Before I get into any discussion I must first say that the game is wonderful and you should play it. If you have already played it, don’t plan on playing it, or just don’t care about spoilers, then you should feel free to read on. Otherwise you should go and play The Stanley Parable and then come back. Go ahead and read Jim Sterling’s review as a way to motivate yourself.
If you’re still unmotivated to go and play before I go into my analysis, then consider this: How much choice do you really have when you play a game? Do your actions truly affect whatever narrative you are participating in? Does deviating from the defined path truly do anything? The Stanley Parable experiments with these questions in a fantastically intimate way.
Reading the title you may be thinking that I am going to talk about how characters evolve in a narrative in roleplaying games, but if you remember last week’s article you may note the subtle queue in my use of RPG instead of “roleplaying game.” That’s right; today I am going to talk about different styles of stat/ability progression in RPGs along with minor discussion on the role of progression in narrative.
Let’s start with the title. When I say RPG, I (usually) don’t mean rocket-propelled grenade. Usually.
No, this post is meant to unpack the terminology surrounding role-playing games, and to be used as a future point of reference. I’m also going to refer back to Mattias’ excellent post about role-playing, because he did such a damn fine job of describing what role-playing is.
All three of us have written about role-playing games (check out the GMing category, and look at the older articles). Yet for the most part our posts have assumed a certain level of familiarity with RPGs and their terminology. I’ve certainly presumed that other people know what I’m talking about; but what the heck does it mean when I call a system “sparsely elegant“?
In an effort to minimize confusion, here’s a quick primer that will begin to bring you up to speed. I’ll do my best not to cover things that were done better elsewhere (see Mattias’ article, really), but there may be a little bit of overlap.
As the title says, games are art. I begin with this because I have gone through multiple false starts in getting this argument going. While I believe most other gamers would agree with me, making this topic seem rather pointless, I have also noticed that a good deal of the rest of the world still does not acknowledge games as an artistic medium. The debate over the artistic merit of games was quite loud years ago when Roger Ebert declared, “Games can never be art.” and since it has quieted down. Unfortunately I think the quiet only really occurred because the only people speaking were gamers. Well, that’s still going to be true today, but perhaps I can at least outline my argument well enough that if a non-gamer comes across it they can begin to understand what this medium means to us.