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Of all types of games out there, role-playing games are perhaps the most enduring titles in the world today. Coming from the war gaming tabletop roots, RPGs come in many shapes and forms, focus on different mechanics, and provide a myriad of worlds and design philosophies that make it one of the most diverse subgenres in the gaming industry.

Playing Roles hopes to analyze the history and culture of video game RPGs, looking at tropes, mechanics, the philosophy of design, and even some retrospectives of classic RPG titles. As an academic series, it also hopes to challenge the notion of what a role-playing game is, offering a new thesis in how RPGs have a lot in common, despite their different mechanics, settings, and play styles.

The following is in chronological order with the newest article in the series first.

The Conflict with Combat

final fantasy vii cloud playing roles conflict with combat

Combat is a staple in all RPGs, but over or under-relying on combat can often lead to flatter experiences for a title. RPGs often provide a mix of combat and “role-play” encounters, but it is the use of conflict over combat that is often the middle ground needed, or in some cases, a re-imagining of both conflict and combat to fit into the confines of the games mechanics. Read more here…

The Problem with Power Gaming

witcher 3 difficulty power gaming playing roles

Power Gaming is an interesting phenomenon, one that has roots in the RPG genre with the tabletop sensibilities of “min-maxing” and surviving long, hard battles. Role-playing, of course, has morphed over time, and now the use of power gaming has become a mechanic often for a video game, from utilizing purposeful exploits to promoting specific strategies to survive the design of a more difficult game. The differences between a “roll-player” and a “role-player” are often showcased through power gaming, but RPGs often cater to all types of players, more often than we think when it comes to how mechanics and difficulty are utilized in conjunction with Power Gaming. Read more here…

The Psychology of Player Agency

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Player agency in games is an often-discussed issue when it comes to the enjoyment of a title, but it is rarely discussed fully. There have been several attempts to discuss the psychology behind player agency—what ultimately makes a player gravitate towards a game based on the content of a title. For RPGs, there have been several attempts at discussing this, most notably the famous Bartle Test, which is arguably one of the best tools today in dissecting what makes players tick. Read more here…

A Gauntlet Retrospective

gauntlet retrospective playing roles

Many games in the world of role-playing can trace their roots to the dungeon crawl. Titles such as Diablo and Wizardry are perhaps the most famous examples, but one game took the concept of the dungeon crawl and transformed it into an addictive, hallmark experience by bringing the genre to arcades and home consoles. That game is Gauntlet, the grandfather of the modern dungeon crawl. Read more here…

A Heroes of Might and Magic Retrospective

heroes of might and magic retrospective playing roles

Arguably the most successful tactical RPG for PC, the Heroes of Might and Magic titles have over a 20-year history of providing tactical-based combat and role-playing design across five different incarnations. Despite being a spin-off of the popular Might and Magic series, Heroes of Might and Magic is probably more important as a title, pushing the tactical RPG genre to new heights. Read more here…

On Tactical-RPGs

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Role-playing games have many genres, but one of the most underrated is arguably the tactical RPG. Originating from the 1980s at several sources, Tactical RPGs offer a unique blend of tactical and stat-based combat combined with rich storytelling, something that can only be done within the role-playing genre. While today it is still a niche in the world of gaming, the genre still sees sustained popularity worldwide, with many ravenous fans eagerly awaiting the next game to pick up and play. Read more here…

The Philosophy of Design

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Design in a game is important, but for a RPG it is even more paramount to its success. One of the longest running debates in the tabletop realm is the discussion of concrete versus abstract rule-sets and which is more important for the enjoyment of the players. For video games, it is even harder, as design philosophies often change to suit the needs of the market. Whether abstract or concrete, the philosophy of design is often a major piece to the role-playing puzzle, leading to how games are mechanically utilized for players to enjoy. Read more here…

On Co-op and Multiplayer

borderlands co op multiplayer playing roles

One of the growing genres of role-playing games is the use of co-op and multiplayer. New games such as Borderlands, Magicka, and Torchlight embody the mechanic, but considering the history of RPGs in the gaming market, it is just a continuation of a long-standing tradition of co-op experiences in what is considered a single-player genre. Going back to online MUDs and even console co-op RPGs, even group play from the tabletop can transition to the television screen, offering new experiences for role-playing enthusiasts. Read more here…

A Final Fantasy Retrospective

year of final fantasy

It is no question that Final Fantasy is one of the most important RPGs ever made. Single-handedly reversing the fortunes of one game company while simultaneously providing one of the deepest role-playing experiences on consoles, Final Fantasy would be the catalyst that explodes the populari+9/*-ty of RPGs, which for a long time were relegated to an underground genre on the PC market. This increased popularity would forever change the course of role-playing games, and as for Final Fantasy, one of the most recognized franchises in gaming history. Read more here…

On Choice and Consequence

mass effect dialogue wheel bullet points

Choice and Consequence are mainstays in role-playing games. The ability to “choose your own path” is a hallmark selling point, as is the inherent morality in such choices. RPGs often must use a lot of tricks to create the illusion of choice in a game, and plots of titles seldom change due to their importance in following what is an ultimately linear story. It is through narrative, however, that RPGs can truly shine, and offer choice and consequence for players to enjoy.  Read more here…

The Bard’s Tale Retrospective

the bards tale retrospective playing roles

The Bard’s Tale is a beloved, if somewhat forgotten, franchise, but in its heyday it was a major contender in the PC RPG market. Considered one of the best dungeon crawlers in the 1980s, The Bard’s Tale was also one of the more impressive titles mechanically, being incredibly accessible compared to other stat-based dungeon crawlers at the time. Read more here…

The Etymology of RPGs, Part 2

etymology of rpgs playing roles part 2

 

Role-Playing Games are a large and diverse sub-genre in video games, in part due to their long lineage of table-top war gaming. Early RPGs hoped to emulate the table-top experience faithfully, but the genre grew quickly, gaining influence from several sources across the world. Today, RPGs are often labeled by specific “genres,” mostly stemming from country of origin with the WRPG/JRPG labels. However, the influence of role-playing games flows both ways, and increasingly such labels are becoming obsolete in the face of changing trends in the RPG market. Read more here…

The Etymology of RPGs, Part 1

etymology of rpgs

Role-Playing Games are a large and diverse sub-genre in video games, in part due to their long lineage of table-top war gaming. Early RPGs hoped to emulate the table-top experience faithfully, but the genre grew quickly, gaining influence from several sources across the world. Today RPG’s are often labeled by specific “genres”, mostly stemming from country of origin with the WRPG/JRPG labels. However, the influence of role-playing games flows both ways, and increasingly such labels are becoming obsolete in the face of changing trends in the RPG market. Read more here…