Posted by: Ben | December 23, 2009

Man Vs Genre: Introduction

I like games. Computer games, for preference, but other sorts of games are also good.  But I don’t like every game, because that would make me an oddbod.  I like management games, first-person shooters, action adventures, interactive fiction and platform games.  Some genres I prefer to avoid entirely.  For example, I know enough not to bother playing beat-em-ups or real-time strategy.  And as far as the online variant of the RPG is concerned, I spent two whole hours playing Maple Story and realised I never wanted to go anywhere near anything like that again.

But computer role-playing games are a whole other story.  I don’t understand them.  I don’t especially like them.  And as a rule, I don’t play them.

This is a problem, because I love the idea of them.  In general, they involve exploration of an open world, lots of interesting stuff to do, strong stories and character development.  Everything I should theoretically love in a game.  But every time I try to play one, I play it for about an hour before putting it down in frustration.  And the amount of pleasure other people seem to get from titles like Oblivion and Planescape: Torment never seems to go away.

This fellow looks like he's having a great time.

Maybe it’s my background.  As a Spectrum gamer in the 80s, this genre was something that happened to other people.  (The archive site World Of Spectrum lists 20514 titles, of which 72 are classed as RPGs. That’s an astonishing 0.4%. One of those games I have played. Another one was considered a notable game on the format.)

Whatever, it’s driving me berserk.  I can’t continue to admire role-playing games from afar.  I need closure.  But there’s a solution.  Today, more games from the past are more readily available than ever before, and emulation is better than ever.  It’s possible for a chap with time on his hands to thoroughly research the history of an entire genre to a degree that our ancestors would have found faintly creepy.  It should therefore be possible to subject myself to a sufficient grounding in this fine genre to be able to say categorically whether I don’t like it or just don’t understand it.  Is the entire genre broken because it relies on an imperfect translation of a format that just happens to work better in another medium?  Does the fiction behind the genre have any literary merit?  Is it possible to create a character from scratch in a game you have yet to play and still have any chance of winning?

So, Computer Role-Playing Games, I offer you a challenge.  I will play a selection of your fine products in a fight to the death.  If you win me over I promise to get excited about your new releases like a good gamer.  If, on the other hand, I remain unconvinced, you will be dead to me forever.

There are rules, of course.  There are always rules.

1.)   Use of a walkthrough is permissible.  In any other genre, this would be a bizarre concession.  For the role-playing game, it is just a necessary method of ensuring fairness.  After all, stroll into the wrong dungeon before you’ve levelled up adequately and you’re goblin food.

2.)   The Way of the Iron Man, or in other words, Permadeath.  In the tradition of actual role playing games, if I die I will get up, turn the computer off and make a cup of tea.  There is to be no reloading.  This is not because I am more hardcore than you.  I am about as hardcore as Marti Pellow, if he wasn’t addicted to heroin.  It is because there are an awful lot of CRPGs to get through, and Rule 1 should mitigate most causes of very early death.  Amendment to rule 2: This does not apply if the game mechanics include resurrection or respawning.

3.)   No cynicism.  This will not come naturally to me, but I know enough about CRPGs to know that only the urge to adventure and experience exciting derring-do in fantasy land will get me through them.

4.)   It ends when it ends.  Either I will surrender, or the genre will submit to my will.

Wish me luck.

Akalabeth: World Of Doom
Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord
Sword Of Fargoal
Temple Of Apshai
Dunzhin (Warriors Of Ras Volume 1)
Ultima 2: The Revenge Of The Enchantress
Gateway To Apshai
Exodus: Ultima III
Alternate Reality: The City

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