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Building a better RPG: Let's make babies!

10:20 AM on 08.09.2007 // Leigh Alexander

Heard on Kotaku about this strategy RPG from Idea Factory/RED called Record of Agarest War. At first tender romantic blush, it's a strategy RPG -- but it turns out you can propagate your heroic DNA with the game's heroines to create a successor, whose stats will be a combination of yours and hers. depending on which babymomma you choose.

At first, it's something to tee-hee about, especially when you hear you get a "special movie" once you've captured one of the ladies' hearts and get to the breeding. But think about it for a sec, willya?

Hit the jump -- Mama wants to have a special talk with you. 

I write about hentai games, and in so doing, I often hear a lot of people rationalizing or pre-emptively defending their enjoyment of them by saying they're not sex games. They're deep, emotional story games, and the fact that they show sex, which happens among lovers in real life, only deepens the emotional connection and story realism blah blah blah. I joke that playing H-games for the story is like reading Playboy for the articles. Playboy's reputed to have the finest editorials in the biz, but even if that's true, it always comes across like a snicker-worthy cop-out. While it's true that H-games do treat issues that are a little more visceral or taboo than mainstream games, like drug abuse, suicide, incest and so forth, you'd really be hard-pressed to call them realistic, with their willing, nubile teen sex queens and sexy stepmothers eager to bestow their wealth and their Triple-E boob-hugs.

But maybe there is something to be said for all those caught-fappings who say they like H-games because they're stories that don't shy away from sex. Nearly every RPG, even the ones that are little more than a profusion of stats that'd make an Asperger's sufferer blush, features attractive women and some kind of romantic tension, even if it's flimsy. The character usually has a token love interest, if not more than one, and yet, the genre has been disappointingly lacking in treating these relationships beyond 2D cartoon sketches.

I'm thinking in particular right now of textbook jRPGs Final Fantasy VII through X-2 -- there's a clear love connection going on in all of those games, and while we get cutscenes that depict the characters gazing mooningly at each other or leaping in anguish to one another's salvation, we never quite get that sense of sincere relationship development throughout the story. It's always a little ambiguous -- especially in FFVII. C'mon, Cloud. Tifa or Aeris? The game seems to encourage you to pick, but you're really offered very little decisive reward or character development in either case. (SPOILER: AERIS DIES).

I always say that the thing that most defines an RPG is not a turn-based battle system, a party system, random encounters or the inclusion of a world map (though these are all key). The core element is character growth -- start out a kid with a stick, end up a man summoning a God to do your bidding. It's a sort of fantasy metaphor for adolescence -- and isn't falling in love part of that? And isn't having kids often a part of becoming an adult?

RPGs have treated some pretty visceral topics, too -- loss of self, madness, murder, abuse, and on and on. Why should it subject us to melodrama, yet gloss over sex?

I certainly don't claim that they should show all-out hentai scenes in T-for-teen RPGs. But I think that having children -- the option, at least, to weigh your character romance that seriously-- is such a complex component of what makes us human that videogames' avoidance of that life stage in general feels like a glaring hole in the evolution of characterization, and is long overdue.

Think of the interesting variable it could provide in Western MMOs, if characters could reproduce. What would it be like for you to see a monster go after your character's child? How would the burden of raising a hero-junior affect your own quest? Could you be a single parent? How full would the in-world orphanages be?

Wouldn't it make you feel a little more real, more connected, in a way that would have nothing to do with whether they showed sex or not? 

Leigh Alexander,
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