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The Seer Vitz

The Computerization of the RPG Industry

Thoughts of the Great God James, as told to James A. Vitz

Years ago, RPG's were paper and pencil games. If the Game Master (GM) was very much into the game he was running, he might use some figurines or drawings for visual effects, but it was mostly left up to the imagination of the players. However, as time progressed, the RPG's moved away from heavy reliance on the imagination, and more onto the reliance of product designers.

Most companies today use great artists to compliment their products. On top of that, there are many companies that create miniatures to go along with games, so that the player can have a physical representation of himself. Though this is beneficial in that it makes your character more physical, it can also be seen as a hindrance for it reduces your use of imagination.

TSR Inc., the company I have dealt with most frequently, and have the greatest knowledge of, used to have a place on their character sheets for the players to draw a picture of themselves. Yet, as time went on, they took this small box away and replaced it with a place for more stats. This can be seen in two ways:

    1. They removed the picture square, for they wanted people to go out and buy miniatures, and rely less on their own abilities, or
    2. They removed the picture square so that people would use their imagination more and think of their character in their head.

My guess goes more to choice One. Though, later on, for the release of Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death, they brought back the character sketch square. Why they did it? Who knows, but its return was noticeable. Whether it is used or not is not important; at least it is there for the person that wants it.

But, that is not what this article is about. This article is about how most people that are getting into the role-playing industry now, know RPG's best by their computerized representatives. Many times a person's first experience is through the computer or a video game system. But, is that role-playing?

I, personally, have yet to see an actual role-playing video game. The closest I have seen is an adventure game, but a true role-playing game? No, I haven't seen one. The problem with computerized "RPG's" is that they don't really allow for a person to really get into a role. I mean, yeah, they give you a character that you are supposed to be playing, but you don't ever really get in character and act as he would.

You might have a game where the speech is true to the world, but if that is the case, you aren't given the option to say what ever you want, and therefore can't truly appreciate the role. You might be given a character who is free to do anything in any order, but that type of characters role cannot be truly entered into either, for he will have limitations in other places.

The one game that comes to mind as being closest to a true RPG is Ultima Online. Yet, in my eyes, even this game fails as an RPG. You are free to say anything you want, you are free to go anywhere you want, but, due to game mechanics, it just does not have the feel of an RPG. The way you use some skills sometimes makes you realize that they tried to force this game into the role-playing genre (however, unsuccessfully).

Yet, as new technology comes out, and the companies that make these types of games have better graphics, many people will buy these so-called RPG's. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, I mean, it is entirely possible that games like these will just whet the appetite of players so that they will go out and try a true role-playing game. But, my point is that I would not classify these as role-playing games. For the person that plays a video RPG and then tries a normal role-playing game, will be very disappointed with the lack of role playing potential provided by the video game, in my opinion.

And why are there so few RPG movies? Oh well, we will have to save that for next week!

James A. Vitz
RPG Columnist