Weekend Reading: Pen and paper versus console RPGs, part 3

Yes, this is The Haloing of this Weekend Reading arc of mine. Finally, the comparison between console RPGs and pen & paper RPGs will come to a close. The two will duel it out in epic combat, mostly fuelled by your comments and the ones that existed on Digg.

First, I want to take a minute to reflect back on this a bit myself. When I started this, I never really had the mindset to say that one was better than the other. I’ve always considered them two very different things, sharing the common gene of triumphing story above all else. I’ve certainly got fond memories of both systems — although, in the end, I guess I’m a little biased towards pen and paper games.

Well, enough of this before I start blubbering into tears or making you sit through long monologues about my memories. Hit the jump, and check out the previous two in case you haven’t already.

A lot of people mentioned in the first part that they avoided pen and paper games because of the high learning curve of the systems. Now, I really can’t deny this. So, my suggestion for this is instead to try something like GURPS (surprise), or just find a group of more experienced people who are willing to show you the ropes. At most local hobby stores, they’ll have social nights, where people will RP. If you just ask, one group or another will gladly take you in and explain things as they go. 

Grumbel on digg commented:

How does having a character basically be just a collection of numbers increases your attachment to it? I have heard that point a lot, but I just don’t get it. Character creation right at the start of the game is among the things I hate in western RPGs, since it means you have to choose between things you don’t know anything about. How will more intelligence influence the game, what will more strength do, etc.? Is +1 good or is +2 just right? How much is a +2 to begin with, can I fix it up later in the game? It just isn’t fun to decide those before you have even seen the actual game.

Stats aren’t the end-all be-all to characters. Rather, they help you form an idea of what your character’s strengths and weaknesses are. Just because you’ve got a 13 skill in diplomacy doesn’t mean that it’ll prevent you, the player, from making bad decisions. It’s just a way for the GM or the computer to determine how well you’ll succeed/fail at a task. It’s more of a guideline than anything.

Masterthiefster on digg:

I don’t think anyone who truly understands what a P&P RPG actually is would ever consider “console RPGs” to be RPGs by any stretch of the word.

While “computer-style”/”western-style” RPGs also fall short of the mark, they don’t fall as far short as these Japanese games that are basically action-adventures with levelling.

Having turn-based combat and a fantasy setting does not make a game an RPG.

Hm, this brings about an interesting question: what do you think makes an RPG, at this point? I’ll leave this up to you to discuss, and it’ll get visited in another Weekend Reading.

I guess some of you are asking what the point of all this is. I think what I’m trying to convey over the past couple of articles is that while both pen and paper and console games can give a rewarding experience, they do so in very different ways. My preoccupation has always been with the story, and how the game manages to achieve it.

With pen and paper RPGs, the story is almost completely up to the player — it’s the original, and best, sandbox environment. The characters can be completely original and you gain such strong attachments to them, mainly because you’ve completely made the character yourself. At the same time, players might create characters that are utterly flat and two-dimensional, and the system can sometimes reflect life too realistically, screwing the players over mercilessly.

Console games lock you into a single storyline, but instead of giving players total freedom in a realm, they instead lull you into acceptance of the role that you’re playing by using tricks and telling the story in such a way that you become emotionally invested in what goes on. In the end, you’ve become attached to the character, although it might end up in a different way. In the end, it really is more like reading a book or watching a movie — yet I think more emotional attachment occurs. An RPG is most likely to be the first title to come out as a proven “games as art” title, simply because of such a strong storyline that’s present in whatever the game might be.

What can these two systems draw on from each other, since they’re inextricably related to our want and desire to hear and tell stories? Well, console RPGs are working in, somewhat slowly, the ability to take care of things in a not so linear order, giving players more freedom. If it affected the outcome (but no “true ending” BS, please), then all the better. Hopefully in the coming years, developers will take advantage of downloadable content to give new content — or to even change the storyline at certain diverging paths (taking advantage of background downloading).

Pen and paper is a little tricky in terms of borrowing from consoles — the reason being that there’s complete transparency in how the system works. While not exclusive to video games, having common themes running throughout campaigns, whatever the setting may be, is a sign of familiarity that helps create an attachment. I’m thinking in terms of the Final Fantasy stuff — chocobos, Cid, moogles, etc. Whatever the incarnations may be, you take extra care to pay attention for those items.

A little hidden motive of mine has been to convince you all to give pen and paper a shot. Hopefully you actually will at this point. So, what’d you think of the articles? I’ll actually respond in the comments this time!