult) how anyone else but fanatics might agree with your point of view. That is because I assume you wanted a response to your point of view which you got and wanted people to agree or convert to your point of view (which I am trying to do to you).
Here is how the argument will work from now on. You proove me wrong and I am left with no other choice but to agree that I am wrong because I made an error within my own argument and my premises, or you take my premises and introduce another premise I agree with and proove your argument.

Preferring one kind of gameplay over another doesn't make someone racist, unless their only reason for not choosing that gameplay is its nation of origin. Japanese style RPGs and Western style RPGS have very different designs that typify their style, and it's perfectly reasonable for someone to say they don't enjoy them. If you don't like turn-based combat, for example, you'll likely avoid JRPGs, since they typically favor turn-based combat. That hardly makes you racist.


Alright, I didn't even finish reading that. Want to know why? Because you are looking way too far into this, which happens a lot on this site... so I guess I'm not surprised. I am aware of 'subtle' racism, since I tend to have to explain it to others, but you're taking big leaps here (for whatever reason) bringing up these deep concepts about racism and logic and 'how to argue' and whatever else.

I don't agree that my criteria for RPGs is random. I generally consider a game an RPG if it has leveling, is fairly story based and if there are story choices involved (though I tend to rely on the leveling and story based points more to determine it an RPG.) That's it. Interesting points, but sometimes it's possible to look way too much into things.

I'll simplify things a little more.

Mass Effect - Action RPG
Balder's Gate - RPG
Elder Scrolls - RPGs
KOA Reckoning - Action RPG
Zelda - Adventure (I don't even consider it an RPG)
Final Fantasy - RPG

Note: These are personal opinions on what an RPG is... which should be obvious.

Hoo boy, I think I need some room here for the massive knuckle cracking required before this.

/cracks knuckles fervently

I think part of the issue is differing views on what kind of definition is being discussed. It seems to knock back and forth between something absolute and "What I feel an RPG should have." An overall definition is all-encompassing, while the latter is preference. I think a point to make is this: Imagine the earliest game that had a choice with sufficient weight for that rpg preference. Now, are there games before it that were considered RPGs. If so, then the choice with weight is not part of the overall definition of an RPG. It is an extra element that has been added--that people like--but it is not integral. Somewhat relating to the "movies are canon" discussion, the earliest definition tends to be the most concrete. Someone important enough really needs to coin a phrase for a game with weighted decisions. Anyway, semantics, I would probably say that an RPG is such that a character has progression. That seems to be a common enough element and one of the earliest.

Onto marketed gender in a game where you choose it: Yeah it would just be really difficult to initially market the female for your space cowboy simulator, especially given the *ehem* form-fitting uniform you employ. Imagine though, if the female was in a thick leather duster or a mechsuit, might work better. Can still be somewhat difficult in fantasy when the female archetype is either sexy mage or sexy rogue. One could have the female in full plate with a mean scowl on her face and ripping an orc in half, but that might come off a bit strong. (Tangent: Huh, this dictionary doesn't recognize "orc." Just found that interesting.) I feel Fable 3 would have been able to easily have a marketed female, because its not just a fantasy world's a female ruler, which can fit quite nicely without oversexualizing.

Mass Effect's "moral" decisions are interesting and unique in that it is not good vs. evil. If you were evil you'ld let the galaxy die, but no. You still save the galaxy, it's just a matter of how you get there. Now sometimes you have nice decisions of savior of the people vs whatever it takes to get the job done. Other times you're kindof a jerk. I feel "Paragon" vs "Renegade" should take the words literally, and not fall into some of the good vs. bad framework. Paragon should be Lawful Good. Law is law, don't let some miscreant go because he heavily "funds" your cause but also don't stand up to the law to give civilians some slack. Renegade can just do whatever it takes to do what he needs to do. Judge Dredd vs. Robin Hood. Still good, just different levels of how flexible the law should be.

Man rants are fun, love this podcast.

I kind of suspected that Susan's philosophy about not needing to finish games to review them. She probably wouldn't have given FFXIII-2 such a favorable score had she finished it before she reviewed it!

Wait! What tv show were you guys referring to to at the beginning?

Wait! What tv show were you guys referring to to at the beginning?

It's called Full Metal Jousting.

As far as playing a bad game to completion goes, I've done that plenty of times, but more with movies or tv episodes.
In fact, my best example has to be 2001 A Space Odyssey. Classic movie, of course, but everything in it I'd heard of or seen done faster in Star Trek. So any spectacles or plot twists were very muted, I'd also not read the book, and that left very little to keep my interest.

There are a few reasons, I guess, that I rarely give up on boring shows:
1) I can say that I've given it the best chance possible, and short of that I can say that any argument I make against it is well informed (One of my friends has read Twilight for this very reason).
2) I can use this as an example of something I don't like, and maybe I'll get out of another boring show sooner!
3) I need a push to stop doing something and start doing something else. 2001 was never objectionable or insulting, just dull. It's probably also why I need to go back and try to cut down this comment.
4)I also get this effect: , my standards drop :|

Cheers for tackling my question (more or less) :)

everyones discussion on what makes an RPG an RPG made me realize that I'm not (at present) fully ready to be critically thinking about games on the same level as you folks do (but I try anyway). Despite everyones radically different take on what makes an RPG an RPG, there isn't anything I could have brought to the convo that would have enriched the discussion the way you folks have today. Cheers for what you do. :)

no idea if someone else mentioned this already, but that just pissed me off when i listened to the podcast - its 2012 we talk about species now not race just like there isnt a human race its in fact a species.....horray for science
now that i got my rant out of the way i gotta say i might have to reinstall mass effect 1 althought i dont plan on buying or playing mass effect 3 :P

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