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The difference between an RPG, Action-Adventure, and an ARPG - and why Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and 4, and Witcher 3 are not RPGs

Delicieuxz

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December 13th, 2020 addition:

 

In the first comment underneath the OP, I've added some quotes by Gary Gygax, who coined the phrase "role-playing game", where he says linear narratives aren't RPGs, that combat shouldn't be fixated on in an RPG, and that combat and levelling-up just for the sake of combat and levelling-up doesn't constitute an RPG.

 

October 8th, 2020 addition with January 3rd, 2021 edits:

 

Let's start with what the creators of the RPG genre say an RPG is:

https://thetrove.is/Books/Dungeons & Dragons/4th Edition/Essentials/Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.pdf

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A ROLEPLAYING GAME

 

The DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game is a roleplaying game. In fact, this game invented roleplaying games and started an industry.

A roleplaying game is a storytelling game that has elements of the games of make-believe that many of us played as children. However, a roleplaying game provides form and structure, with robust gameplay and endless possibilities.


In the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, you create a hero (also called a character or an adventurer), team up with other adventurers (your friends), explore a world, and battle monsters. While the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game uses dice and miniatures or other tokens, the action takes place in your imagination. There, you have the freedom to create anything you can imagine, with an unlimited special effects budget and the technology to make anything happen.

 

What makes the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game unique is the Dungeon Master. The DM is a person who takes on the role of lead storyteller and game referee. The DM runs adventures for the characters and narrates the action
for the players. The DM makes the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game infinitely  flexible—he or she can react to any situation, any twist suggested by the players, to make each adventure vibrant, exciting, and unexpected.


Gary Gygax, the creator of the term Role-Playing Game, expands on what the term refers to, and what isn't an RPG, here:

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It should be pretty well known by all that I consider any game where the players' characters arn not fully able to impact the environment, direct their action, determine the outcome of events in which they play a part, and know that what actions their characters are taking have a probability of success and failure that can be determined by random means, cards or dice rather then the whim of the GM, is something other than an RPG.

 

Authors of fiction, screen plays, and playwrights create stories. GMs direct game play and in conjunction with the players this generates a story whose outcome is not prescribed.

 

And here:

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As false to the game form as the pre-scripted “story,” is play that has little more in it than seek and destroy missions, vacuous effort where the participants fight and kill some monster so as to gain more power and thus be able to look for yet more potent opponents in a spiral that leads nowhere save eventual boredom. So pure hack and slash play is anathema to me too.

 

So, an RPG is a storytelling game with form and structure, with robust gameplay and endless possibilities. The endless storytelling possibilities are the essence of what makes a game an RPG, and they are created through the interactivity of player choices, a GM reacting dynamically to and narrating the outcomes to player actions, the game world's rules, and chances of probability. And a game where the player doesn't choose their character's choices and actions and experience intelligent reactions to their specific choices and actions, but instead presents a set linear narrative, isn't an RPG.

 

At its core, an RPG is "collaborative storytelling" between the player(s), the GM, and the world's rules. That choice/consequence-interactivity-based collaborative storytelling is the outcome of what's called Player Agency. Therefore, an RPG is a game with a focus on player agency.

 

That's QED right away. But to completely understand why, you might have to read the exploration and reasoning of the topic that's below.

 

 

Main and original post - Updated October 8th, 2020

 

This is an in-progress post. I have a lot of material and past writings to go through which could result in me adding to it and refining it over time, though likely not any time soon. But I think the topic is important for the genres and for the quality of experiences which are being made by developers and publishers.

 

 

The term RPG comes from the pen-and-paper games where a human serves as a Game Master (also referred to as the Dungeon Master or something else, depending on the game being played) and creates situations for  other people playing as characters in the story, with the choices and unique thoughts and input of the players in the story are an integral part of the story that ultimately manifests. That happens from the human game master playing-off of the players' choices by creating outcomes and new scenarios in response to them. This creates a very dynamic and unpredictable game experience where the players have an essential role to play in the game and story that emerges. And that player-role is the "role" being referred to in the term Role-Playing Game, and the dynamic between player choices and actions and game master-directed outcomes is also what is called Player Agency.

 

Role-playing game - Wikipedia

"Both authors and major publishers of tabletop role-playing games consider them to be a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling."

"Interactivity is the crucial difference between role-playing games and traditional fiction."

"The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes."

 

What is Player Agency and what is it good for?

"From a game design perspective, Player Agency is the player's ability to impact the story through the game design or gameplay"

 

Player Agency, Critical States, and Games as Formal Systems

"player agency describes the ability of a player to interact meaningfully with game world. More than simple action/feedback interactivity, agency refers to knowing actions taken by the player that result in significant changes within the world."

 

Dungeons & Dragons: The Importance of Player Agency
"Player agency is fairly easy to explain, but a little harder to implement... In addition, an important aspect of player agency is the notion that the decisions made by the player will have direct consequences within the game world... Lastly, player agency is maintained when the players have enough prior information to deduce the possible outcomes and consequences for a particular course of action. This allows the player to make a judgment call based on who their character is and how they would respond."

 

 

In video games, the human game master is replaced with scripted possible reactions to situations, and also complex world rules which can result in unplanned situations emerging, and in quests taking a variety of paths and turning-out in different ways, and how they turn-out having influences on other parts of the game world.

 

 

One example of well-implemented player agency in a video game is in Gothic II, when the player needs to get into Khorinis. There are many ways to accomplish the goal, and depending on how the player does it, there can be different impacts on the game world.

 

This video shows 6 different ways, but two of them are exploits and there are an additional 3 non-exploit methods that this video doesn't show:

 

 

The player can also become employed by a local farmer and receive farmhand clothes which allows them entrance into the city.

 

I think there's also another way to scale the city wall from a crack in the wall that's in the forest to the left of the drawbridge (near which there is a dangerous dinosaur-like creature).

 

And if the player runs around the city, jumps off a cliff into the ocean, and swims around to the docks at the back of the city, the game grants the player 500 XP and also acknowledges the player's choice with some dialogue from a character who sees the player coming out of the water.

 

If the player chooses to accept the city pass from the travelling merchant outside the city, they'll be asked to perform a dirty favour for the merchant later on. And if the player doesn't perform that deed for the merchant, the merchant will give the player a bad reputation among the other merchants. And aside from doing the deed, the player can also rat-out the merchant to the town guard, sending the merchant to prison for a while - but he will get out eventually and get his revenge. The player can kill the merchant while they're locked in their jail cell, and that will prevent the merchant from ultimately getting what they wanted the player to do for them.

 

And if the player enters the city by another method other than accepting the travelling merchant's city pass, I think that the merchant will accomplish their goal inside the city on their own, which will have some small effect on who's in the market.

 

All that inter-connectivity between player choices and dynamic game-world reactivity is a superb implementation of player agency in a video game.

 

 

Moving on, when a game lacks that player agency aspect which makes an RPG an RPG, then that game isn't an RPG. When games that otherwise would be RPGs remove that aspect to instead focus on exploration and combat, they are Action(combat)-Adventure(exploration) games. Having an inventory, stats, character building, or even combat is irrelevant to whether a game is an RPG or not - although, those things can contribute a lot to adding complexity and possibility to an RPG experience.

 

That's why Skyrim and Witcher 3, which remove the player agency and streamline questing by using Quest Markers and Quest Directives to always tell the player where to go and what to do in order to fulfill hard-scripted quest narratives, are not RPGs but are Action-Adventure games.

 

 


A simple but reliable rule to follow is this: If a game puts its questing on-rails by issuing them with Quest Directives and spelling their solutions out with Quest Markers, then it isn't an RPG - and then it can't be an RPG because Quest Directives and Quest Markers by, and large, pre-empt the possibility of a game emphasizing player agency enough that its defining quality falls into the RPG category. The specific difference between an Action-Adventure game and an RPG is the notable presence and emphasis on player agency.

 

But there's no requirement that a publisher labels their game correctly and publishers label their games according to what will market them to the broadest audience and bring-in the most sales. So, marketed game labels are regularly at odds with the reality of what a game is. In other words, a publisher claiming something doesn't mean it's true*.  *See: 'Loot boxes are "surprise mechanics" and not gambling' (EA), 'paid mods aren't paid mods' (Bethesda), 'a subscription isn't a subscription' (Ubisoft)

 

A typical real-time RPG that has the player agency removed from it becomes an Action-Adventure game like Oblivion, Fallout 3 and 4, Skyrim, Witcher 3, and Assassin's Creed games.

 

 

Because lots of people don't really know where the terms came from, they make best-guesses at what the terms stand-for. And when they see RPGs commonly having stats, character building, and inventory systems, they can presume that's the common denominator between RPG games and so any game with those systems becomes an RPG to them.

 

Those systems aren't themselves the essence of what makes an RPG, but they were used as a means to support the goal of collaborative and interactive storytelling by invoking player choices and actions, and having those choices and actions evaluate against game world stats to see what the outcomes would be - creating collaborative storytelling.


Some people have come to associate the supportive elements as being the essence itself - and this is due to the 'looks like' effect: People who didn't know what "RPG" means play a bunch of games called "RPG" and then make a personal assessment of what the term means based on what they see as common associations across the games. And in that process, they can miss the purpose those elements were there to serve. But those elements I just talked about are supportive elements and not the essence of the term.

 

And the same thing has happened with people calling games which aren't ARPGs ARPGs. I've recently seen it claimed that an ARPG is any RPG (using a definition of RPG that isn't what RPG means, no less) with a real-time combat system. But an RPG with a real-time combat system is simply an RPG with a real-time combat system, as opposed to an RPG with a RTwP combat system, or an RPG with a turn-based combat system, or an RPG with no combat system. I've also heard multiple times someone claim that an RPG is simply a game where you play the role of a character in a story - which describes every FPS in existence, not to mention most character-based games of all genres.

 


When it comes to ARPGs, they're firstly Action games with a focus on combat similar to hack-n-slash games.

 

Back when the ARPG term was created for Diablo (and before it was retroactively applied to a lot of earlier games), those systems - stats, character building, inventory - were mostly exclusive to RPGs. But, today, they're present in lots of different genres. Those systems aren't what make an RPG, and an RPG can even not have any of those systems (like Choose Your Own Adventure books). But those systems have traditionally been most familiar to RPGs and have been a big part of the pen-and-paper RPG experience where complex dynamics of real-life were simulated by stats.

 

Because Action-centric ARPGs included some systems commonly associated with RPGs, they were called Action-RPGs. So, ARPGs aren't RPGs with Action-based combat systems (which some people take to mean real-time combat). Instead, they're Action games with some traditionally RPG-associated systems to add some additional depth and character progression to them. Some of their gameplay elements 'look like' things you'd see in RPGs without the games containing the essence that makes a game an actual RPG.

 

 

Sometimes people make an argument of 'the meanings of terms evolve over time'. But changing ARPG from meaning an 'Action game with some RPG-style systems' to meaning 'an RPG with real-time combat (as opposed to an RPG with RTwP, TB, or no combat system)' isn't an evolution, it's a stark devolution - and one that leaves Action games with RPG-style systems orphaned from a genre title, while making the term ARPG not refer to anything in specific and so not being a useful label. And the whole purpose of having terms and words is for them to define something as much as possible, so that using them accomplishes some mental work for the people's conceptualization.

 

And changing the meaning of RPG from meaning a game where player agency is essential to the gameplay experience to meaning a game with stats is likewise a sore devolution of the term and imparts a drastic lowering of complexity and depth in the games which get called RPG. An RPG isn't supposed to be a bland, generic, paint-by-numbers experience where you simply do as you're told and bash everything along the way, but that's what many games that are being called RPGs by the big-budget studios making them are. All that's being done there is taking away a useful title to turn it into a too-vague-to-be meaningful one, while then also being absent a title to describe what RPG actually exists to describe. There's a net loss of conceptual and useful value there.

 

So, an argument of 'the meanings of terms evolve over time' argument doesn't apply here. What is actually being done is that people ignorant of the meanings and origins of terms are acting out of assumptions based on a 'looks like' mentality and are lowering the bar with their determinations of what the terms must mean based on a simplistic 'looks like' assumption.

 

 

A game genre doesn't aim to describe every last element contained within a game, but aims to describe the most notable and stand-out characteristic of the experience for the player - even though sometimes people lose sight of a genre's meaning, or create a genre-label out of ambiguity (Souls-Like, for example).

 

- First-Person Shooter describes a game played from the first-person perspective where the player shoots stuff.

 

- Strategy describes a game where the primary gameplay element is strategising.

 

- RPG describes a game where the player themselves, with their unique choices and behaviour, is an essential component of the narrative that plays-out - and because an RPG have to account for various possibilities and outcomes, it is one of the most complex type of games to create, and also one of the most immersive and deep to experience. RPGs can have character-building, but they also can not have character-building. RPGs can have stats, but they can also not have stats. RPGs can have any kind of combat system, but they can also not have a combat system.

 

- Action-Adventure describes RPG-similar games where, rather than relying on player agency, the questing is streamlined and put on-rails so that the player doesn't have to deal with information and can instead focus on a simpler experience of combat and exploration. Having a few boolean choices in them, especially when those choices are presented in scripted dialog sequences, isn't sufficient to make an Action-Adventure game count as an RPG because that utmost basic (and primitive by RPG standards) kind of choice still isn't the, or even a, leading experience of the gameplay. An Action-Adventure game can be said to be simply a typical RPG with real-time combat, but without the focus on player agency. If a game has the elements of an Action-Adventure game but with the additional emphasis on player agency that makes for an RPG, then it's just an RPG.

 

- Action-RPG describes an Action-centric game that added some complexity from systems that are commonly associated (though much less exclusively so today than when the term was created) with RPGs, like stats and character building.

 

 

I think that it's important to use the terms accurately because by not doing so and letting them be used for anything results in game developers perpetually lowering the bar in the type of games they make, and it also results in gamers perpetually lowering the bar of their expectations for what quality of game design they should be expecting when they buy a game of a certain genre, most of all one that's labelled as an RPG.

 

Nowadays, publishers label their generic Action-Adventure games as RPGs and then pat themselves on the back while having accomplished none of the experiential creativity or complexity that is required for a game to meet the requirements of an RPG experience. And because gamers now often expect an RPG to mean nothing more than having stats and bashing stuff while following quest markers, game developers largely aren't reaching for anything higher than that. The misuse of the term RPG has devalued its meaning and lowered expectations from gamers as well as the ambitions of developers and publishers.

6 Comments

-- Reserving this comment space for potential future additions to the OP --

 

 

Co-creator of D&D, Gary Gygax, said that RPGs require interactive and collaborative storytelling, or otherwise aren't RPGs:

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"Storytelling" games are not RPGs. Neither are "diceless" games.

 
An RPG creates a story, does not follow a script. That's a play, possibly improv theater. In a real RPG the GM develops a backstory and plot, sets the scenes, and then the PCs interact with those and by their actions create the actual tale, the events and conclusion of which are indeterminate until that occurs.
 
As in real life, chance and random occurrances must be a part of an RPG adventure. As a matter of fact you and I do not know what will happen in the next minute.

Gary Gygax uses "storytelling", in quotation marks, not to refer to games which focus on narrative, but to refer to games which have a specific pre-set story to tell and only tell that story.

 

He's saying that RPGs don't tell a scripted story, as a play does, but they create a story through interactivity between the GM and the players. In other words, an RPG is "collaborative storytelling" - which is achieved through the element of player agency.

 

And he explains the difference in this post:

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It should be pretty well known by all that I consider any game where the players' characters arn not fully able to impact the environment, direct their action, determine the outcome of events in which they play a part, and know that what actions their characters are taking have a probability of success and failure that can be determined by random means, cards or dice rather then the whim of the GM, is something other than an RPG,

 
Authors of fiction, screen plays, and playwrights create stories. GMs direct game play and in conjunction with the players this generates a story whose outcome is not prescribed.
 
If people enjoy playing limited roles in an game setting in which there are "untouchables," where they must be marionettes for the GM to move about, well and good. It is just not full RPG activity, and often is little more than amateur theatrics, play acting in a minor and surely inferior story line built as an adjunct to the original authored fiction and relatively meaningless to that work. Still, if it's entertaining to the participants, it is fulfilling its purpose, but it ain't RPGing.
 
This is a dead horse, actually, as something well over nine gamers in 10 have by their choice of game agreed with me. "Storytelling" games have made their advent, gone nowhere thereafter. What more is there to say?

In saying that games which tell a set story are not RPGs, and that an RPG features a story that's created by player and GM interactivity, he's saying that collaborative storytelling is a requirement for a game to be an RPG.

 

 

Gary Gygax says that RPGs shouldn't be fixated on combat:

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I'll say this once again:

 

D&D is a game for amusement and entertainment. It is a game and nothing more, save where the dedicated player group makes it into a hobby, then it becomes a hobby game.

 

It is fantasy, so any attempt to have it be realistic is quite off base. As it is a role-playing game, fixation on combat is also misguided. It was never meant to be a combat simulation.

 

If some players find the rules too deadly for the characters I suggest that the characters' players are not very skilled not given to thinking before acting. That stated, PC death is meant to occur even when the best of players are concerned, but that is what cleric spells and wishes are meant to mitigate.

 

Him emphasizing that linear stories aren't RPGs, and explaining that combat for combat's sake, and levelling-up just to level-up, is not an RPG:

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As false to the game form as the pre-scripted “story,” is play that has little more in it than seek and destroy missions, vacuous effort where the participants fight and kill some monster so as to gain more power and thus be able to look for yet more potent opponents in a spiral that leads nowhere save eventual boredom. So pure hack and slash play is anathema to me too.

 

 

 

 

A more specific comparison between an RPG and an Action-Adventure game is this:

 

An Action-Adventure game doesn't use player agency to resolve quests - and that's the difference between an RPG and a non-RPG. An Action-Adventure game puts the question on rails with things like Quest Markers and Quest Directives so that player agency isn't a factor, and so that the player can instead focus on combat (Action) and exploring (Adventure).

 

But an RPG presents the player with information (and that information isn't always delivered through dialog sequences) and leaves it up to the player to figure out and choose what to do with it (and the player choices also aren't always made during dialog sequences) - and that's how player agency is created. And the more numerous the different things that the player can do with the information they receive, and the more numerous the ways the game world changes based on what the player does with information they receive, the more 'RPG' a game is.

 

An RPG presents the player with information and leaves them to figure out what to do with it - with their being multiple ways to handle a situation and information, and the game being able to respond with a variety of outcomes to the player's possible decisions to create a unique story. An Action-Adventure game just tells the player exactly what to do, via quest directives and quest markers, in order to progress the narrative. Skyrim, Witcher 3, and Assassin's Creed games all do that so that the player can instead focus on simpler things, like combat and exploration, which is why they're Action-Adventure games and not RPGs.

 

 

 

 There are many different ways that a game can feature player agency that I haven't detailed here, but I want to make a post eventually exploring the possible ways player agency can be included in a game.

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I may expand on this.

 

My dissenting opinion is that you are wrong, they are RPGs.

 

Your criteria for an RPG is purely based on game mechanics, that the quest mechanics are too rigid.

 

But to use your own argument against you. If the game environment allows for a player to roleplay, then that is also giving them agency.

 

There are some sandbox games that are not by definition RPGs but they allow the possibility for roleplay and may have elements that overlap with a typically categorised RPG or have the potential to be an RPG.

 

Genres and categories are neat boxes to put things in. That's not how the real world works. Games will span multiple genres, more like a chaotic venn diagram.

 

They may be RPGs with issues, but they are RPGs.

 

 

 

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8 hours ago, artuc said:

Your criteria for an RPG is purely based on game mechanics, that the quest mechanics are too rigid.

Yes, I think that's what it comes down to.

 

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But to use your own argument against you. If the game environment allows for a player to roleplay, then that is also giving them agency.

But there is a difference between what a player can imagine within a game environment, and what the game itself is. A game's genre isn't defined by what the player imagines by themselves, but by what the game presents the player with.

 

That's a semantical meaning of "role-play", under which every character-based game would classify as an RPG because the only requirement for that classification is for the player to be able to use their own imagination - and a player can do that anytime in a game independently of whatever a game presents.

 

Even in a linear FPS, a player has that kind of player agency and can stand around in a modelled cafeteria room and pretend they're doing something there like eating food while waiting for the dead body cleaners to arrive, or imagine they're some hero in a crazy situation where the only way through it is to blast everything. In games, applying your own imagination to envision yourself playing the role of a character isn't what's meant as "RPG", as that describes a function of the player within themselves, and not a quality of the game that is presented to the player. That's a role-playing person and not a role-playing game.

 

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There are some sandbox games that are not by definition RPGs but they allow the possibility for roleplay and may have elements that overlap with a typically categorised RPG or have the potential to be an RPG.

'Gameply is such, fully supported by design' and 'gameplay has the potential to be, if the developer wanted to take it there' are different things. The former is realized and tangible and can be said to be a part of the product, while the other isn't. A movie doesn't win an Oscar for merely having the potential of being exemplary of an award category - it has to actually be that.

 

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Genres and categories are neat boxes to put things in. That's not how the real world works. Games will span multiple genres, more like a chaotic venn diagram.

 

They may be RPGs with issues, but they are RPGs.

Games share all kinds of elements. But games also have leading experiences in them, which are there by design. A genre title isn't meant to describe every corner and facet of a game, but its primary and leading offered experience. Similar with movies: An Action or Drama movie can have qualities of many different genres. But they still fall under a genre title that describes its most prominent experience.

 

Just like having a gun and firing a few shots in a puzzle or point-and-click adventure game doesn't make it a shooter, the same is true regarding having some token boolean choices in a 30+ hour game not making it an RPG, or regarding having an inventory system and stats in a game that has on-rails questing so the player can focus on combat and exploration not making that game an RPG when the element of player agency isn't a leading focus of the game's design.

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This was very interesting, I really enjoyed it!

 

Im an idiot, so sorry if I get it wrong. Would ‘Minecraft’ (specifically survival) then be described as part-RPG? It has eventual goals, but the player is free to do what they want, do they in turn create their own unique story. 

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5 hours ago, gloop said:

This was very interesting, I really enjoyed it!

 

Im an idiot, so sorry if I get it wrong. Would ‘Minecraft’ (specifically survival) then be described as part-RPG? It has eventual goals, but the player is free to do what they want, do they in turn create their own unique story. 

 

Bit strapped for time to flesh out my rebuttal. But Minecraft is a great example to me of a sandbox that allows for roleplay and yet lacks the mechanics that Delicieuxz would classify it as an RPG.

 

My opinion is that Minecraft creates an environment for roleplay, there is no actual quest mechanism or storyline interaction, you are essentially aimless left to your own devices.

 

Yet to me it overlaps with being an RPG it allows for the player freedom and environment for roleplaying. There are mods and servers for it. RPG adjacent ?

 

EVE online is an RPG full of roleplaying, absolutely horrendous quest/mission and other game mechanics, bad storyline. Yet it gives players the sandbox to play in.

 

Skyrim etc. are RPGs, they just have sub par mechanics for which the player can interact with the storyline and drive the quest and content. Which is a completely fair point but there is too much RPG genre overlap to strip them of the genre and banish them to the wastelands.

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7 hours ago, gloop said:

This was very interesting, I really enjoyed it!

 

Im an idiot, so sorry if I get it wrong. Would ‘Minecraft’ (specifically survival) then be described as part-RPG? It has eventual goals, but the player is free to do what they want, do they in turn create their own unique story. 

Glad you enjoyed it.

 

Minecraft has a sandbox environment in which a player can do many things, but it doesn't have a narrative and world states that react to the player's choices. And being able to imagine your own narratives within a game environment is a different thing than the game being an RPG by design.

 

So, Minecraft can be a good platform for personal role-playing by use of your own imagination, but it is not an RPG, itself.

 

1 hour ago, artuc said:

 

Bit strapped for time to flesh out my rebuttal. But Minecraft is a great example to me of a sandbox that allows for roleplay and yet lacks the mechanics that Delicieuxz would classify it as an RPG.

 

My opinion is that Minecraft creates an environment for roleplay, there is no actual quest mechanism or storyline interaction, you are essentially aimless left to your own devices.

 

Yet to me it overlaps with being an RPG it allows for the player freedom and environment for roleplaying. There are mods and servers for it. RPG adjacent ?

 

EVE online is an RPG full of roleplaying, absolutely horrendous quest/mission and other game mechanics, bad storyline. Yet it gives players the sandbox to play in.

 

Skyrim etc. are RPGs, they just have sub par mechanics for which the player can interact with the storyline and drive the quest and content. Which is a completely fair point but there is too much RPG genre overlap to strip them of the genre and banish them to the wastelands.

Affording a platform that can be used for personal role-playing and being an RPG are two different things: One is a matter of having tools that let you go wild with your imagination if you want to, while the other is a matter of deliberate design by the developer and the player having no choice but to engage with and answer the game's RP scenarios if they want to progress the game. And in one case, the source of the role-playing is your imagination, while in the other it's the tangible main functions of the game.

 

Applying your imagination to something doesn't change what that something is by its design. So, a game being filled with role-playing because the players in it choose to use the game's environment for that doesn't make the game an RPG rather than whatever it is designed to be - it just means that people use it for role-playing.

 

A chessboard and pieces can also allow for player imagination to create scenarios out of it. But that doesn't make chess a role-playing game, either.

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