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Default The RPG Podcast - What Is The True Definition of a Role-Playing Game?

May 19th, 2013, 18:08
TheKoalition has a new podcast about defining what is an RPG. Other topics include free-to-play and why it's the future.
Richard Bailey joins myself and David Jagneaux in this week's episode of Turn Based. Our colleague ElectroJade asked me a thoughtful question recently. The question was whether a game like Heavy Rain could be considered an RPG, due to the fact you assume the role of the numerous characters and make decisions for them.
I personally wouldn't call Heavy Rain an RPG, but I could easily see how somebody could make the distinction. We decided that this was a topic that should be discussed in more detail, so our main discussion surrounds the question "What is the true definition of a role-playing game?" Be sure to share your thoughts below.
Also on this episode we discuss the recent Diablo 3 auction house exploits, and the Defiance TV to video game events. There was also the awesome news that Rift would be going free-to-play, and developer Epic discussed about free-to-play business models on consoles recently. With the combination of these free-to-play topics we decided to touch on why we believe free-to-play is the way of the future.
More information.
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May 19th, 2013, 18:08
Simply put, role playing video games are games that attempt to adapt table-top role playing mechanics/rules/etc. to a video game platform. I'd also include games that take strong influence from table-top-to-video game adaptations, but which do not try to emulate table-top themselves.

The focus on the actual term "role playing" is essentially useless. Do only "action" games have action? Do only "fighting" games have fighting? Are RTS's the only games where you must employ strategies in real-time? Obviously, no. Our genre labels aren't meant to be taken literally so much as they touch upon a whole network of socially agreed upon conventions.

Fighting games are a -very- specific kind of game, where the fighting occurs in a way that fits certain norms and conventions, largely borrowed from Street Fighter 2 or its immediate predecessors/successors. Likewise, RPGs are games that fit into certain norms and conventions, largely borrowed from D&D (and other table-top RPGs), its video game descendants (Ultima, Wizardry, Gold Box, Infinity Engine), and the descendants of its video game descendants (Might and Magic, Dragon Quest, BioWare's current output, etc.).

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May 19th, 2013, 18:17
Didn't read the article - but as to the title:

There is no true definition that can be both useful and have everyone (or close to everyone) agree.

Which is why it's futile to try. Well, unless it's the first time you think about it - in which case it can be useful as a way to discover said futility
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May 19th, 2013, 19:41
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Didn't read the article - but as to the title:

There is no true definition that can be both useful and have everyone (or close to everyone) agree.

Which is why it's futile to try. Well, unless it's the first time you think about it - in which case it can be useful as a way to discover said futility
Well then since you didn't listen to the podcast you can't comment then. How do you know what his opinion is? But yes put 100 people in a room ask the question, and no one will agree. It's one of life's greatest mysteries.

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May 19th, 2013, 19:47
Originally Posted by Couchpotato View Post
Well then since you didn't listen to the podcast you can't comment then then. How do you know what his opinion is? But yes put 100 people in a room ask the question, and no one will agree. It's one of life's greatest mysteries.
I'm not talking about his opinion - but about the title of the podcast.

I don't need to know his opinion - and frankly, I don't have much interest in yet another attempt at making the fully subjective into the objective. It would bore me
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May 19th, 2013, 19:57
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
I'm not talking about his opinion - but about the title of the podcast.

I don't need to know his opinion - and frankly, I don't have much interest in yet another attempt at making the fully subjective into the objective. It would bore me
You mean like most of your subjective into the objective posts Dart. We all do this so I can't complain.

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May 19th, 2013, 20:07
Originally Posted by Couchpotato View Post
You mean like most of your subjective into the objective posts Dart. We all do this so I can't complain.
It's a completely different thing when I'm talking - as that's highly enjoyable. I don't argue - I educate

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May 19th, 2013, 20:41
You will never ever get the true definition of a role playing game unless you use a broad stroke as in "where you play a role of a character in a game" which opens many doors so many are uncomfortable accepting.

The real question is, why even try to do that?

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May 19th, 2013, 20:52
Anyone using "true" in that sense has basically killed their argument right then and there as far as I'm concerned. True definitions, true gamers, true liberals, true enthusiasts, true believers - every time I've heard the word used that way, it has just been a cheap attempt to ignore other opinions.

The definition that is actually being used right now is this: role playing games are games where the publisher has told the retailers to put the game in the RPG section of the store. The nature of this definition also explains why it is so hard for us to come up with a definition that fits all games currently billed as RPGs. If we had the big publishers' marketing data, I'm sure we could do better.

Next up, what is the true definition of "sports car"?
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May 19th, 2013, 22:58
For me, a Computer RPG is a game that scratches the same (or similar) itch as Paper and Pencil RPGs. Its something about a combination of stats, character building, character skill over player skill, collaborative storytelling (of course on a PC this is all in my head) and a world to explore.

But as others have stated, my definition won't necessarily resonate with anyone else. And that's ok. Some people list games as hardcore RPGs that make me laugh. But truthfully, it doesn't make them wrong. (Well, it does, but who cares )
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May 19th, 2013, 23:08
Another dead horse that has been beaten many times in many different ways. File it alongside "what is art", "what is good or evil", "what is porn", and "what is science fiction"?
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May 19th, 2013, 23:53
I rather agree with CrazyIrish here.

To me, playing a role is like being an actor on a stage.

"Modern" role-play is nowadays way beyond its table-top origins.

Yes, I even dare to say that tabletop role-play was inspired by stage acting - they wanted to "play out a role" on an table-top board, didn't they ?

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May 20th, 2013, 09:10
due to the fact you assume the role of the numerous characters and make decisions for them.
I guess this is what you get when you want to fit the label with a content.
It is a very arrogant take as it tells that people who characterized role playing did not know what they were doing.

As for the RPG elements, this leads so many games to be RPGs.

Heavy rain, even when featuring parents, has no role in it. You cant assume a role since there is not. The socalled definition of RPGs is simply what happens for virtual universes: you take control of an avatar and this control materializes through decisions.

Hence it fits nearly all video games, anytime there is an avatar, actually. CoD: you assume the role of a soldier and make decisions for him. LoL: you assume the role of a hunter and make decisions for him.
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May 20th, 2013, 09:25
Originally Posted by killias2 View Post
Simply put, role playing video games are games that attempt to adapt table-top role playing mechanics/rules/etc. to a video game platform. I'd also include games that take strong influence from table-top-to-video game adaptations, but which do not try to emulate table-top themselves.
That is an interesting take. It means that you cant take advantage of computers as a gaming platform. You must stick to mechanics that are appropriate for pen and paper, even though they are not relevant for computer gaming.

It is very hard to understand: if role playing games on computers must be the same as pen and paper, why not play the pen and paper version of role playing games instead?

At the moment, I do not play multiplayer games on computers because they are not based on a multiplayer gameplay. But I play a lot a multiplayer games. I took note of the difficulty of providing a multiplayer gameplay on computers and simply no longer expect computer games to be based on a multiplayer gameplay. Does not mean I cant play multiplayer games. I simply play my multiplayer games elsewhere.

P&P role playing games come with many features that are very difficult to bring to computers: they are a social activity, when role playing games on computers are more a single person activity. The group of players limit the existence of the universe: when they play the universe exists and only at that time. Flexibility in story telling. Immediate feedback corresponding to the mood of the gaming group. Possibility to make home rules on the fly while in a computer, everything must be coded to have any existence in the game etc

The focus on the actual term "role playing" is essentially useless. Do only "action" games have action? Do only "fighting" games have fighting? Are RTS's the only games where you must employ strategies in real-time? Obviously, no. Our genre labels aren't meant to be taken literally so much as they touch upon a whole network of socially agreed upon conventions.
Focus is focus. It does not mean there is nothing existing in the direct perimeter of the focus.

When you play a STF2V, you know what you are in for: a fighting game. The focus is on the fighting. It has story etc but there are liminary features. Not the central point.

But that is what you get when you try to fit a label to a content.

For role playing games, it means that the focus is on role playing. As such, a primary difficulty for so called RPGers to whom a role playing game must be about everything but role playing.
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May 20th, 2013, 09:37
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
To me, playing a role is like being an actor on a stage.
I dont know in German, but in French, you can play on words due to semantics proximity to achieve that conclusion.

I looked up in English. I did not find one instance when "role playing" was used to mean "acting". I read movies, theatre magazines, books etc

Every time, when they mean the work of an actor on a stage or behind a camera, the term "acting" was used. Never "role playing".

In French, you can play on words. In English, impossible. Role playing is too different from acting to allow a semantics play.

The word for an actor on a stage is acting. Not role playing. They are too different things.

Yes, I even dare to say that tabletop role-play was inspired by stage acting - they wanted to "play out a role" on an table-top board, didn't they ?
Role playing existed before the table top role play, mainly in psychiatry. It entered managerial methods before it made it to the table top role play.

Acting out of a role: role is a social function here, as a manager in a firm can have in a social organization of the firm. His behaviour must fit certain expectations set beforehand.

It has nothing to do with the role in an acting piece, playing the part of a character in a movie, play.
Nothing at all.
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May 20th, 2013, 09:45
Originally Posted by Zloth View Post
Anyone using "true" in that sense has basically killed their argument right then and there as far as I'm concerned. True definitions, true gamers, true liberals, true enthusiasts, true believers - every time I've heard the word used that way, it has just been a cheap attempt to ignore other opinions.
This is what you get anytime you start applying labels without any corresponding with the content.
RPG is just a marketing label in video gaming. Since marketing is based on deception, seeing behind the curtains what is what appears now and then. Quite normal. Seems impossible at the present times to go back as so many games were labelled RPGs. Plus thesis like RPG elements which equates means to establish a gameplay with the gameplay itself, it is impossible to see a reversal.

But marketing is also an act of magical thinking. Wont change anything to role playing as a substance. It will simply add to the deception act. Hence the call for true this or that.
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May 20th, 2013, 10:46
As an actor, a graduated linguist of English, and a long-time PnP and CRPG player/game master, I thoroughly resent the above attempt to use pseudo-etimology for alienating semantic aspects of the words 'actor' and 'role-play'. In essence, 'acting' means 'playing a role' in a certain environments. The two could not be closer, in fact, and I myself can attest that stage acting and PnP roleplaying (if done deep enough) are closely related. The process, the methods, everything.

Also, "In French, you can play on words. In English, impossible." has to be the biggest bulls**t I have heard in a long time. It is so untrue that I am tempted to write a rant similar to yours to prove it, but I don't have the energy. Go read some Pratchett, that'll give you some indication of how you can play on words in English, brother.

As for the article, I find it quite futile to closely define RPG as well, but I also find the label useful as a very general guideline to navigate by. Sadly, often I find that non-RPG-labeled games have more roleplaygame aspects in them than RPG-labeled ones.

I also find it hilarious that most people when talking about the definition of RPG only focus on 'role-play' and seem to forget about 'game'. I believe you can't pull the word apart like that. It is not a role-play game, but roleplaygame. Huge difference, in fact.
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May 20th, 2013, 10:48
There are games labelled with the RPG tag which are not even RPG's and as long as there is no clear RPG definition as such, this exploitation of the video game genre will continue because non-RPG games with the tag applied will usually get more sales and attention.

It is strange, that as much as we can separate the clearly defined classic RPG's from the pretenders we cannot pinpoint the differences by definition.

While not counting all the sub-elements and traits and styles, the three necessary core elements required for a RPG 'can' be defined, why do the definition denouncers not know this?

Are there not enough forum members to discuss, collate and come to a mutual majority consensus on the RPG concept definition or will we forever be headless chickens of the gaming world? - RPG gamers on a RPG forum that cannot quantify what makes a RPG!
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May 20th, 2013, 12:04
Originally Posted by Wulf View Post
There are games labelled with the RPG tag which are not even RPG's and as long as there is no clear RPG definition as such, this exploitation of the video game genre will continue because non-RPG games with the tag applied will usually get more sales and attention.

It is strange, that as much as we can separate the clearly defined classic RPG's from the pretenders we cannot pinpoint the differences by definition.

While not counting all the sub-elements and traits and styles, the three necessary core elements required for a RPG 'can' be defined, why do the definition denouncers not know this?

Are there not enough forum members to discuss, collate and come to a mutual majority consensus on the RPG concept definition or will we forever be headless chickens of the gaming world? - RPG gamers on a RPG forum that cannot quantify what makes a RPG!
The way I see it, people tend to classify RPGs as RPGs not because of features, but because they consider themselves fans of RPGs and when a game comes along that could potentially fit the genre, it fits because they LIKE the game - not because it's more or less of an RPG.

People get attached to words in irrational ways. They get stuck on the label "RPG" - and they sometimes forget that good games are good games regardless of any strict definition. They blur together because we all like different things each in our own unique ways.

Some people consider Diablo an RPG because they love it - and it has RPG elements. Others think it's not an RPG because they don't like it, even though it has RPG elements.

If people were willing to shed their emotional attachments - we might conceivably agree upon a common definition, but that's not going to happen. Also, is it really all that useful?
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May 20th, 2013, 15:50
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
I dont know in German, but in French, you can play on words due to semantics proximity to achieve that conclusion.

I looked up in English. I did not find one instance when "role playing" was used to mean "acting". I read movies, theatre magazines, books etc

Every time, when they mean the work of an actor on a stage or behind a camera, the term "acting" was used. Never "role playing".

In French, you can play on words. In English, impossible. Role playing is too different from acting to allow a semantics play.

The word for an actor on a stage is acting. Not role playing. They are too different things.
The thing is this : The actor on stage plays the role of the person in the drama/play. Let's take … Hamlet, for example.

An stage actor, let's say John Gielgud, plays the role of Hamlet.

This is how it is worded/formulated in German language.

Thus, "role-playing" means : We play the role of a character. The stage play of an pen & paper RPG session is never actually written down as a book - but in theory it could be. And if it would, it would read like a stage play or drama or whatever.

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