Rewarded Progress Game

So, today I want to talk about RPGs.

“What’s so unusual about that? You talk about Role-Playing Games all the time on here!”

No, no – I didn’t say Role-Playing Games. I said RPG’s.

See, the term RPG (or rpg) no longer refers to Role-Playing Games. Sure, it used to, and some people would still use the two interchangeably. Many Role-Playing Games have RPG elements, and some RPG’s have role-playing elements. But the two have become very, very different.

I believe this all started with computer “role-playing games.” I know some people who would deny that you can have a role-playing game in the computer; certain muds and  MMORPG’s have made good attempts at doing so. But one thing is certain: a computer is not good at understanding language and human thought. Thus, it cannot easily adapt the game’s story to the player’s response, something a human GM can do intuitively.

What it can do is react to logical, concrete things. Which option did the player choose? Which way did he go? How many enemies did he kill? So this is the kind of things a computer can comprehend, and thus, for which the player can expect a response.

This can be implemented in many ways. Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and the other games in the Bioware family have done this exceedingly well, creating games that make you feel like there’s a reacting world there, creating a feeling of being an active participant in the unfolding story.

But most games don’t have the resources to do so. Instead they look to Role-Playing Games and they see the part of role-playing games that fit right into the computer paradigm: The numbers. Stats. The “character sheet.” Abilities, hit points, mana* and – XP.

* By the way, it seems to me that mana, while very popular in computer games, doesn’t appear in that many pen-and-paper games. Something I would guess has to do with the difficulty of managing too many large numbers.

The irony is that as role-playing has moved away from this kind of stats, they have become ubiquitous in computer games. Role-playing-like games like Diablo and the early MMORPG’s started the trend, but today it has spread to all manner of games. Particularly online, adding some sort of progress bar seems to be an easy way to prolong a game by making you repeat certain content in an attempt to achieve the numbers required to “grind” some more advanced content.

And the introduction of this grind is what definitively sets RPG’s apart from role-playing games. Grind shows the player that his actions have no effect on the world of the game. He is not part of an unfolding story, but is merely in a game of skill and numbers in a pretty packaging.

Another move away from role-playing is the detachment from a character. Many games have more than one character that the player controls, many others have an abstract, impersonal “commander” or similar, or simply ascribe certain stats to the “team.”

In short, these games have developed away from their role-playing heritage. Now, they are focused on capturing the player’s attention with many small rewards leading to new rewards to strive for. As opposed to many other games, these games usually have no discernible end, but keep you hooked to go on and on and on (World of Warcraft and Farmville are both good examples).

And so, these games can no-longer be termed “Role-Playing Games.” Instead, I would “retcon” the acronym, and call this type of game a “Rewarded Progress Games”. In this way, the “grinding” games can keep calling themselves “RPG’s,” and role-players will know that this kind of game has little in common with what we play, sitting ’round the table.


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] Party, Platform, Fighting, Racing Games, Role-Playing game (RPG) (se også Elias’ RPG: Reward Progress Game), Sports games, Survival […]


  2. This is brilliant. It fits the acronym and perfectly captures what these games are about, which is no mean feat. After all, what is it that Diablo, Mass Effect, WoW, Final Fantasy and Oblivion has in common?

    It’d probably be futile, but I feel like campaigning to spread this retro-definition.


  3. Posted by Elias Helfer on October 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Glad you like it. I have often played “RPG”s, thinking that there was little role-playing in those games.
    I was playing a game, calling itself an “Action RPG,” when I realised that the way the game was structured was more akin to Farmville than any role-playing game I ever played. It was a game that was all about progressing – you wanted to progress your level to gain money to buy buildings to gain training points for soldiers, who would go on missions to gain you money…. and so on. There was no story in the game, no plot, nothing except the accumulation of points. That’s what spurred me to write the above.

    But you are right – Diablo, WoW etc. work on a similar structure. They have more in the story department, and so you are not accumulating points just to accumulate points, but also to become good enough to access more parts of the game. Still, many of these games encourage grinding and other ways of focusing on points. And so, they fall in the same category.


  4. […] example that made me think of this is from the action rpg, Diablo III. From the beginning, a major part of Diablo has been the amassing of items – […]


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