Just by definition, an RPG is a ‘Role Playing Game’ – pretty vague, eh?
When you think about it, you play a Role in every game, so that can’t be what we define an rpg by.
Now, traditional RPGs were games with leveling systems and equipment systems and progression of stats… but those sorts of aspects are found in nearly every genre of game nowadays. From shooters, for example Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, having a leveling system based off of an ‘experience’ value awarded through accomplishments and kills to action games having stat progression to other shooters with detailed equipment and loot systems. So what used to define an ‘RPG’ is no longer a valid term for defining one anymore – because it applies to every genre.
So let’s look back at the first video games we called ‘RPG’s’ and let’s try to find something about them that is a little more focused – something that defined them as much as the above. Sure they had what are typically referred to nowadays as ‘RPG elements’, but more than that they were stories. Stories that were being told to us. Whether you think of the more non-linear style of game found in Betrayal At Krondor or the more linear style popularized by Final Fantasy; the games told us a story. A story that, while you often had sidequests or extra missions, or exploration and leveling and such you could do on the side, was the main purpose of the game. You never really lost sight of what you were doing or why you were doing it. It was your driving force.
So if we take all of the elements that we have here and combine them together, we get what an RPG is to me.
An RPG is a game with a defined story. A story that is the core of the game. The story defines the experience of the game. It is not necessarily everything that happens in the game, but it is the core experience. Once you have the story as the core experience, you then add on the ‘RPG elements’, a progression or leveling system of some sort and an equipment system of some sort.
Take all 3 and you can say you have an RPG by my definition.
This is why I don’t qualify open world experiences like Sacred, like Elder Scrolls, like Amalur to be RPGs. They tend to not have a defined story, they tend to have a hundred(or thousand, or more) little stories that all add up to your experience. There isn’t any one driving story behind them – usually – there may be a ‘core quest’ that is just there to let you know when you’ve ‘finished’ the game; but there’s nothing to make you feel that that is the core of the experience. This is not a bad thing, I don’t want to get people who are excited for Skyrim or Amalur up in arms at me because I promise you, I’m very excited for them too. But I am not excited for it because it’s an RPG – I am excited for it because it looks like an awesome Open World Adventure game – which is what I am from here forward dubbing games of this type. Games like Ultima was back in the day, games like Skyrim and Amalur and Dragon’s Dogma and Monster Hunter. They’re fantastic games. They offer huge potential, massive gameplay experiences, and definitely have a lot to offer. But – by my definition – they aren’t RPGs.
What do you think, readers, do I have a point? Am I completely off my rocker – because people have called me such before I assure you.
What’re your thoughts on what defines an RPG, or where we draw the line as to what is an RPG and what just has RPG elements?