This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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Okay kids, let’s jump into it, Dr. Jack style, and sort this one out.
There are two obvious contenders here for me, both involve many of the same aspects of entertainment and video games, so we’re going to break this down and see which genre comes out on top. Our two contenders? Role-Playing Games and Strategy/Simulation Games. Both involve long-term strategy in terms of building up to a final state which you are going to see through to the end with, both (when done right) have a high-replay value, and both are slower and involve countless hours planning out ridiculous builds.
Yeah, dead in the water there. Let’s jump in, shall we?
One of the major hallmarks of role-playing and strategy/simulation games is that for most of those games you need to have a more long term vision of your gameplay when you start. Role-playing games mechanically revolve around the concept of building your character up from your humble beginnings as a farmboy/peasant/novice/pissant/whatever to ultimate badass – part of being the ultimate badass usually involves building your effectiveness at some aspect of combat, stacking force multipliers and attempting to minimize any weaknesses in your style. This was never better exemplified (and vilified) within World of Warcraft’s original talent system – each character had three avenues of specialization, some were more subtle differences within the same basic playstyle (see: dual-wielding melee DPS, Rogue), others were massive role changes (see: hybrid, Druid.)
Usually in most RPGs, you have a basic idea of the type of character you want to play when you start a new character, though for persistent world MMORPGs, there are often options to have multiple builds allowing you tailor your build to the situation or just take a night off from healing raids to blow shit up.
In simulation games, it’s a bit more nuanced, since that builder mentality is at the heart of the game. Again, the name of the game is usually start small and build up to something worthy of winning of the game, but the act of building is more of the focus in many games in the genre. While there are exceptions (Paradox’s line of historical simulations come to mind, starting as France, England or Spain in Europa Universalis is not ‘starting small’), the game play is usually similar (see: SimCity, Civilization, Roller Coaster Tycoon.) In these games, you’re usually tasked with a problem and your opening moves are to establish a baseline strategy to build towards a solution. The challenge comes in with random elements which will test or force you to change your strategy. The advantage to a well-thought out strategy is that you can of course weather those challenges without having to change your “build”, allowing for your city/empire/theme park/whatever to continue to grow while overcoming challenges.
That being said, it’s far easier to play with the WOW talent builder during work.
This is a tough one for RPGs – replay for many role playing games simply means redoing the same content with a different character. MMOs have a tougher challenge as their business model is one of repetition to keep subscribers coming back (or, now with the Free-to-Play model, to entice users to spend real currency on additions/additional modes.) However, this works as the experience can be incredibly different with another archetype of character or, in the cases of games like Mass Effect, that have aspects of the “choose-your-own-adventure” style of storytelling, where your choices can unlock or lock certain gameplay elements. This is a constant challenge for the genre, and one that’s been addressed often, which is always a good thing.
Strategy/simulation games have an easier go here, the random nature of the challenges lends itself naturally to a high replay value, but the reverse is true, there’s not often a lot of incentive for a game designer to spend time considering replay value. And, an unfavorable set of circumstances can be a very frustrating experience (see: Shaka, as your walls fall under unrelenting waves of impi.)
Advantage: Role Playing Games, for chasing innovation.
So uh, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? While none of what I’ve said is hard science, this last category is no doubt the most subjective. Fun is absolutely relative to the person playing the game so it’s hard to break this down without just stating my preference. Which, is, uh, well, the whole thrust of this post.
So which is it? There’s not a clear answer. Sometimes you want to build Rome in a day, sometimes you just want to want to kill rats over and over and over and over and over and… you get the point. However, I think choosing requires me to say RPG solely again to the genre’s intersection with action & adventure games and a looser convention that allows for differing playstyles – one only needs to look at games like Skyrim, or the intersection of action in games like Guild Wars 2 or Wildstar.
So, final advantage: Role Playing Games.