It’s E3 at the moment and the net is awash with live broadcasts and conversations about a medium that survives by pushing boundaries, has become a bigger industry than films and, to a lot of the audience, is an art form. This gives me a reason to ramble on, with little to no coherent point, about what I do when my wife isn’t watching Eastenders on our TV.
I am a gaming fan. I enjoy how you can be more connected to a game than to a film. I like the fact I can create and play cinematic moments rather than have them play out for me. I like talking in the first person about how I killed a vampire and be shocked as I play out my own death scene. I’ve played games as long as I’ve ridden my bike. It’s just something my brother and I did when we couldn’t go outside. From Spectrum ZX, through Super NES to PS3.
However, one genre of game I’ve never been in tune with is the RPG. The role playing game. I’ve just never ‘got’ it. It just took too much time and gave too many options. Why would I be a barman selling flagons of ale and talking, talking, talking, slowly discovering the secrets of the realm, when I can be jumping on Koopas or in the SAS, head-shotting insurgents from behind generic looking crates or barrels?
This includes the whole MMORPGWTF worlds as well. If I can’t drop in and out, or it was not shooty, drivey, jumpy fun I was just not interested. It seemed to be reserved for those who dabble in the Pasty-faced-T-shirts-of-wolves-howling-at-the-moon-wearing-dungeons-and-dragons side of gaming. People who really dedicate time to not seeing real grass or trees. That’s not entirely fair. Let’s not forget that many a boy (my brother included) played Championship Manager to the early hours of the morning – Yes that is an RPG Sean, you were watching numbers change on a screen for chrisakes! Not me, none of it. All those stats. Talking. You hit me. Wait. I hit you. Wait. You hit me. Wai…Boring.
But I’m changing. One thing I have seen in gaming is that RPG elements are making their way into even the most mainstream of games. Not only did we not notice this infiltration into our super cool driving games. We like it. Because it gives our pew, pew games more depth.
Call of Duty. Bioshock. FIFA 11. Red Dead Redemption. Gran Turismo. Assassins Creed. Big popular games, full of RPG parts. Yep. You know it’s true. Levelling up. Crazy customisation. Character creation. Weapon classes. Open worlds to explore. Ambient missions. Multiple endings. Moral choices. Being left on the bench as a season plays out while you watch – damn you FIFA. All things that have made these games last longer and feel more fulfilling, and that I used to avoid like the T-Virus. I now demand them. I feel cheated if I can’t lose myself in these things.
It got me thinking. Am I playing RPG games with great shooting/driving/jumping elements? Or are these jumpy/drivey/shooty games with great added RPG bits? Or is it simply that developers have realised that a world growing up on the internet can handle this added level of choice alongside the shiny graphics? As I type I’m surrounded by buttons and choices every second. In Facebook I create my own character with text, use digital currencies, friend stats and share found treasures everyday. For me, these gaming classifications are becoming more and more redundant as I start to see more immersive entertainment using the best bits from all types of sources. It’s becoming a question of game universe (franchise), rather than game genre.
Charlie Brooker is right, modern games are difficult to describe as anything other than ‘experiences’. And this blurring of the genre lines just emphasises that. One thing I’ve been told is that RPGs are stories you unravel in a way unique to you. But more and more games are letting me do that, without a broad sword in sight.
Most great games are tales that put Hollywood to shame – wrapped up with action, intelligence, subtlety and an even greater ability to make the story your own. I recently played Mass Effect 2… ummm alot. It’s an ‘Action RPG’ and I played it out of morbid curiosity. And got hooked on the amount of subtle things I could do with the game, outside of the ‘action’ bits. I took ownership of my character and defined, in my own mind, what they would and wouldn’t do. It’s big, epic and you still do a fair bit of talking. But it’s also blockbustery, shooty fun.
But back to my main question (I recently posed it to Official PlayStation Magazine. And got a great answer – although I’m not sure my wife would agree) – Am I now an RPG fan? It’s fair to say I am turning into one, but not by choice. I still don’t ‘get’ many ‘pure’ role playing games. Or why I’d sink half my life into them. But I do have a levelled-up appreciation for the RPG. As I said, I’m playing them more and more, without even knowing it. As long as they come packaged with a lot of vroom, screeee, bang, bang, kaplooee, ROONEY!