Computers and role-play

Posted on December 3, 2007


I noticed something when I happened to watch a tv-program on games. It seems (and this is in no way rigorously analytical, just a hunch) that a (computer) game has “role-playing elements” if there is any progression in the abilities of character played. This seems a bit funny. If the game is about shooting endless amounts of zombies, and at the end you can take two bites without dying instead of one, it’s a role-playing game? Why? It seems to me that the it was games that were labelled role-playing games that first had the element of progression and thus, it seems that whenever there is character progression, there is a role-playing game. This is, of course, completely backwards.

I started wondering what makes a game a role-playing game and when I thought about it, I found myself thinking about what they would label ‘adventure’ or ‘puzzle’ games. These are the games that I would think are closest to what I consider role-playing, if it is at all possible via computer. They usually include a narrative that is experienced through one or few characters. There is usually at least some level of immersion. These are elements that I usually associate with role-play. Then again, I would call e.g Fallout a role-playing game, and it is a lot closer to what is traditionally meant with (computer) role-playing games.

All of this has left me thinking I should probably familiarize myself with some computer game studies, in order to better understand the phenomenon.

Posted in: role-playing, theory