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‘The Game That Wasn’t There’: A Rebuttal


I read this blog post this morning and it’s had me thinking – always a good sign. The points made by the author, Joel Haddock, are definitely ones I could agree with, and definitely ones I can see others agreeing with. But at the same time I can’t help but disagree with the overriding sentiment behind what Haddock is talking about, painting a picture such as he does of western RPGs being empty husks of their former selves.

Far from it – WRPGs (as I’m ashamed to now be calling them) have hit their stride and have become the leading light for the role-playing genre. It’s far removed from the role-playing of old, from tabletop games, D&D and the creation of a whole new world in your mind – but that’s the nature of the beast. It was unlikely to ever get to a point in gaming where RPGs didn’t become more cinematic, because that is what the majority of people – not necessarily RPG players, but people – would be most comfortable with. Yes it’s an argument of dumbing down, of stripping away to its core elements and of removing the ability for the player to project themselves onto the characters and their party, but for the genre to ever be as successful as it has been that was always going to be necessary.

All the same, this apparent thought that these RPGs don’t exist anymore – turn-based and with a party you create and control – is just plain wrong. Even the most cursory of searches through the PC gaming market reveals plenty of old-fashioned WRPGs ripe for the playing. King’s Bounty, for example, is a perfect example so long as you’re not allergic to hexagons. Of course this situation isn’t the same on consoles, but that’s why we get back to the mass market reasoning – they’re the popular machines for the people interested in popular things. If Mass Effect 2 involved the intense micro management of half a dozen or more individuals then – to be perfectly frank – a lot of people absolutely would not care for it. It’s too much effort; it’s too ‘nerdy’; it doesn’t appeal. But that’s the popular games, the big budget and mass market – scrape the surface; that’s all you need to do.

I think a lot of Haddock’s complaints stem from what is seen as the dumbing down of WRPGs, as I mentioned above. But there we come to another area I have to disagree, as I feel this perceived ‘dumbing down’ is another necessity of the genre. Not only to encourage more people to embrace it, but also to make it so the people who already play it – but who simply can’t be bothered with all the mucking about – can enjoy it more. I have been an avid Fallout player since the very beginning and in all honesty I can say I do not miss the few things cut from Fallout 3. The different perks just seem to make it so I actually can be bothered to put some effort into my character – whereas before I simply felt overwhelmed by the reams of options, now I can put time and thought into their creation without too many variables popping up and discouraging me from experimenting. Simplification is all too often seen as a negative aspect of gaming. I disagree wholeheartedly. I am not a ‘casual’ player and I am a reasonably intelligent person – I don’t see simplification as an affront to my sensibilities, nor do I see it as something that breaks, or restricts the games it is applied to (and I’ve even stand by that argument in the face of Deus Ex: Invisible War. Call me crazy). The removal of team-mates, I should add, is a bloody godsend. Remember how they had to add an option to Fallout 2 so you could actually move a member of your team, seeing as they all-too-often decided to stand in the way of a door or other entrance/exit? They’re the kind of prats that have no place in games. Other team elements? They still exist. Complaining because you only have four instead of six is also a bit rich, especially as so much time, effort, artistry, voice work and other such gubbins goes into their creation these days. Though I suppose that does tie in to the whole ‘not a blank slate’ thing Haddock takes issue with.

What I think it comes down to, though, is the fact that – of all the genres – the RPG is the one that evolves the most. It come a long way from table tops, to early games, through the Japanese takeover and the western renaissance, changing every step of the way. At the same time the genre been assimilated into many other genres, pervasive and influential as it is. It’s a natural progression and is one that should be supported – the games Haddock wants to see are still out there, I just genuinely believe he isn’t looking hard enough.

But then, maybe I’ve just missed the point and gone off on a nonsensical blog/rant here. Who knows?

Don’t worry, I’ll return to my usual list-writing tomorrow.

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