What’s so special about this…?

Posted on 16/01/2009


Every kind of media has it’s own special merit, the one thing that you can’t do with anything else.  Most have several, and if you look into gaming, you’ll quickly notice that mostly every genre has unique merits to them, that are impossible or very hard at best to pull off with anything else.

RPG, in the classical, offline, unplugged sense of the word (the Dungeon Insider doesn’t count) also have a HUGE number of things that are impossible to do with other media. Yet time and again, I tend to wonder, why people try emulating other media (forms of text, call it whatever you like). The “medium” of  TV-Series has evolved into something that is no longer “a series of shorter, less budgeted movies” since The Prisoner, and it’d just be impossible to do something like The Wire or Lost with anything but a TV series.

Of course it could be argued, that the medium doesn’t matter, that ultimately Lost could be done perfectly in book form without the actualy series, but that’s an argument that’s not viable. Modern day TV series are uniquely that: TV series. They would loose too much information from the transition to book form, and wouldn’t gain anything in return. How about modern day video games then?

What’s the biggest boon a video game has? Usually it all comes down to it being interactive. Player input being the most important unique selling point of the medium. Player input is something that’s outright impossible to translate into another medium. If player input is done right, a game doesn’t even need a background story to justify it’s existence. This is by no means an argument AGAINST background story or story in games at all. Not every game should be like Tetris. But games like Tetris do not need an outward story, don’t need a context for their game elements. Tetris wouldn’t be doable, the EXPERIENCE wouldn’t be reproducable by anything but a game.

RPG is similar, yet probably the most complicated subject. There are a lot of RPGs on the market, and nearly as many tried and true definitions of what an RPG is. For me personally an RPG campaign is something that lends it’s scope from TV series, while being unique in an incredibly broad spectrum of actual player input. The catch is player INPUT. The RESULT of an RPG campaign could be something that then in turn could be done with a TV series. But then consumption of a TV series is hardly comparable to what happens at the gaming table. RPG, no matter which form of it you actually believe in and play, cannot be done with another medium, not even with video games, not even with MMORPGs. It can be emulated / simulated though to a certain extent even though severe translation errors can occur in the process.

But that’s not all. Things get lost in translation, especially when it’s things you just plainly cannot take over. A good example for this is of course player input, which just cannout be taken into non-interactive media. This is – among other things of course – a good explanation for why video game based movies often times cannot really work. Also of course, it is due to the movies being based on games that are so heavily defined by player input, that the story that puts that input into context can be rather weak, but when the player input is taken away, the weaknesses of the story is then of course pushed into focus very strongly.
But as this is a blog about games, the emphasis is of course on gaming. Games should ideally be as much about actual player input, about interaction with the medium and with other players as possible, without a game / rpg session trying (too hard) at being something it’s not. Though a video game can easily take on a form of presentation a tv series does (see Siren: Blood Curse / New Translation ), it’s better of not taking on MORE, as in not sacrificing player input or the value of player input for the sake of, say, a cutscene. Yes, Metal Gear Solid, I’m looking at you.