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What is a role-playing game? How can you define it?:

 1 onyhow, Mon, 5th Mar '12 12:35:29 AM from Thaddis Sabbah, still fighting Vaygrs Relationship Status: Singularity
Mothership online...also adorable
Well we have quite a discussion on Mass Effect 3 thread about what RPG is and ninjaclown raised a good point of why discussing if something is RPG or not if we can't even define what RPG is, so...

This is the Wikipedia definition (at least the first paragraph):
A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.

Problem is, isn't this apply to nearly/practically all the games avaliable? I mean, aren't technically all the games we play we need to assume a role? Then why people consider one game as RPG and others not?

What do you think is a criteria that should be used to actually define RPG games? Mechanics? Characters? Choices? Linearity of storyline?
 2 gingerale, Mon, 5th Mar '12 12:45:00 AM from Finland Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
Gentleman Adventurer
Not the mechanics, that's for sure. If it were the mechanics then some of the online FPS's would be RPG's because they have a leveling system.

Here's a good episode on the topic.
What's the worst that could happen anyways?
 3 Vorpy, Mon, 5th Mar '12 1:21:52 AM from from from from from from
Unstoppable Sex Goddess
Which is why I refuse to discuss RP Gs with people who think "RP Gs are games where you play a role." because circular arguments never cease.
If the amount of rape that is acceptable to you is not zero, and you are not Pyramid Head, you need to seriously rethink your life.
 4 Tiamatty, Mon, 5th Mar '12 1:23:12 AM Relationship Status: Brony
Bieber My Balls
I would say that an RPG is a game that allows you to define your character. Their personality, their motivations. The standard approach in video games is to give you a character, and your only role is in getting him from one scripted cut scene to the next, with no real say in how the story progress.

A lot of the classic RP Gs aren't actually role-playing games. I love games like Chrono Trigger or EarthBound, but they're not actually role-playing games. They seemed to be shoe-horned into the RPG genre because they involved dealing with stats and equipment, something common to tabletop RP Gs. But they gave you no more say in the character or story than any other game.

But because the early RP Gs were based on stat and equipment management, that became the definition to a lot of people. A lot of people feel that RP Gs are defined by mechanics, which infuriates me, because that is the least important part! The most important part about an RPG is that it's a role-playing game.

I'll make a comparison. Mass Effect is an RPG. Uncharted is not. In Mass Effect, you take on the role of Commander Shepard. You define the character. You decide what motivates him: a love of adventure, a desire to protect the innocent, a desire to keep humanity strong, xenophobia, whatever. In Uncharted, you control Nathan Drake, whose personality and motivations are already laid out. In Mass Effect, your decisions influence the story, albeit in usually minor ways. In Uncharted, the story is already written.

Uncharted is basically a movie. Your only purpose is to shoot the people you're told to shoot. Mass Effect is a role-playing game, where you actually get to take part in the story itself. You get to shape the cut scenes. Uncharted could add experience points and resource management, but that wouldn't magically transform it into an RPG, because you're still not actually defining the character or shaping the story.

Mechanics don't make an RP Gs. It's actually possible to have an RPG with no stats. They exist, though they're not common. One thing and one thing only defines an RPG: Are you role-playing a character? If you're only controlling a pre-made character, then no. If you're deciding how your character reacts to events, then yes.
 5 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 1:29:56 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Mass Effect isn't much of an RPG, by that criteria. What you do doesn't actually matter. Every choice gets sidelined and the story gets railroaded to the exact same climax every single playthrough. In the sequel all your choices from the previous game get completely ignored because it'd be inconvenient to the plot if they mattered. You also can't choose to betray the extremely shady organization you find yourself working for. Even if you disagree every single order they give you, they'll also still keep you on instead of getting rid of you. Similarly, your party members tend to stick with you no matter how badly you treat them. There's exactly one exception, but the idea that your character is so magically charismatic that these people are, with the exception of one person, willing to die for your cause no matter how you treat them is extremely sketchy.

Basically, it has the illusion of choice, without giving you real choice. And honestly, I think that makes it worse. It makes all your choices feel meaningless and highlights the linearity of the experience.

I agree with everything Tiamatty wrote.

Edit: I also see Clarste's point. I think that linearity versus openness is something that can't really be called good or bad, because they simply lead to different story experiences. BioWare games have always been relatively linear in order to follow the general plot structure the writers have focussed on, and your character is allowed to define him/herself within the bounds of that plot structure. I enjoy that much more than an open world game where the plot loses coherence due to the freedom your character possesses and I inevitably get bored playing those kinds of games.

Both are RP Gs, but just different types.

edited 5th Mar '12 1:35:07 AM by Falco

"You want to see how a human dies? At ramming speed." - Emily Wong.
 7 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 1:33:41 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Incidentally, Chrono Trigger has more freedom than Mass Effect because you can choose how to end the game in radically different ways. Most of those are joke endings only available on replays, but that's still more than Mass Effect has.

ME is a trilogy. Only 3 will have real endings...and boy are they very different.
"You want to see how a human dies? At ramming speed." - Emily Wong.
 9 Tiamatty, Mon, 5th Mar '12 1:51:41 AM Relationship Status: Brony
Bieber My Balls
Clarste: Like I said, the choices in ME usually have minimal effect. That doesn't make it any less an RPG. You're still role-playing. You're still deciding what Shepard does, and why. That's the important part. If you're playing D&D, the DM's probably going to have you going into a dungeon, but you get to decide why your character is going in there. (Adventure? Greed? Desire to kill dragons?)
 10 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:04:13 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
In Chrono Trigger though, Crono never speaks so it's really kind of up to you to decide why he's doing anything he does. Surely that's always been the point of a silent protagonist.

Actually, come to think of it Chrono Trigger has a pretty great example. Early on in the game you visit a festival, where you can run around doing random things. However, what you do ends up coming back to bite you in a trial scene later in which a bunch of character witnesses are called in. If you picked up the pendant before helping the girl up, if you stole someone's lunch off the counter (ie: traditional RPG looting), if you chose to wait for someone or drag them along with you, etc. All these little casual choices you made ended up affecting the plot in small ways. You were deciding whether Crono was greedy or impatient or absent-minded or whatever.

And then it all didn't matter because the judge was an Evil Vizier.

edited 5th Mar '12 2:04:59 AM by Clarste

 11 Tiamatty, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:06:29 AM Relationship Status: Brony
Bieber My Balls
[up] Fair enough, but that's about the only example in the entire game. Beyond that, Chrono's just a hero.
 12 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:08:52 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Shepard's a hero no matter what you do too. You just decide why he's doing what he's doing (ie: xenophobic or not). It's pretty easy to imagine Crono as simply having a romantic interest in Marle or something and that might explain everything he ever does. Or he could be naturally heroic and worried about the world. Or he's just going with the flow because he's not paying attention and he likes hanging out with his friends. Nothing he does contradicts any of that.

That's all implicit stuff. In ME you get explicitly state and define your intentions (within the parameters that BioWare give you).

Headcanon's all well and good, but it ain't part of the game's experience imo.
"You want to see how a human dies? At ramming speed." - Emily Wong.
 14 Sabbo, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:20:30 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Baby don't hurt me!
gingerale totally stole what I was going to say. I strongly suggestion everybody here watch it.
 15 Tarsen, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:25:51 AM from somewhere or another. Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
Hmmm~
what, only the first part is out?

aww sad
Pro Tip: Spiders are not technically insects, but actually skeletons made of congealed hate.
 16 onyhow, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:28:50 AM from Thaddis Sabbah, still fighting Vaygrs Relationship Status: Singularity
Mothership online...also adorable
So does non-linear (in certain sense) Visual Novels (like Fate/stay night) constitute as some form of RPG?

edited 5th Mar '12 2:29:59 AM by onyhow

 17 Tarsen, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:31:44 AM from somewhere or another. Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
Hmmm~
...no. its a visual novel. its a novel. with words over images that sometimes change when something is happening (but i wouldnt get my hopes up)

...i suppose jrpgs could be a playable novel if you want a really boring name.

but then what about all those dungeon crawlers where the gameplay far exceeds the amount of story?

edited 5th Mar '12 2:32:20 AM by Tarsen

Pro Tip: Spiders are not technically insects, but actually skeletons made of congealed hate.
 18 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:37:16 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
A Visual Novel has choices though. Most of them would probably just be considered Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, but some of them have gameplay elements in between story segments. It's hard to distinguish Mass Effect from, say, Utawarerumono or BlazBlue's story mode.

 19 onyhow, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:41:51 AM from Thaddis Sabbah, still fighting Vaygrs Relationship Status: Singularity
Mothership online...also adorable
@Tarsen: My guess is it tries to emulate the standard dungeon diving in Tabletop RPG, but forgot to include the actual roleplay part...

Although can anyone tell if Wizardry series have any real RP part?

edited 5th Mar '12 2:42:23 AM by onyhow

 20 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:43:34 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Well, more like it's incredibly hard to write a story like that.

 21 onyhow, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:46:18 AM from Thaddis Sabbah, still fighting Vaygrs Relationship Status: Singularity
Mothership online...also adorable
True...then again those are probably limitation of the old computer systems or something...well that, and video games are not that sophisticated back then...
 22 gingerale, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:46:33 AM from Finland Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
Gentleman Adventurer
[up][up][up]Dungeon crawlers are a bit of an oddball when it comes to roleplaying. The mechanics are all there but there's a reason they're called just dungeon crawlers rather than rpg's. If you start calling games rpg's just because you take the position of a character of your own in a game then Dwarf Fortress, and by that extension SimCity, become RPG's.

Though ADOM got close. Very damn close. If not all the way there.

Goodness, genres are painful to define. Why can't it be easy like with movies? Why are movie genres so easy anyways?

edited 5th Mar '12 2:47:39 AM by gingerale

What's the worst that could happen anyways?
 23 Clarste, Mon, 5th Mar '12 2:53:05 AM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Because we define games by game mechanics while we don't define movies by cinematographic techniques. Technically we could call games "action", "romance", "mystery" or "comedy" like we do for everything else, but for some reason we choose not to.

And before anyone says anything about games with gameplay but no story, it's surely possible to film a movie with no story and nothing but technique. Oddly enough, you'd probably get critics talking about how the use of techniques implies a story. For the movie I mean, not the game.

edited 5th Mar '12 2:54:01 AM by Clarste

 24 Tarsen, Mon, 5th Mar '12 3:00:17 AM from somewhere or another. Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
Hmmm~
arent the films that are all technique and no story called art films?

isnt there also a student film genre?

edited 5th Mar '12 3:01:34 AM by Tarsen

Pro Tip: Spiders are not technically insects, but actually skeletons made of congealed hate.
Here's how I define an RPG:

A role playing game involves a player creating a character or party of characters.

a) The player can create a diverse variety of highly specialised character builds and over the course of the game improves this build through a variety of stats through either attributes (e.g. Dexterity, strength, mana etc) Skills/Feats/Spells and/or through additional modifiers such as inventory and equipment. These are what I'd call RPG elements

b) The difference between an RPG and a game with RPG elements is that in an RPG these RPG elements are an essential component of the game. The way I test this is to see how far I can play through a game without using the character system or inventory whatsoever. If I can play the game without using the RPG elements, then it's not an RPG, simple as that.

c) (optional) Often but not always the player is able to use this build in other substantial ways such as interacting with the gameworld through either solving quests in multiple ways based on the build (e.g. stealth characters sneak around instead of shooting shit up) or affecting the gameworld and storyline through the player's choices in dialogue or through interaction with the environment (e.g. killing a certain NPC causes a divergent storyline/questline).

This criteria, imo, includes both JRP Gs and WRP Gs as both genres place a heavy emphasis on building a character(s) in a well defined ruleset that applies not only to the player but to the surrounding NP Cs.

While I personally prefer games that include c) in a meaningful way, I'd have to admit that saying that c) is a necessary component of RP Gs would rule out far too many games.

So using this criteria, the TES games are all RP Gs- yes even Skyrim and Oblivion. I don't personally like those games and I think Skyrim is a bit too simplified but the RPG elements are certainly there and they're meaningful.

On the other hand, looking at the Mass Effects.

ME 1 has fairly detailed character progression, since there were so many stats it allowed for a diverse and specialised build, it'd be impossible to play the game without using the character system since you can't hit anything without pumping some points. IMO, while the gunplay was weak it'd definitely be called an RPG.

ME 2 on the other hand, featured a highly simplified character system and inventory. You could, maybe argue the case that the game allowed for diverse builds thanks to a class system but those RPG elements were in no way meaningful. On my first playthrough of ME 2 I played an Adept. I didn't put a single point into anything and just shot people with an SMG even though as an Adept I should've been focusing on biotics. The combat mechanics relied purely on player skill and as such, despite having a terrible build, I had no problem with the game on veteran difficulty.

In my opinion, ME 2 therefore isn't an RPG. It's a shooter with some shallow RPG elements.

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