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“Playing for rolls” or “Playing the role”

May 16th, 2010 by

It was my early gaming experiences on the Atari ST which ignited my passion for a good RPG.  Games such as Demons Winter, Phantasie and the mighty Ultima series ruled my time and often my dreams.  With pages full of scribbled notes alongside my many cloth maps of Britannia, the idea of grinding my way through a long RPG was much more appealing than going outside and climbing trees.

It seemed the enjoyment I got wasn’t only from immersing myself into the fantasy world dreamed up by the developers, but from the rewarding feeling that would wash over me like a gentle wave when I would find a new enchanted item after finally defeating a tough foe.  It is this proven risk and reward system which has been crafted into somewhat of an art form when it comes to World of Warcraft or more recently Demon’s Souls.

But this was me playing for rolls.  In these types of games I would rarely project my personal traits onto my in game avatar.  I would grind reputation with different factions or mercilessly slaughter everything in my way in order to achieve the rewarding item drop or gain that additional experience level.

It was not until I delved into the table top gaming world of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that I came to realise that the most fun to be had was playing the role of the hero.  With no graphical interface limiting my actions, it was all down to my imagination (not to mention a good Dungeon Master).  It was at this point I realised that there was a second level to RPG’s, actually playing the role.  Sometimes I would use my own moral compass to steer my characters decisions, other times I would deliberately become the wicked evil person I could never get away with being in the real world.

This brings me onto the controversial topic of Fable and the mind behind it, Peter Molyneux.  I have always respected the thought behind the Fable games, trying to connect with the player and bring their moralities and decision making into the game on a higher level than previously seen.  I truly believe that Peter Molyneux wants to bring the type of experiences I had with AD&D to the masses without the need to invest in dice.  But is this actually possible?  Gameplay still needs to be at the heart of any successful title and in the realms of RPG’s there will always be the staple levelling and item acquisition.

It would be rude not to include Bioware in this bit of gaming commentary, specially the Mass Effect series. Unlike their Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights games, Mass Effect does focus more on the character development.  But other than a very open galaxy to explore and NPC’s to interact with, the character forged through the game still tackles the quests in the same manor.

I’m by no means unhappy with the wide array of RPG’s available at the moment.  From the story telling heights of Final Fantasy to the downright evil but super rewarding Demon’s Souls and with MMO’s pushing the boundaries of time investment.  Perhaps the closest I’m going to get to my dream of total role playing isn’t going to happen within this media and is an experience that can only be gained by investing in those hypnotic dice.

What are your thoughts, can video games ever compare to traditional tabletop gaming? Am I expecting too much from my gaming time? Or am I simply playing these games with the wrong mind set?

4 Responses to ““Playing for rolls” or “Playing the role””
  1. avatar Anthony Bate says:

    Nice piece, Mr Moore.
    I feel that current technology cannot compare to table-top gaming in those means.
    99% of games are “guided” in that they are constructed using rigid programming. I can only think of a couple of games that have proceedurally generated content i.e. content that is generated randomly. Even those that are proceedural still have rigid criteria and syntax which they must adhere to, meaning there’s no real “imagination” involved.

    It is human nature to see the auspices or patterns of all things. Even the most convincing games can be mentally decoded and seen as the set of lego blocks that they are.

    I’m not bashing on programmers at all, how could one program a game to be truly random but still be a fun game? We need to steal an A.I from the Normandy!

  2. avatar Mogg says:

    Ahhh Matt, you never fail to pick great topics. I’d love to start playing D&D but i don’t know if i’m to young of the time has past.

  3. avatar windjunky says:

    My house used to fill up with weirdos and missfits every Sunday night. Each armed with a little canvas bag with their personal collection of assorted dice and their character sheets for further installments of D&D.
    Those days for me are long gone now as are the missfits and weirdos. Well, actually most of them became Teachers etc.. Video gaming has some big shoes to fill and I think this generation of consoles couldn’t even come close.
    Playing MW2 the other night with the core group I used to D&D with we decided online gaming was better because we didn’t have to look at each other’s ugly mugs.
    Seriously, online gaming can replace the table top.. even better it.. we’re still waiting for the game to do it.

  4. Well written post, enjoyed the read. thanks!

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