RPG's. Role Playing Games. Fiendish little time sinks where you can and will lose days, weeks, months of your life in search of a hallowed, sacred something or other. Why? Well its a motley collection of the usual reasons. Be it fame, riches, vengeance, saving the world from the dark threat of the dreaded Whatsisface and the assembled armies of Aaargh!
You know, the usual. Rarely do they stray outside this template. No its all child of destiny this and quest for redemption that. It's all very epic except when its not. Which is most of the time. These games channel the same identikit experiences into your soft mushy brain, secretly hoping that you've forgotten how similar it all is to the last bazillion times you saved the bucolic kingdom with the dashing knight, the enigmatic elf, the cheeky dwarf and the break dancing robot.
You haven't played that one? Neither have I. Not enough robots busting a move in games right now, not even in those Japanese RPG's full of teenage angst and impossible hair. Why is this? Why do the humble craftspeople of the videogame factories insist on churning out unadventurous adventures time and time again? Well its the money obviously, case closed Watson! My work is done...
...no wait. There's something more at play here, something perhaps about the very genre itself thats stifling those who would attempt to expand it beyond its well worn horizons, beyond the comfort zone of force fed whimsy and standard issue world threatening peril.
No wait that's the old brain injury talking again. Silence brain! We'll be hearing no more of that crazy talk here. You see, RPG's embody a set of rules that normalise insanity. So far, so duh! All games do that to a degree, arguably anything that makes any sort of claim to realism does that, reflecting so-called 'normal' behaviour that is anything but. Role playing games being no exception, with a personality best described as less charming and more bug eyed crazy.
What's that you harumph? What's so amiss about the humble RPG? Well picture the scene if you will. Sir Nobletits and his gallant band of adventurers cavorting on their way to the completion of their quest. Having trouble picturing it? It goes something like this... kill, loot, frolic, quest, kill, loot, kill!
Or is that frolic, loot, kill, quest, kill, loot, frolic? Pfft! Details! Point is, the only way anyone gets anything in these game's is by laying waste to all who besmirch them. Dead bodies in these game worlds are less like cadavers and more like walking jackpots for your average adventurer.
These adventures take place in worlds that operate under the rules of the murder based economy. A cosy little game of kill and kill more kept in business by the spontaneous generation of loot from the bodies of the recently deceased. Cha-ching motherfuckers!
Why its a psychotics wet dream, a neverending orgy of stealing, dying and violating the sanctity of death in the search for more loot. Nothing here has its point of origin, its just waiting there to be acquired by one means or another. Death mostly.
Now I am not opposed to death. It has it's place. It needs to be there. But theres something a touch bonkers about how its become the standard go-to option for most game developers most of the time. Not so much a surprise in your first person shooters but role playing games?
With their greater emphasis on plot and character I wonder how they so often devolve into rampant kill-a-thons? It just seems so out of sync with the experience these games strive to procide. Oh there are exceptions that try to break the mold. The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Fallout games all offer alternatives to mass slaughter but invariably you end up resorting to it anyway. Quests become less the building blocks of story and more like orchestrated exercises in mass murder. Fun times! Okay so they are pretty fun but still...
Now in the grand scheme of things, is this driven partly by the demands of the characters we like and the stories we tell? Maybe. Probably. Yes, yes it is. But its not like game makers are overflowing with imagination either when it comes to the basic mechanics of their games. They can be quite the unimaginative bunch in fact, using death as the default short-cut to progress.
Makes me wonder just how much progress has been made since the ancient arcade days of blips shooting blops. Sure games look and sound better than ever before but the underlying struggle between form and function is still there and its not relocating itself to history any time soon, mass death at the push of a button is far too alluring it seems. Nobody is about to direct it to the fire exit for ideas that have outstayed their welcome like they probably should.