What’s in a Name? The RPG Problem

What’s in a Name? The RPG Problem

The following post is this author’s opinion and does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of Fextralife as a whole nor the individual content creators associated with the site. Any link that goes outside of Fextralife are owned by their respective authors.

It seems this shouldn’t need to be explained, but the gaming industry and community seem intent on reducing the term RPG to complete meaninglessness by describing absolutely everything as an RPG. I’m going to clarify some things by explaining some core ideas and concepts in the hope that the term RPG might actually be used only to describe the games it’s actually meant to describe instead of becoming another Rogue, if it hasn’t already. As a quick disclaimer, of course there are grey areas, as with all discussion of genres in every medium but we should nonetheless strive for a clearer definition of what is and what isn’t an RPG.

Defining the RPG

So what is an RPG? Well simply put, it’s a Role Playing Game. A game that is designed around the idea of Role-Playing, usually they use systems (the statistics we’re all so familiar with) to both create and enforce a degree of separation between the player and the character to force said player to think and act as the character, rather than themselves, to succeed. It’s important to note the word usually in the previous statement because RPGs don’t necessarily need stats. In fact they don’t necessarily need dialogue or combat or any other specific set of mechanics to be RPGs, so long as what systems they do have are built around this concept because, and this is important, an RPG, much like a Puzzle Game, is not a mechanical genre.

darksouls3-review

Sure, there is the obvious stuff like Pillars of Eternity where the dialogue choices and combat work together to provide plenty of opportunity to think and act as your character in both scenarios. Wizards don’t choose to study magic for no reason after all, they have a history and/or personality that lead them to it. It’s just as possible to have an RPG that’s a racing game, having dialogue impact the disposition and performance of the other racers: more or less aggressive, maybe you drugged them so they do badly, maybe even tying what upgrades are available to your dialogue choices. The timid character probably isn’t going to favor big burly murder machines so your options for racing are limited to things a timid person might use. It’s also possible to just ignore everything that isn’t the dialogue and use clever writing and AI collaborating behind the scenes to turn a visual novel into an RPG. All they need to do is convince the player to create and maintain a character instead of trying to find the “best” ending, so it should, for example, acknowledge if you’re being really two-faced. That would basically just be Pillars of Eternity with all the combat pulled out.

pillars_of_eternity_interface

So What Isn’t an RPG?

On the opposite extreme, there is an element of Role-Playing in Darkest Dungeon, despite the complete lack of player dialogue. No, it’s not the combat and the stats, it’s the decisions you have to make that determine your entire playstyle. Do you try to keep your party alive and allow them time to heal? Do you dispose of them as soon as they get a troublesome condition or quirk? Do you maliciously abuse them by throwing them into the dark to farm money and simply abandon the dead or permanently disabled veterans while taking the rewards? The game also goes out of the way to acknowledge that you’re doing these things with the sanity and quirk systems. Beyond the simple mechanical changes, it tests your willingness to spend time and money resting your characters and your willingness to work around potentially negative habits they develop. Would I call it an RPG? No, I’d say it has RPG elements, but Role-Playing isn’t the game’s focus and takes a backseat to the combat and dungeon crawling.

darkest-dungeon

Many, many games are called RPGs that are in fact no such thing. The industry seems to have latched onto the stats and leveling systems that generally come with RPGs as the defining metric instead of focusing on what purpose those things actually serve. Borderlands, despite my love for the series, is not an RPG, action or otherwise. The stats and math are used to enhance and flavor the shooting within the characters predefined personalities and playstyles, not to encourage or allow Role-Playing. Claiming Borderlands in an RPG is like claiming Portal is a First Person Shooter because it’s in first person and you shoot. However, looking at what purpose the mechanics serve we see the obvious, that Portal is a puzzle game using a FPS mechanic to enhance and reinforce its puzzle solving gameplay.

borderlands

The Witcher series? Not so much, despite ticking all the RPG “boxes” such as dialogue choices, quests, stats, leveling systems. You are Geralt, everything you do is something Geralt would do. You aren’t asking, “what would my character do?” because the answer is “any of the options I have.” The focus is on telling their story and exploring the complex interactions from Geralt’s perspective, not Role-Playing of any description. Even preset characters in pen and paper RPGs still require interpretation and legitimately attempting to think as that character for decisions to make sense because you have infinite options. The limited nature of the decisions in The Witcher don’t really fit that kind of gameplay. Yes, you don’t technically have to Role-Play in pen and paper RPGs, but neither do you have to in any RPG, just like you don’t have to shoot in first person shooters or race in racing games, but that doesn’t change what the mechanics were designed for.

The_Witcher_3_Wild_Hunt_Hearts_of_Stone_Nobody_puts_Geralt_in_a_corner

JRPG vs Western RPG

It is also worth talking about the idea that JRPG and RPG are different genres. They are. The term JRPG is a kind of misnomer, because the games don’t necessarily need to be Japanese such as Septerra Core and are not RPGs.  People see the stats and label games RPGs without actually paying attention to what purpose the stats serve and just assume RPG, which is the source of said misnomer. JRPGs are generally much closer to Anime than RPGs. They’re  about watching set characters with set personalities experience a set story in a set manner, you’re just along for the ride. Whatever choice they offer, if any, usually has a single correct answer as a way forward like the social links in Persona 3 and 4. Most JRPGs have more in common with The Last of Us than with Pillars of Eternity. This is not to say JRPGs are in any way bad or inferior, they aren’t, just that the name of the genre is misleading.

Why the Name Matters

One final point before my conclusion, “you’re playing a role and thus this is a role playing game” is a pedantic and unhelpful thing to say. It would be like me saying, “every game is an action game because you always have to take action.” That’s not what either of those terms mean, and those interested in having an actual discussion will concede that point.

Now, there are reasons this is important. So far as I am aware, there is virtually no meaningful discussion on RPGs as I just defined them and what things help or harm them and how they might be improved. One reason is very simple, nobody is using the term correctly so RPG casts too broad a net for anyone to talk about them without spending 20 minutes defining it first or using the terms traditional or isometric to talk about that specific kind. I can’t discuss why Fallout 4 isn’t really an RPG or is a really, really bad RPG and how various things harm the experience from that perspective because people see the mechanics they associate with RPGs, call it an RPG, say that they liked it and so it’s a good RPG, and refuse to continue the discussion in any meaningful way. It’s difficult to talk about mechanics I’d like to see in RPGs, for example more visual novels that fit that description, or what RPGs could steal from visual novels because it’s “not an RPG.”

fallout 4 far harbor confessor

Furthermore, while RPG should indicate a very specific type of game even if the actual mechanics it uses vary wildly, it has instead been taken to mean: leveling system, stats, and maybe you get floaty numbers in combat. This describes large swathes of all the games ever made and so is an utterly useless descriptor, as it robs people of a way to talk about actual RPGs and RPG systems that don’t conform to that notion.

Destiny Crucible

So, next time you are about to refer to a game as an RPG or read one being talked about as an RPG, ask yourself “should it actually have that label? If so in what way does it justify having it?” Also, you can’t leave the term RPG to stand on it’s own as a catch all descriptor because while it says a lot about what purpose the mechanics of the game serve, it doesn’t say much about what those mechanics actually are. It needs to be defined. There is no denying RPG is a broad genre, just about any set of mechanics from a combat free visual novel to an action focused Dark Souls almost completely devoid of story/dialogue fits into the genre. Let’s not make it broad to the point of uselessness by including things that steal surface elements without regard for what purpose those things actually serve.

You wouldn’t call Lord of the Rings a horror story because it has ghosts in it would you?


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20 something years old, living in the western United States. I enjoy wrestling, jujitsu, snowboarding, manga, anime, movies, card games, board games, video games D&D, ect. Also food.

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42 comments on “What’s in a Name? The RPG Problem”

  1. Avatar abraksil says:

    I definitely agree with what your saying. I have a simulare feeling in the matter of modern RPGs

  2. Avatar abraksil says:

    To be honest I most painfully experienced what your talking about in Wicher. The game Awesome unlike anything else. But the fact I have to play Geralt ruined it for me. 🙁 I just don’t like the guy. All the choices you make start to become somehow meaningless because you always end up acting like him :(. If you like to personify yourself with Geralt your ok. If don’t there is no room for anything else 🙁

  3. Avatar Lelouch465 says:

    I still cant get over the fact that an expansion was labelled as best rpg. An expansion from a game that is like you pointed out not an actual rpg. Most people see level and stats and assume rpg. When a better name for these things would just be an indicator for your game progression.

  4. Solaris68B says:

    I really liked your article, and your viewpoint. For me, RPG means above all else role-playing. It`s best done with a carefully build and immersive world, and an exciting story. And freedom of choice for your character. In my opinion, you need all this elements for role-playing. If the world is boring, there is no immersion. No intriguing story / quest(s) means nothing to do, so your immersion ends quickly. Freedom of choice means (in my case) a balance between the real me and my game character. I like to investigate, gather facts, think and reach conclusions – so these elements will be parts of my in-game character also, despite the different world, age, race or planet. I won`t play a dumb, idiotic, sadistic character.

    For instance, Hawke still had a degree of freedom compared with Geralt – you can play Hawke in many different ways, but not so much for Geralt. I was able to chose a Hawke suitable for me – a clever rogue who liked similar companions, and who preferred non-violent solutions if available, but protected her/his family and friends. This simply didn`t worked for the Witcher games – If you are not similar to Geralt, it`s not much room for role-playing. In my opinion, the Witcher games are a homage from fans for the book series. I enjoyed the books, but in the end I couldn`t play the games.

    My first RPG was Icewind Dale, which has no companions (you have to create the whole party), no companion quests / romances, and tons of combat. But worked. You practically role-played the first character from your party, and the world and story was quite good. Maybe IWD is the reason I liked PoE a lot…

  5. Solaris68B says:

    🙂 I just remembered a very short and strange story by Julio Cortazar, while thinking about immersion and role-playing:

    "CONTINUITY OF PARKS He had begun to read the novel a few days before. He had put it down because of some urgent business conferences, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he permitted himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the characterizations. That afternoon, after writing a letter giving his power of attorney and discussing a matter of joint ownership with the manager of his estate, he returned to the book in the tranquillity of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, its back toward the door—even the possibility of an intrusion would have irritated him, had he thought of it—he let his left hand caress repeatedly the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. He remembered effortlessly the names and his mental image of the characters; the novel spread its glamour over him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from the things around him, and at the same time feeling his head rest comfortably on the green velvet of the chair with its high back, sensing that the cigarettes rested within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the air of afternoon danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, licked up by the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin. The woman arrived first, apprehensive; now the lover came in, his face cut by the backlash of a branch. Admirably, she stanched the blood with her kisses, but he rebuffed her caresses, he had not come to perform again the ceremonies of a secret passion, protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths through the forest. The dagger warmed itself against his chest, and underneath liberty pounded, hidden close. A lustful, panting dialogue raced down the pages like a rivulet of snakes, and one felt it had all been decided from eternity. Even to those caresses which writhed about the lover’s body, as though wishing to keep him there, to dissuade him from it; they sketched abominably the frame of that other body it was necessary to destroy. Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes. From this hour on, each instant had its use minutely assigned. The cold-blooded, twice-gone-over re-examination of the details was barely broken off so that a hand could caress a cheek. It was beginning to get dark. Not looking at one another now, rigidly fixed upon the task which awaited them, they separated at the cabin door. She was to follow the trail that led north. On the path leading in the opposite direction, he turned for a moment to watch her running, her hair loosened and flying. He ran in turn, crouching among the trees and hedges until, in the yellowish fog of dusk, he could distinguish the avenue of trees which led up to the house. The dogs were not supposed to bark, they did not bark. The estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he was not there. He went up the three porch steps and entered. The woman’s words reached him over the thudding of blood in his ears: first a blue chamber, then a hall, then a carpeted stairway. At the top, two doors. No one in the first room, no one in the second. The door of the salon, and then, the knife in hand, the light from the great windows, the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading a novel."

  6. Solaris68B says:

    Since I played Pillars of Eternity several times and started Tyranny, I am able to compare how these games start in terms of immersion and role-playing.

    PoE starts with almost nothing about your character. The first dialogues introduces you to the world, some NPC`s, an easy quest. But then the story gains pace and twists. By the time you`ve reached the first village and done a few quests gathering companions by the way you have gradually formed a picture of a tormented world. Your character gains an intriguing ability which is too little exploited in the game. You have multiple choices for solving quests, some of them without combat. But the game is combat heavy.

    Tyranny starts with an early background about your character and a path for her/his recent career. The firsts dialogues completes a bit the picture of the world BUT the conflict between the armies is included in the game`s design and limits your dialogue options way too much. There is not much combat, and quests are mostly solved by dialogue. Problem is, your options up to the first siege (I didn`t played further yet) are mostly stupid and forced. For instance, I didn`t find a way to scout ahead and plan encounters – stealth has almost no meaning so far. I was always stopped by cut-scenes followed by forced dialogue options. Infuriatingly these options are sometimes quite dumb – usually in case of some very important choices.
    I expected a good story and so-so combat. Since I did my military service, I am quite familiar with military thinking and rivalry. Some of this was well done in the game. The main problem so far is that the game has a chosen path which forced some predetermined choices. And this is a serious issue for me. More, there is almost no gradual plot feeling for this initial part of the game (although I have a vague idea already about the final plot device). My character has some forced encounters with the enemy, and learns mostly nothing.
    So far, Tyranny has an intriguing idea for the main story, but the execution is mixed. On the other hand, I liked the new level-up options (training and skill development by use). I mentioned these on several posts at the Bioware forum.

    PoE has an intriguing world, good story and main plot and many options for a playable character for both creation and in-game reactions. This means a good role-playing for me. So far, Tyranny has a surprising world, quite unusual for RPG`s which is a bonus for me. The story sounds good, but the main plot execution is mixed so far. There are a lot of options for the PC creation and career, but in-game reactions are sometimes just dumbed down. Because of this, role-paying suffers.

  7. Avatar Lelouch465 says:
    Since I played Pillars of Eternity several times and started Tyranny, I am able to compare how these games start in terms of immersion and role-playing.

    PoE starts with almost nothing about your character. The first dialogues introduces you to the world, some NPC`s, an easy quest. But then the story gains pace and twists. By the time you`ve reached the first village and done a few quests gathering companions by the way you have gradually formed a picture of a tormented world. Your character gains an intriguing ability which is too little exploited in the game. You have multiple choices for solving quests, some of them without combat. But the game is combat heavy.

    Tyranny starts with an early background about your character and a path for her/his recent career. The firsts dialogues completes a bit the picture of the world BUT the conflict between the armies is included in the game`s design and limits your dialogue options way too much. There is not much combat, and quests are mostly solved by dialogue. Problem is, your options up to the first siege (I didn`t played further yet) are mostly stupid and forced. For instance, I didn`t find a way to scout ahead and plan encounters – stealth has almost no meaning so far. I was always stopped by cut-scenes followed by forced dialogue options. Infuriatingly these options are sometimes quite dumb – usually in case of some very important choices.
    I expected a good story and so-so combat. Since I did my military service, I am quite familiar with military thinking and rivalry. Some of this was well done in the game. The main problem so far is that the game has a chosen path which forced some predetermined choices. And this is a serious issue for me. More, there is almost no gradual plot feeling for this initial part of the game (although I have a vague idea already about the final plot device). My character has some forced encounters with the enemy, and learns mostly nothing.
    So far, Tyranny has an intriguing idea for the main story, but the execution is mixed. On the other hand, I liked the new level-up options (training and skill development by use). I mentioned these on several posts at the Bioware forum.

    PoE has an intriguing world, good story and main plot and many options for a playable character for both creation and in-game reactions. This means a good role-playing for me. So far, Tyranny has a surprising world, quite unusual for RPG`s which is a bonus for me. The story sounds good, but the main plot execution is mixed so far. There are a lot of options for the PC creation and career, but in-game reactions are sometimes just dumbed down. Because of this, role-paying suffers.

    The game gets better with meaningful choices in the second act imo. Also Tryanny is a game that you need to play multiple times to get most of the story and characters. There are different paths that you can take that will give a different view of the world and characters.
    I didnt like PoE because there was way too much going on at once. Too much lore that the game tried to hammer into you while you struggle to understand anything at all. Also most of the stuff that you read in the textboxes dont contribut anything to the story like these soul reading texts that have that wonderful noise contantly in the background which have nothing to do with the story most of the time. I can see that there is definitly a good and deep story but i think it is poorly demonstrated in a very unappealing and rushed manner.

  8. Solaris68B says:
    The game gets better with meaningful choices in the second act imo. Also Tryanny is a game that you need to play multiple times to get most of the story and characters. There are different paths that you can take that will give a different view of the world and characters.
    I didnt like PoE because there was way too much going on at once. Too much lore that the game tried to hammer into you while you struggle to understand anything at all. Also most of the stuff that you read in the textboxes dont contribut anything to the story like these soul reading texts that have that wonderful noise contantly in the background which have nothing to do with the story most of the time. I can see that there is definitly a good and deep story but i think it is poorly demonstrated in a very unappealing and rushed manner.

    For me, a good RPG means first a meaningful role-playing. This implies a well developed and consistent game world, a good story with intriguing plot progression. It`s even better if the lore you are collecting not only develops your worldview but also gives clues for the main plot or secondary quests. PoE does this well, if you pay attention and read everything. Those scattered NPC`s which souls you are able to read were fan-made, and not part of the plot. I`ve read some stories at the start for fun, then ignored the rest of those NPC`s. PoE`s plot was well made overall, and interesting. The fact that there were many things happening at once is normal if you consider the main plot`s nature. Such a crisis means local troubles, change of behavior, local and international politics changes and overturns. It`s part of a fully developed world-building, with multiple nations, rulers and factions all with their agendas. Not like something similar to the plot of "Murder in Orient Express" which happened in a closed train.

    I`ll see how Tyranny`s plot progresses, but in this part of Act 1 (up to the siege) it`s not very good. Obsidian missed several good choices to make the game interesting. Up to this point it`s rather boring and predictable. Especially some of those small dialogue encounters which are introduced only to emphasize the conflict between the armies (like the squabbles over some found/lost equipment, or leadership challenges). I understand the reason but these are too obviously forced (there is nothing leading to them).

    For me there is a big difference between meaningful choices and ones with major consequences. For instance, most choices Hawke does during DA2 have no major consequences, but they make sense in the game. And I prefer this kind of choices compared to some out of the blue option to became a god at the end of a game. I don`t know how Tyranny ends and don`t want to learn in advance, since it will ruin the experience. I like the world-building but I`m not really impressed with the plot development, and some important dialogue choices. Otherwise, Obsidian did a great job. For instance, I really like how they integrated explanations about important world elements in dialogues.

  9. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:
    I really liked your article, and your viewpoint. For me, RPG means above all else role-playing. It`s best done with a carefully build and immersive world, and an exciting story. And freedom of choice for your character. In my opinion, you need all this elements for role-playing. If the world is boring, there is no immersion. No intriguing story / quest(s) means nothing to do, so your immersion ends quickly. Freedom of choice means (in my case) a balance between the real me and my game character. I like to investigate, gather facts, think and reach conclusions – so these elements will be parts of my in-game character also, despite the different world, age, race or planet. I won`t play a dumb, idiotic, sadistic character.

    For instance, Hawke still had a degree of freedom compared with Geralt – you can play Hawke in many different ways, but not so much for Geralt. I was able to chose a Hawke suitable for me – a clever rogue who liked similar companions, and who preferred non-violent solutions if available, but protected her/his family and friends. This simply didn`t worked for the Witcher games – If you are not similar to Geralt, it`s not much room for role-playing. In my opinion, the Witcher games are a homage from fans for the book series. I enjoyed the books, but in the end I couldn`t play the games.

    My first RPG was Icewind Dale, which has no companions (you have to create the whole party), no companion quests / romances, and tons of combat. But worked. You practically role-played the first character from your party, and the world and story was quite good. Maybe IWS is the reason I liked PoE a lot…

    Hawke drives me crazy. Hawk is actually 3 distinct individual characters, all you’re doing is picking between them. It’s very rare that doing anything other than picking 1 option (diplomatic, snarky or aggressive) for every choice actually creates a believable transition, most of the time the usually mild mannered hawk you’ve been playing is suddenly homicidal with nothing in particular indicating why they would make that jump.

    If they’re gonna take that approach, they should just make it 3 seperate characterss and make me pick at the beginning instead of stringing me along pretending they’re providing options when they aren’t doing anything meaningful or coherent with them.

    Any (decent) RPG will let you create a dishointed non-character, but in DA2 that’s basically your only option if you do anything except pick the same option 80%+ of the time. I really don’t like how EAware have handled voiced protagonists (mostly because I believe they by their very nature run counter to the idea of roleplaying in videogames, they just require too many sacrifices and have too many limitations) but the ME series and DA:I are much better at it (in terms of role playing) than DA2 is, part of that being much more tone neutral delivery in all 4 of the games compared to DA2 so transitions aren’t so jarring and part of it being DA:I has a clever system that tracks your first few choices on some subjects and actually changes the delivery or content of later dialogue options to match so that if you go from non-religious to a convert (or vice versa) it’s actually reflected in dialogue. (Now just imagine how much cooler that system would be in an RPG actually built for roleplaying and without the limitations of voice acting so it can be applied to more things more often)

    Glad you liked the article though.

  10. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    To me, an RPG is whatever you make of it and how you feel about it. I can never get a consistent answer to what an RPG objectively is. Some say this, others say that. Some say you need to be able to create your character from scratch to be considered an RPG, others say it needs to have stats and attributes and gear management, others say it’s simply needs to focus on player choice in story and character development, some say a JRPGs is just as much of an RPG as WRPGs, but are based on different standards because different cultures view Role-playing differently.

    I find the problem with RPGs is that, unlike other genres, an RPG is subjective to the player. What immerses them, what gives them a sense of choice and influence, what makes them feel close to the character they’re playing as. To me, an RPG is a game that allows the player to define
    Their playstyle, how they play the game.
    Their character, who they are as a person (not necessarily who exactly that person is).
    And their place in the world, what they do in the story and how they interact with others.

    There is also a case of scale when it comes to RPGs, exactly how RPG is it, how many options and choice variety do you have. Every RPG has limitations on what you can Roleplay as. You can’t just play through Elder Scrolls as a fisherman, or D&D as a thespian. Some RPGs can give a large variety of choice, while others have a smaller focus, depending on what they’re going for.

  11. Solaris68B says:

    🙂 Hawke is a more like a sketch made by Varric than a classic RPG character. I`m not sure if all this was entirely made on purpose by BW, but it worked. Including the bizarre difference between Hawke`s dialogue options and what she/he is saying in-game. DA2 is just a long, crazy and caricatural Varric tale. This is why I always used mostly the clever (sarcastic) option, and played usually a rogue. The clever dialogue option was the only one which make sense for me, in these circumstances. And probably was the original one.
    "A tale inside a tale" was a strange choice for a RPG, but somehow I accepted the idea. Once I realized this, DA2 was more like role-playing a character from a stage play. So, from this perspective, it`s not Hawke who`s saying those lines, it`s Varric; just like he does at the end of that imagined hysterical scene between him and Bartrand in Act 2.

    DA2 was rushed and undeveloped. But it was also an experiment from the original BW team. A departure from the usual formula of World in danger / hero emerges / hero does the right thing. It could have been a great game with a better / more complex plot and meaningful secondary quests instead of those fetch things. And of course a better dialogue system…

  12. Solaris68B says:
    To me, an RPG is whatever you make of it and how you feel about it. I can never get a consistent answer to what an RPG objectively is. Some say this, others say that.

    🙂 You`re right about personal preferences and RPG`s. And it`s perfectly normal, and similar to music / literature preference. The important part is the role-playing. If you`re able to do that for the played character you`ve chosen for a game, and enjoyed the game, it`s fine. This doesn`t means that every single game is a RPG, simply because somebody is able to role-play it somehow. You cannot role-play in case of Tetris for instance. Well, unless you are schizophrenic and convinced you`re a cube for instance… 🙂

    Because of the personal preferences, RPG`s are usually games for a limited audience. RPG`s developed for large audiences usually end up considered rather mediocre by most players, because there were compromises made.

  13. Avatar EldritchImagination says:
    To me, an RPG is whatever you make of it and how you feel about it. I can never get a consistent answer to what an RPG objectively is. Some say this, others say that.

    🙂 You`re right about personal preferences and RPG`s. And it`s perfectly normal, and similar to music / literature preference. The important part is the role-playing. If you`re able to do that for the played character you`ve chosen for a game, and enjoyed the game, it`s fine. This doesn`t means that every single game is a RPG, simply because somebody is able to role-play it somehow. You cannot role-play in case of Tetris for instance. Well, unless you are schizophrenic and convinced you`re a cube for instance… 🙂

    Because of the personal preferences, RPG`s are usually games for a limited audience. RPG`s developed for large audiences usually end up considered rather mediocre by most players, because there were compromises made.

    HEY! as a Great cubicuboctahedron, I take offense to that. To my people, Tetris is the greatest RPG of all time. We just can’t connect to characters in your humanoid RPGs.

    I am speaking within reason. Of course not every game can be considered an RPG just cause someone thinks so, just like not every sound can be considered music just because someone hears rhythm in beating their skull against a hard wall. But, given the very broad scope of what an RPG is, there isn’t a 100% true definition to what makes an RPG besides something very general, like an RPG is a game where you Role-play, so people will have varying ideas of what make a game a true role-playing game.

    Also, here’s what some people consider singing.

    [BBvideo 400,400:1x2b4jub]https://youtu.be/OzsGmdmhDTI[/BBvideo:1x2b4jub]

  14. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:
    To me, an RPG is whatever you make of it and how you feel about it. I can never get a consistent answer to what an RPG objectively is. Some say this, others say that. Some say you need to be able to create your character from scratch to be considered an RPG, others say it needs to have stats and attributes and gear management, others say it’s simply needs to focus on player choice in story and character development, some say a JRPGs is just as much of an RPG as WRPGs, but are based on different standards because different cultures view Role-playing differently.

    I find the problem with RPGs is that, unlike other genres, an RPG is subjective to the player. What immerses them, what gives them a sense of choice and influence, what makes them feel close to the character they’re playing as. To me, an RPG is a game that allows the player to define
    Their playstyle, how they play the game.
    Their character, who they are as a person (not necessarily who exactly that person is).
    And their place in the world, what they do in the story and how they interact with others.

    There is also a case of scale when it comes to RPGs, exactly how RPG is it, how many options and choice variety do you have. Every RPG has limitations on what you can Roleplay as. You can’t just play through Elder Scrolls as a fisherman, or D&D as a thespian. Some RPGs can give a large variety of choice, while others have a smaller focus, depending on what they’re going for.

    I just told you what it objectively is, at least as far as any genre in any medium can be flat out objective, complete with examples about why assigning any given specific set of mechanics to it is misguided at best. Those other things (like borderlands) that use surface level mechanics that resembles the ones in popular RPGs need entirely different names. (Even pen and paper RPGs don’t necessarily need sheets of stats, hence my qualifier of popular there.)

    Anyone who says a JRPG is an RPG is wrong. Different cultures view role playing differently, but in no sense of the word (as it relates to video games) is following a specifc path a specific way with a specific character with little to no deviation role playing. Refer to my rejection of the "you’re playing a role there for it’s role playing" argument.

    Doing things like calling Borderlands or FFX RPGs is akin to calling everything with an electric guitar rock music. They’re conflating the techniques and tools generally used to create the experience, with the actual purpose it serves in that experience and what the purpose of that experience is in both cases. Maybe a better example is movies/TV, what they’re doing it like arguing that because a movie uses cinematography or props you generally see in horror movies, the movie is a horror movie, even when what you’re actually watching is Casper the Friendly Ghost or Scary Movie.

    (and yes, I know Scary movie is a "horror comedy," but that’s not analagous to action RPG as a "we stole pieces to do something different with it" because RPG isn’t a mechanical genre so you aren’t stealing RPG mechanics, and actual action RPGs like Fallout NV and VtM:B (Ie games that are both action games and RPGs) are very different than straight up action games like Borderlands (where the action and loot is the entire point.)

    Just because someone finds a book or movie more or less scary, doesn’t make it by design more or less of a horror book or movie. I find most horror movies hilarious and not at all scary, especially the monster based ones, that doesn’t mean they aren’t horror movies. The same is true of an RPG. Just because you could or couldn’t immerse yourself in a role doesn’t make it more or less of an RPG, it’s what purpose the mechanics of the game actually served that make it an RPG, wether I find them effective at their job or not.

    And for the record, character creation (as people tend to think of it with the appearance customization) is not necessary. You don’t even need to be able to see your character. What is necessary is the ability to define a character. You don’t get to decide who the history of The Namless One of The Courier, you don’t even get to decide what the Namless One looks like, you get to decide who he is now. The difference between The Namless One and Geralt is that Geralt has a defined personality and any version of Geralt could plausably make just about any of the decisions presented to him without breaking character and it would be believable, and with the Namless One you have a high enough degree of control over who he his that this just isn’t the case, you decide who The Nameless One is now instead of which of the equally believable paths Geralt actually takes. (I really, really like character creation, but it isn’t necessary)

  15. Solaris68B says:
    Also, here’s what some people consider singing.

    I wonder what purpose served those music sheets in that "performance"… :-/

    Did you watched the movie (Untitled) ? It`s about the state of contemporary art:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHNqpKqmrgA” rel=”nofollow

    You don`t need an objective definition for a RPG; it`s pointless. It`s like searching for an objective definition for a mystery of fantasy novel. Art is not something easy to categorize, and RPG`s are an art form (playable novels). Every RPG fan has her/his own preferences but also can be pleasantly surprised by a new style of RPG. I like innovative RPG`s as long as they are well made. The immersive experience gained while playing it is what really matters, and not every particular detail. In my case, I`ve read a lot of SF&F novels, history books and historical novels. So I expect a well made world and a good and consistent story for a RPG.

    About music: Two similar instrumental pieces about the evolution of mankind. The first is from Vangelis (about dawn of humankind); the second is from Locomotiv GT (about the fall of humankind). Similar in purpose, but quite different in style:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBSifq42eBM” rel=”nofollow

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTz5cA3hZXE” rel=”nofollow

  16. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    A preference or an expectation is not a genre. An RPG without that is not less of an RPG, just like a horror movie without the psychological horror that actually scares me isn’t less of a horror movie, it’s just not an interesting one.

    No, it’s not. It’s important to define them so we can understand and improve on them and their component parts, and it’s also important to give a meaningfull description to potential customers. "It has numbers in it" and/or "It has a dialogue system" is not a meaningful description. That’s why genre’s in music and movies and books subdivide repeatedly, to give an ever more specific description of the type of media it’s generalizing. Rock doesn’t say much, but say heavy metal or surf music and people have a much more accurate description of the music they’re looking at. (Action game doesn’t say much, Soulsborne game says a great deal, you get the idea.) There are grey areas where genres blend, but the same is true of colors and we have many thousand sub divisions to be increasingly clear what we’re talking about.

    Just because the line on what is/isn’t Blue gets blurry around the edges doesn’t mean can’t all agree that navy blue and sky blue are definitely blue and lavender is most certainly not blue.

  17. Solaris68B says:

    There is a very big difference between a definition of a concept and the concept itself. Try explaining what a RPG is to somebody who never played such a game, and then compare what he understands about RPG`s with the opinion of a RPG fan. It`s like reading some definitions about the scientific process compared with actually doing research.

    I understand the idea of defining what an RPG is. Problem is, such a definition cannot be completely objective, because in that case you have to rely on objective elements like level up, quests, character stats and so on. And in the end you`ll judge RPG`s based again on a checklist. And end up with unlikely "hits".
    It`s like music genres. I don`t care about them. For instance, one of my favorite albums is "The Sea" from Ketil Bjornstadt quartet: piano, cello, electric guitar and percussion (not drums). It`s considered jazz, which is stupid. It`s not jazz, classical, rock, traditional. But just great music.
    Try to categorize that short story from Cortazar I posted above (it`s not a fragment but the whole story).

    If you want to reach a workable and comprehensive definition for RPG`s, start with the role-playing element, which is essential, and work your way through sub-genres. 🙂

  18. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    It can be completely objective. Instead of relying on specific elements, you rely why they’re there and what they do. That’s what I was advocating for in the first place. Like, the very first thing I said is that RPG is not a mechanical genre so you have to define them by what purpose the mechanics actually serve. Yeah, there is a blurry area with blended genres and mechanics that serve different purposes (dark souls stats actually do serve a role playing oriented purpose, to let you define your character, they could have a much more typical action game setup by abandoning stats and just upgrading weapons or otherwise scaling your power as you progress,and it would probably be a lot less work, but they also share the spotlight or outright take a backseat to the action gameplay so it could go either way,) but that’s true of all genres. It’s true of Puzzle games too, Tetris and Portal are obviously a puzzle games but games like Hotline Miami and Super Hot really straddle a line.

    That’s kinda what I was advocating. My entire first section was defining RPGs by actual roleplaying elements and what that means, and the last section was advocating that people be quick to add subgenres to that because when defined that way RPG is very specific but allows most any set of mechanics.

  19. Avatar Castielle says:

    most of your article was an opinion piece and was extremely subjective. What you think is an RPG and what others consider an RPG can and will be different in many cases. The genre is much too large and vague to be definable without being subjective, and is one of the reasons that their are now types of RPGs (such as Action, Turn-Based, JRPG, and CRPG). Playing Geralt in the Witcher 3 is the very definition of Role-Playing as you are playing that character. You don’t have to enjoy it for that statement to be true, and you won’t find many people anywhere calling The Witcher 3 something other than what it is, an RPG. In short, character creation isn’t what defines an RPG.

    There are many games out there that blur the lines, this much is true. A few that come to mind are XCOM 2, Last of US, Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted. However, some games are going to "connect" more with some players than others and will be considered more of a "true RPG" to them.

    Cas

  20. Avatar EldritchImagination says:
    @Forum_Pirate most of your article was an opinion piece and was extremely subjective. What you think is an RPG and what others consider an RPG can and will be different in many cases. The genre is much too large and vague to be definable without being subjective, and is one of the reasons that their are now types of RPGs (such as Action, Turn-Based, JRPG, and CRPG). Playing Geralt in the Witcher 3 is the very definition of Role-Playing as you are playing that character. You don’t have to enjoy it for that statement to be true, and you won’t find many people anywhere calling The Witcher 3 something other than what it is, an RPG. In short, character creation isn’t what defines an RPG.

    There are many games out there that blur the lines, this much is true. A few that come to mind are XCOM 2, Last of US, Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted. However, some games are going to "connect" more with some players than others and will be considered more of a "true RPG" to them.

    Cas

    To me, it’s not that playing as Geralt makes The Witcher an RPG, it’s that the game immerses you into the world in such a way that you empathize, connect to, and ultimately become Geralt. When you say "playing that character", people assume you just mean controlling them and their actions, but to me it means you play the character’s role, as in you are playing the role itself, not just the game. Shooting in CoD doesn’t mean I’m role playing as a military soldier, I’m just controlling one. It’s when the game has me act as the character’s role, think as if I was in the character’s role, be the role in the game, that is a role playing game.

  21. Avatar Fexelea says:

    We’ve had this discussion in the forum many times, I can’t find the thread but there are some from 2012 lol.

    The reality is that the definition of RPG is not cast in stone. Wikipedia leads with:

    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

    Reality is that since Pen and Paper and Dungeons and Dragons, the RPG genre has expanded to include different approaches and styles, creating hybrid games. The creation of your own character is not the trademark of the RPG any longer, the development of a character through a character sheet seems to be a more common theme. When I consider whether a game is an RPG or not, I usually check it against a series of elements, not one. The most salient one is whether there are stats, skill trees, crafting, and what level of depth those get.

    Playing a character made by others such as Nathan Drake in an action game is not the same as deciding what happens to Geralt – but the thing that makes The Witcher an RPG is the combination of several factors such as stats, skill trees, crafting, conversation choices, different endings and quest outcomes that bring it together as role-playing.

  22. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    I always thought playing pretend was the first form of Role-playing Game (and the best).

  23. Avatar Castielle says:
    @Forum_Pirate most of your article was an opinion piece and was extremely subjective. What you think is an RPG and what others consider an RPG can and will be different in many cases. The genre is much too large and vague to be definable without being subjective, and is one of the reasons that their are now types of RPGs (such as Action, Turn-Based, JRPG, and CRPG). Playing Geralt in the Witcher 3 is the very definition of Role-Playing as you are playing that character. You don’t have to enjoy it for that statement to be true, and you won’t find many people anywhere calling The Witcher 3 something other than what it is, an RPG. In short, character creation isn’t what defines an RPG.

    There are many games out there that blur the lines, this much is true. A few that come to mind are XCOM 2, Last of US, Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted. However, some games are going to "connect" more with some players than others and will be considered more of a "true RPG" to them.

    Cas

    To me, it’s not that playing as Geralt makes The Witcher an RPG, it’s that the game immerses you into the world in such a way that you empathize, connect to, and ultimately become Geralt. When you say "playing that character", people assume you just mean controlling them and their actions, but to me it means you play the character’s role, as in you are playing the role itself, not just the game. Shooting in CoD doesn’t mean I’m role playing as a military soldier, I’m just controlling one. It’s when the game has me act as the character’s role, think as if I was in the character’s role, be the role in the game, that is a role playing game.

    When I said playing the role of Geralt, this is what I was referring to. You cannot play Geralt and not be in the Witcher universe at the same time.

    As another point though, just about RPGs in general, you could potentially make a mechanical checklist for the genre of RPGs, as noted. However, what you would have happen is a group of games that don’t tick a few boxes and therefore don’t fall into a category. If you called The Witcher 3 an action game it would be more of a misnomer, even if it’s 51% RPG and 49% Action. If you call it an Action RPG then you’ve covered both categories and these best explain what sort of RPG it is.

    Cas

  24. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:
    @Forum_Pirate most of your article was an opinion piece and was extremely subjective. What you think is an RPG and what others consider an RPG can and will be different in many cases. The genre is much too large and vague to be definable without being subjective, and is one of the reasons that their are now types of RPGs (such as Action, Turn-Based, JRPG, and CRPG). Playing Geralt in the Witcher 3 is the very definition of Role-Playing as you are playing that character. You don’t have to enjoy it for that statement to be true, and you won’t find many people anywhere calling The Witcher 3 something other than what it is, an RPG. In short, character creation isn’t what defines an RPG.

    There are many games out there that blur the lines, this much is true. A few that come to mind are XCOM 2, Last of US, Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted. However, some games are going to "connect" more with some players than others and will be considered more of a "true RPG" to them.

    Cas

    IT’s only too large and vague because people use the term incorrectly.

    There are more types of RPG for the same reason there are more types of puzzle game. When it’s not a mechanical genre, any set of mechanics can be made to fit the bill.

    I don’t believe I was particularly focused on character creation as a necessity (more on character definition,) but I already addressed the "you’re playing Geralt therefor you’re roleplaying" argument. If you want to make that claim then *every game where you control a character is an RPG and the term is effectively meaningless and should be abandoned entirely. It’s not as if skill trees or being able to see the math in combat are exclusive traits of RPGs, team fortress 2 and Farcry come to mind, so it doesn’t necessarily indicate those things that people associate with them either. It needs a proper definiton or it needs to die because it adds nothing to the conversation.

    Again, I’m looking a featuresets and the purposes they serve. I don’t have to like or dislike them, they’re not more or less RPGs because I do or don’t find the systems they use to allow it engaging, they’re not even more or less RPGs if I really, really, really like the role playing apects that are present (or just not actively interfered with,) what matters is wether or not role playing is the point and how much of the game is built around that concept.

    We’ve had this discussion in the forum many times, I can’t find the thread but there are some from 2012 lol.

    The reality is that the definition of RPG is not cast in stone. Wikipedia leads with:

    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

    Reality is that since Pen and Paper and Dungeons and Dragons, the RPG genre has expanded to include different approaches and styles, creating hybrid games. The creation of your own character is not the trademark of the RPG any longer, the development of a character through a character sheet seems to be a more common theme. When I consider whether a game is an RPG or not, I usually check it against a series of elements, not one. The most salient one is whether there are stats, skill trees, crafting, and what level of depth those get.

    Playing a character made by others such as Nathan Drake in an action game is not the same as deciding what happens to Geralt – but the thing that makes The Witcher an RPG is the combination of several factors such as stats, skill trees, crafting, conversation choices, different endings and quest outcomes that bring it together as role-playing.

    Again, it’s not that you don’t create the character, it’s that you don’t define the character. You don’t necessarily create the characters in D&D either (other people can do it for you and there are presets) but you do define them and have to actively interpret their personality to attempt to do things as them. You don’t do that in The Witcher, you’re generally only allowed to do things that are believable for their version of Geralt. You pick what you want to do, not what Geralt would do, he could do any of it and it would make sense given his personality and experience.

    I’m also advocating that a series of elements be checked. In fact I’m advocating that every element be checked, and that the questions people should be asking when checking are along the lines of "how would this let me define my character and role in this world?." If the answer is "it doesn’t because everything is designed to be believable for an individual pre-defined character" then it’s not an RPG.

    Does that make what I was saying clearer? I’d agree that RPGs have expanded to include different approaches and styles, but I’d argue it has nothing to do with the definition as it relates to pen and paper/video games changing and everything to do with people finding new mechanics to allow ways to role play. That’s the thing about not being a mechanical genre, any set of mechanics can be adopted.

    It occurs to me that I never defined what I meant by mechanical genre, so if it isn’t clear what I mean by mechanical genre is like First Person Shooter, Racing Game and Hack and Slash, genres that literally describe the mechanics of the game, as opposed to RPG, Puzzle Game or Strategy Game, that describe what the purpose of the mechanics is but not what those mechanics are (hence all the subgenres in the latter and not so many in the former.) It’s maybe also worth mentioning that many mechanical genres (Ie First Person Shooter, itself a sub genre of Shooter) are sub genres of genres that are just as broad as RPG (ie Action Game). It might also be worth noting, when RPG is subdivided into something other than action RPG (the go to genre for everything ever and whos constant misuse is responsible for most of my irritation in this matter) it’s usually, in my experience, more accurate. I’ve never once seen a game popularly called an isometric RPG or a Tactical RPG that isn’t actually an RPG (not that they don’t exsist, just that I haven’t seen them.)

  25. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Videogames don’t have the flexibility of pen and paper, so in essence all options for role-play are limited to what the developers thought out.

    I am not a huge Witcher fan because I do not like playing as a male and having to "role-play" a male. I can play as Nathan Drake all day, but I don’t like having to role-play a relationship between Geralt and some bimbo. That right there highlights a crucial difference in how the witcher presents an rpg experience vs an action game.

    Either way I think that the combination of several factors (and to me most importantly character development through stats, gear, quest options) is what makes for the "definition" of RPG. I do not think that expecting a single game to click all boxes or be called something else is realistic or fair. I think that if it ticks more of "rpg" boxes than action, it needs to be called "action rpg" as dark souls and witcher do. Purist RPG experiences are often simply called "rpg" without an addendum, unless they get the "classic" or "oldschool" label to go with it.