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Role-playing games and escapism

It’s Wednesday and time for the conversation about Role-Playing Games (RPG’s) to continue. Last Wednesday we focused on how RPG’s have a profoundly personal effect on players. Today we discuss the mechanics of character immersion and the depth this provides to the gaming experience.

First person shooters (FPS) focus on reaction time skills and real time strategy games (RTS) on a player’s ability to manipulate the playing field. RPG’s, on the other hand, promote character infusion and self-expression on a deeply personal level. This leads to an immersive gaming experience unlike what we find in other genres.

Yolanda “Lolita” Green and Chris “Turkish” Smithard join me again today to share their wealth of knowledge on the subject of Role-Playing-Games and how it can enable escapism as a result of the bond the player forms with his or her avatar.


Chris “Turkish” Smithard and his toys ;)

“The appeal of the "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" lie in the idea of escapism, and the ability to assume the role of someone or something that is a fantasy in real life.” Terry Flew

Andrew Przybylski wrote an article for Psychological Science where he suggests that we play games because it allows us to sample our “ideal self-characteristics,” especially when there’s a large gap between our ideal selves and who we actually think we are. He highlights three reasons why we game.

No other genre in gaming focuses on character immersion as much as RPG's. I asked Green and Smithard to respond to the following statements from Przybylski.

We play games because it connects us to:

1. Who we think we are in real life (IRL).

YG: “Gaming connects us to who we think we are by allowing us to be just exactly that. RPG’s can more often than not accentuate those thoughts.”

(Smithard argues a very interesting point and answers all three statements with this single reply).

CS: “I think that if you are using a game to escape the real you then you are asking for trouble. Personally, I always tend to play a character that is in line with how I would act in real life. I don’t use the medium to act out any hidden desires or to explore sides of myself that I can’t explore in the real world. In fact I have never played an evil character in any RPG at all. So essentially, my game character is based on who I think I am, and not my ideal self. Perhaps you could argue I am already my ideal self then. Ok but I concede that I usually give my character a nice full head of hair, but that’s all!”

2. As the type of person we would like to ideally be IRL.

YG: “Role-Playing Games not only connect to who we’d like to be in real life, but gives us an opportunity and a platform to explore the subject. Whether it’s who we’d like to be in our everyday lives or in a fantasy world, we are able to live and experience a level of bravery, a darker side of humanity, or “badassery” we’d possibly never be able to in our everyday lives. We get to be the saviour, the villain, the super-human and much, much more.”

3. As the type of person we feel like while playing a certain game.

YG: “Playing RPG’s for the fix or feeling of whom you are when playing the game is the same as playing any other game. When gaming possibly the biggest reward is the feeling of accomplishment. Whether you are playing a real-time strategy, first-person shooter or puzzler, you could draw from the same feeling as you will while playing an RPG.” Green blogged about the mechanics of character immersion in RPG's on Altogether, read the full article here.


Yolanda “Lolita” Green, or “The mother of mounts” on this striking flying creature in Tera.

Why do you think RPG's are such a popular genre?

YG: “Each and every video game is in a sense a role-playing game. You could play the role of the soldier or gunman in an FPS, you could play the role of the captain or leader in an RTS and you can play the role of a hero in a puzzler. Every game played in life has the simplest form of role-play. By emphasising this into a genre on its own, it gives many gamers what they crave from games as well as the opportunity to be a part of a bigger picture, a story and even a life that they would have wanted for themselves. Apart from appealing to something so basic that makes up a part of who we are, RPG’s are incredibly fun and has the ability to propel us into worlds we could never have imagined.”

CS: “Their popularity is partially linked to your first question. An RPG provides someone who dreams of being a valiant hero the platform to do just that. Of course someone like this already possesses certain personality traits in line with that notion, but the game provides him or her with a grand stage to act out these desires. The game basically allows you to accentuate certain traits within yourself. Conversely, it also allows you to explore parts of yourself that you can’t or would not want to pursue in real life.

Secondly, I think that the genres ability to tell a story is really second to none. The game makes you a part of the story by providing you with choices that actually influence its outcome. You are not merely a witness to it.”


Chris “Turkish” Smithard in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

In your opinion does playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) enable deeper or lesser character immersion than playing a RPG on Single Player?

YG: “MMORPG’s don’t offer more character immersion and also not less. It offers a different kind of immersion. You still get to be a part of a story, you still get to make choices as to which path you will walk and even gives a greater variety of choices in storyline and environments. You still get to be the hero you’ve created if you choose to embrace that aspect of the game. I find that I can’t help but do that.

Often times in single players we are presented with one story and very few, maybe even only one option to the storyline or path we want to follow. In MMORPG’s there are great storylines, multiple storylines that get lost in the hectic venture of questing, but they are there. Hundreds of stories are told and followed if you are only willing to take the extra minute to read. In short, MMORPG’s give us greater freedom of character immersion, we can draw the same depth of immersion from them as with single players if we choose to do so.”

CS: “As I mentioned in the first part of the interview, storytelling and the ability to experience a game’s story is a big part of why I enjoy RPGs so much. MMORPG game worlds are extremely large, with literally thousands of quests to pursue, and extreme depth in terms of lore and back stories. In essence the game world is alive and thriving, which really helps to immerse the player. But this fades very quickly. I think, in a way, the sheer size of the game often counts against it. The worlds are just too big to effectively explore, there is too much lore to absorb, none player characters are unremarkable, and the story is largely forgettable. If there is a story it progresses at such a slow pace that the player completely loses touch with it. I tend to find that MMORPGs can become extremely drawn out and repetitive.

I’ve tried Rift, Aion, DnD Online, WoW, Guild Wars, and SWTOR, with SWTOR being the only game that kept me drawn in for a relatively long period of time. The class quests/stories were well fleshed out for an MMO, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually complete the story. Eventually the game just degraded into an endless grind, with PVP and PVE not offering enough to keep me subscribed either.”

Closing thoughts

“Video games are a form of modern day entertainment. Without them, we lose something very vital to everybody’s existence: a gateway outside of ourselves.” flufflogic 

The best games are those where you can lose yourself in another world - a place that so utterly captivates you that time has no meaning and where character immersion dominates your imagination. RPG’s offer gamers just that. In the words of flufflogic, “it offers a gateway outside of ourselves.” A place where we can shrug off the dust that gathered in our minds from a hard day’s work. A place of peace, beauty and escape.  

Join us again next Wednesday when we look at the gameplay mechanics that guarantee a fulfilling Role-Playing Game experience.

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