puddles123
01-08-2010, 10:32 PM
http://www.artfulgamer.com/2009/11/26/the-humble-and-valiant-ie-filthy-richpowerful-hero/

This interesting article is about RPGs and how taking the good path in most games is often implemented by developers by creating an extremely individualistic and egocentric playing structure. In other words, it raises the question on whether what games regard as 'being good' is legitimately moral or self-serving and egotistical. And concludes by noting that most traditional RPGs result in a sort of spiritual hollowness, with some exceptions.

I thought it might be an excellent discussion point for the forum. For the most part, I agree with it. It uses examples such as Fallout 3, Arcanum, and Final Fantasy as games that are an encouragement of adolescent power fantasies instead of meaningful adventures. The article's stated ideal is the quest to find meaning and self-transformation. Therefore, typical RPGs end up "often celebrating the worst aspects of our humanity (selfishness, the desire to dominate others) under a guise of moral righteousness," instead of enabling characters to truly develop, sacrifice, and participate in truly noble acts.

Thoughts?

I would like to refute his arguably negative mention of Final Fantasy VII, but I'll do it later when I have more time.

Seru_Kai
01-08-2010, 11:03 PM
It seems like a very interesting topic, I may read the article later (at work right now, can't pull it up).

At the same time, I don't see games as being a way to indulge in some power hungry fantasy. I see them as stories to view from a distance, and each game/character you play as as fiction. I may have gotten the wrong impression by what you posted (again, can't read the article now) but I think it's a nice topic to discuss.

Edit: I also don't see games as my chance to morally and ethically serve any sort of purpose. I play them mainly to view the story (entertainment) and controll the way the game plays (gameplay).

puddles123
01-08-2010, 11:38 PM
Seru Kai-

I'm not sure if I did the best job of summarizing the guy's overall article, but I don't think he is trying to argue that we, as gamers, go and play games in order to consciously indulge in some power hungry fantasy. Instead, I think he is trying to argue that developers of games are the ones creating this sort of ethical dissonance, almost by the nature of the game and its gameplay. Here is an excerpt to that point:

"The hero�s quest, which was originally a spiritual quest of the ilk I described earlier, has become literalized into a gradual accrual of power; in doing so the chances for spiritual development and transformation are almost completely squashed."

As a consequence of this choice by developers, the hero in video games just becomes more and more powerful, never actually making any meaningful sacrifice that shows true moral strength or allows him/her (and by extension, the gamer) to discover something true about himself.

Now this is the author's point of view, not my own. I personally maintain that this is, lets say, 75% true. But I'll get to that explanation later.

Seru_Kai
01-09-2010, 12:09 AM
"The hero�s quest, which was originally a spiritual quest of the ilk I described earlier, has become literalized into a gradual accrual of power; in doing so the chances for spiritual development and transformation are almost completely squashed."

This is an interesting topic, if we're talking about the developers add in/taking out certain aspects of a 'hero'.

As for my opinion (only on the quote) is why do games have to have that spiritual aspect of a hero? Sometimes the hero does what is necessary to save somebody they care about, or even something as large as the planet.

That may be a little close to the 'for the greater good' argument, but in some games the character has to do what is needed. In other games there is some divine moral appreciation/recognition within the protagonist. I haven't really thought about it too much before, but I could see how more games are being made with the 'whatever it takes' hero instead of the 'is this the right decision?' hero.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 12:17 AM
Now comes the reason why I think Final Fantasy VII (and possibly other Final Fantasies out there) is not a good example of how an RPG can enable unrealistic power fantasies, selfishness, and the desire to dominate others.

First off, lets look at how it appears to do so from a distance. As you progress through the game, you and your characters become steadily more powerful as you accrue levels and more and more destructive weapons. This gameplay mechanic is one mentioned by "The Artful Gamer" as one that encourages selfishness; a mass gathering of loot; a hyper capitalistic sort of grab for anything that might enhance or increase your power. This is what leads people to do the long grind for that most powerful Summon of all: Knights of the Round. The funny part is that (unless you are going for one of the absurdly powerful optional WEAPON bosses) you don't need it at all to defeat the final boss and ultimate nemesis, Sephiroth. HOWEVER, I do not think that this gradual accrual of power ruins the opportunity for spiritual development and transformation. Here's why.

- The main character. In my mind, for almost the entire game, he is the epitome of what is not a hero. Here is an excerpt from tvtropes.org to that effect:

"Not a lot of people noticed because of its extreme popularity attracting plenty of people new to RPG tropes, but Final Fantasy VII is a deconstruction of the previous six Final Fantasies. Gone are all the magical fantasy races and tough, strong main heroes. All the fantasy races have been made near-totally extinct, magic's considered a science, and we don't get a hero. Instead, we get a tough young man who appears at first to be a wish-fulfilment hero character, capable and good with women, and then he does a rapid downwards slide into an extreme mental breakdown leaving him not so much traumatised as in a wheelchair, twitching and dribbling and making nonsense noises. It turns out he had gone insane and started to believe he was a magnanimous and successful soldier he'd once known — in other words, he was 'roleplaying' as a 'hero' himself to make up for the fact that he was a socially inept, self-hating fanboy who couldn't handle girls or real-life job responsibilities. Of course, he attracted a massive Misaimed Fandom which missed the point entirely, but Cloud was never supposed to be a character to model yourself on."

Through that summary, and through playing the game, one realizes that Cloud is no hero. It is only after he overcomes his severe inner demons that he can be considered a more heroic character. And the above excerpt doesn't even address the additional factor that he is mentally dominated by Sephiroth for most of the game. In fact, the entire plot can be considered a sort of "identity quest" for Cloud, which is one of the terms The Artful Gamer uses as the type of story/quest that should be portrayed more often in video games.

Consequently, we see that the mechanic of gradual progression through leveling and accumulation of more and more loot has little to no impact on how the story plays out and how the character changes and discovers something true about himself. Certainly, it has the effect of making the game easy if you are focused upon it, but storywise, nothing changes.

However, I do agree with The Artful Gamer that too many games have the focus of sending the main character (and the gamer) on a stereotypical "heroic" quest to save the world with ethical decisions that change nothing and are blankly two-dimensional. All supported by systems that have you amass piles of loot and xp until you become akin to an untouchable demigod.

But, as for FF7, as I chose to defend it, I do not think it applies. The gameplay mechanics that he speak of as ruining games do not automatically result in ruining a game's story, emotional power, and opportunity for discovering something true about yourself. Instead, that is just what happens mostof the time. I hold FF7 as an exception to this rule, in contrast to what he suggested about it.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 01:16 AM
Seru Kai -

Well what I'm interpreting as being the meaning behind "spiritual quest" and "spiritual development" is more the idea of meaningful character development, not necessarily something religious or 'holy'. Cloud's situation is what I would call meaningful character development, as he learns a LOT that is true about himself that makes him a better person because of it.

As for what you said about sometimes a hero just doing "what is needed", maybe I'm not understanding you quite right, but Cloud (as my example) does just that in combination with his more personal inner battle. He, and the other members of his party, save the world by defeating Sephiroth and enabling Aeris to let free the powers of the Lifestream to push back Meteor. This isn't something he wanted to do, and it wasn't something that was truly necessary for completing his own inner struggle (which I consider mostly completed after Tifa helps him reconstruct his identity within the Lifestream). Instead, he is stopping Sephiroth because he is doing exactly "what is needed." So I don't think they are mutually exclusive, as it appears like you are portraying it to be.

However, I think what you are saying more to the point (and of course I could be wrong) is that a hero doesn't necessarily need to discover something true about himself or to change as a human being in order for there to be a good story for an RPG. He/she simply decides that the utilitarian thing to do, what will bring the most good to the most people, would be to overcome the villain or save the world. And in choosing to do so, they don't necessarily change as a person in making this decision or carrying it out.

Personally, I believe that a story is enhanced by having the main character undergo some meaningful personal change, but I'll slide that aside for the moment. There are certainly some games out there that have this characteristic (a main character who does not change as a person in the process of doing what is needed). Examples: Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Chrono Trigger; all games where the protagonist never speaks for himself or where the player makes all the interactive decisions. And those are largely considered to be good games. So you are correct in that the "spiritual development"/meaningful character development is not necessary in creating a good RPG.

But I still think that the games that truly stick with you (or at least the ones that have for me) are those games where the main character (and other characters) have a 'voice' of their own. Their own personality, their own mannerisms, their own stories. You never hear anyone talking about "how badass the main character in Morrowind/Oblivion/Fallout 3 was". Instead, people talk about how the greatest characters are those that are their OWN character. Cloud Strife. Tidus. The Witcher. Sora. Magnus. It is in these sorts of games with that method of meaningful character development that make them become truly memorable to me.

But to each his own. Games without it can be fun too. ;)

Darth Revan
01-09-2010, 01:28 AM
But I still think that the games that truly stick with you (or at least the ones that have for me) are those games where the main character (and other characters) have a 'voice' of their own. Their own personality, their own mannerisms, their own stories. You never hear anyone talking about "how badass the main character in Morrowind/Oblivion/Fallout 3 was". Instead, people talk about how the greatest characters are those that are their OWN character. Cloud Strife. Tidus. The Witcher. Sora. Magnus. It is in these sorts of games with that method of meaningful character development that make them become truly memorable to me.

I found games like Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins... the ones where you create the main character from race, class, background etc, even their name, stick with me far more than ones like you listed in this paragraph. The ability to create one from the ground up, holds more meaning to me.

Seru_Kai
01-09-2010, 01:29 AM
Well I never really gave it too much thought outside of the inital notice, but a lot of that makes sense. Games like FFVII/Kingdom Hearts have that hero who speaks his mind and sets the course of the game through direct communication/decision making. Then there are games like Legend of Legaia (my personal fav) where Vahn (protagonist) says nothing all game, and you get a few choices of dialogue to make. Each hero is worth his/her own in my opinion, even if they have different aspects of personailties.

As for my 'whatever it takes' hero, I meant more like Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series. I know it's outside of the RPG world, but in those games there aren't very many moral choices/character awakenings. It's more along the lines of do whatever is needed to overcome and ultimately kill the antagonist(s). I can't think of an RPG with this type of hero (that doesn't have a character development as well) right now, as all I can think of about this topic is Final Fantasy.

That being said, is this article exclusive to RPG's? Or can it be used in a game like MGS, or any game that has a hero/dilemma(sp) in it?

Edit: Also, the mannerisms you spoke of, a lot of cases I find that a non-speaking character has a lot of mannerisms/visual cues that let you learn what type of person they are, perhaps even more so than a speaking protagonist.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 02:19 AM
Death's Head -

Of course, what I brought up about which type of games are truly memorable to me is opinion, and I'm not saying that that is the only thing that makes an RPG brilliant. It is subjective.

There are certainly people out there like you who get really into "where you create the main character from race, class, background etc, even their name". Nothing wrong with that. The "Death's Head" type of gamer (lol) is whom most Western-created games try to cater towards which is why most of them allow you to create the character from scratch, even optionally adding your own fictional background story if you so choose.

However, while I can't speak for Dragon Age: Origins because I haven't played it, KOTOR was a good game that unfortunately is a good example of what "The Artful Gamer" was talking about: making ethically 'good' decisions in that game is arbitrary because you sacrifice absolutely nothing to do so. Here is a relevant excerpt from the article -

"This is the hero that always gives out 10 gp to beggars on the street, knowing that s/he has 4500 gp resting comfortably in the larders. There is no real self-abasement this hero’s acts; it is temporary inconveniencing under a mask of generosity. Sort of like the guy who lambasts anyone who doesn’t drink Eco-Friendly coffee, and proceeds to drive his Hummer to work."

In the article he makes the argument that good is only truly achieved by making a sacrifice that matters. I agree with this. Falling back on my example of Cloud, he sacrifices his pride, dignity, and temporarily his sanity along with his love interest before he is able to conquer his inner demons and become the hero. In KOTOR, I honestly don't remember any sacrifice of magnitude anywhere near that.

That isn't to say I didn't enjoy KOTOR as a game, but the choices you made in the game were kind of stupid (imo) and two-dimensional with no real sacrifice. And therefore, I don't consider it to be one of the best RPGs. Just an enjoyable distraction.

Sorry for that tangent into sort of bashing on KOTOR, but it was relevant to the thread and argument I'm making. ;)

Seru Kai -

Yes, the article is specific to RPGs, but what "The Artful Gamer" says in it I think applies across the board to storytelling in all gaming genres (that actually have a real story). So I'm definitely okay with taking the discussion to other types of games as well. I haven't played the Metal Gear Solid games, but what you say about Solid Snake makes him sound like an Action Hero, or someone who kicks ass, takes names, and overcomes the enemy by simply being himself. I don't know about any characterization he does or does not have (you seem to say he doesn't really change), but The Artful Gamer would probably point out that if the character does not change as a person and become better as a consequence of what he does to "oppose evil", then the game simply encourages hoarding as much ammo as possible and choosing whatever good ethical alternative there is without really thinking about it (assuming one chooses a good versus bad route in those games). As a consequence of that, the game would be encouraging good activity only if it involves little to no sacrifice on your part, and is therefore encouraging a viewpoint on "good acts" that is overall negative and selfish.

I would argue that, from what I've heard of the game, the sheer political and metaphysical shenanigans that go on in that game makes you think and that that is in and of itself rewarding. Any game that makes you think is good in my book. However, this is the point where what we are talking about departs from what "The Artful Gamer" is talking about, because of the difference between Metal Gear Solid (a third person shooter) and any RPG. In an RPG, unless it is terrible, it is taken for granted that you will think about your character's actions. What makes an RPG really good is when you really have to think about what you're doing (difficult ethical questions) and when the characters (the 'roles' that you are playing and observing) are characterized well and developed throughout the game. Which comes back to my earlier subjective point about how the best RPGs (according to me) are those where the main character has to go through something that changes him/her as a person. "The Artful Gamer" would likely say the same thing.

In conclusion, what makes my viewpoint different from that of "The Artful Gamer" with what we're talking about with RPGs and (probably) shooters, is that I'm generally cool with a game that will make you think even if the characters are not too developed. A good example would be Morrowind and Fallout 3. I liked these games a lot, and the main character is a voiceless puppet of whatever you want to be. Any side characters generally play bit roles and aren't all that developed. But the worlds themselves and the situations they are in are interesting and it makes me think. And that is good enough for me. By comparison, "The Artful Gamer" states that Fallout 3 in particular is an example of the negative view of "good decisions" that I mentioned earlier, and is therefore a problem game.

In short, his ideal game is my ideal game, but the games that he decry as being prime examples of a bad moral system and bad character development are games that I'm fine with playing. I do think, however, that more games should try to be like the ideal games he and I mention (those with truly meaningful character development and a true opportunity to do good). They are the games that you don't see so often. And I do think that the warped "moral and good" systems in games need to be fixed and improved. But that probably won't stop me from enjoying them for different reasons.

Ugh, long post. I hope I didn't contradict myself somewhere in there, lol.

EDIT - By the way, you guys should consider reading the article, as I fear that my taking only choice excerpts of it for you guys to read is perhaps making your perception of "The Artful Guy's" argument different from the actuality of it. It is only a few pages long.

Darth Revan
01-09-2010, 03:01 AM
That is only from one person's point of view though puddles123. Remember, what one person may consider to be the greatest etc or the best way for a hero to be, may not always be the same for another.

I'm going to use some Bioware games in my examples here.

In Knights of the Old Republic, while I thoroughly love that game, I can see the point your making. However, take into account that those games were made following a set path from another media. The Jedi are the epitome of all that is good in the universe, and are naturally expected to follow that path to the extremes of good. The Sith are the exact opposite of course, and follow their path to the extremes as well. Making a game, which already has it's flow and culture preset, does limit ones ability to choose your path.

Jade Empire tried to deviate slightly from that path with the schools of the Open Palm and Closed Fist, but alas, that followed along those paths to their own extremes.

Mass Effect was different as the choices you made, obviously affected those around you, however it wasn't taken to the extremes as Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire and tried to be more subtle, which it did succeed with, in it's own way.

Dragon Age: Origins is different once again, as the choices you make don't shift your alignment from good to evil or vice versa. It was more subtle in it's approach and personally I found myself getting more attached to my character in this, than in the other games I've listed.

I'm intrigued as to how Bioware intends to make the Paragon and Renegade choices in the upcoming Mass Effect 2 though.

Seru_Kai
01-09-2010, 03:26 AM
I plan on reading it when I get home, on a computer than will actually pull it up. ;)

SPOILERS FOR METAL GEAR SOLID

As for the MGS thing, Snake doesn't change that much throughout the series. There are a couple ethical choices to make however, you can choose to be the victim of torture, and save Meryl at the end of the game, or you can choose to give in to the torture and she dies. (If she dies, Dr. Otacon comes with you, but he doesn't die if you choose to save Meryl, he just isn't there).

Now that is a pretty big decision in context of the game. But that's the only one that I recall. As for the 'hoarding ammo and loot', ammo is scarce in that game (unless you're playing on one of the easier modes). There are means of aquiring it, even in boss battles (a boss may 'drop' some ammo), but if you're not careful you can find yourself in a deep hole.

Of course, just remembering, there is one GIANT ethical decision to make, and that is whether or not to attack/kill guards during the game, or to just leave them alone. However the only affect of killing them is your ranking at the end of the game.

END SPOILERS

But as to RPG's (and this is thinking of FF in particular):

VII - Cloud sacrifices his pride and sanity, as you mentioned.
VIII - Squall risks his life to save Rinoa (in space) and grows in the game as he developes feelings for her
IX - How does Zidane change? What does he sacrifice? To me he stays the same hyper, let's-get-it-done kind of character.
X - Tidus/Sin, that's all that needs to be said.

So by that authors opinion, is Zidane not a hero? Is IX not a good game because there's no major ethical decision to be made. I'm thinking (and of course, I will read the whoel artical later) that the author only thinks a game is great if it bleeds the good and evil together, forcing the character(s) to go through these gut wrenching decisions. It sounds like he just likes a lot of emotion with his RPG's, but not every game out there has to be packed full with ethical situations to be considered a great game.

It may be confusing what I've said, I'm just typing it as I go really. I'll read the article tonight/tomorrow and hopefully understand the authors point of view a little better.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 03:39 AM
Death's Head -

I realize that the opinion maintained by "The Artful Gamer" is just one person. I just thought I'd bring it up here as a point of discussion. Thus, I'm curious as to what your opinion on the matter is. Do you think that having character development to the point of making meaningful sacrifices is a good bar to set for RPGs? Or do you think that this is an unnecessary ideal that should not necessarily be attributed as such to all RPGs or games across the board? Do you have a sense of what your ideal RPG is?

I'm just curious. I'm not trying to establish this guy's viewpoint on "goodness" and meaningful character development as the one absolute truth on what makes a true and great RPG. I've disagreed with the view myself already in my previous post. I'm just seeking to gauge if this view is indicative of what you all on this forum perceive to be the ideal RPG. Or rather, if what he perceives as negative is what you perceive as negative.

Anyways, regarding your other points...

The interesting thing about KOTOR and the Star Wars universe in general, is that there is a capacity for a sort of grey morality, making its absence from the first KOTOR game rather sigh-inducing. Take smugglers for instance. Han Solo (initially) is someone who does illegal acts for a living (bad) but later on we discover he has a heart of gold (good). Also, I think KOTOR II is the superior game because it introduces a number of interesting moral concepts among Jedi. The only one I can think of right now off the top of my head (but it is a major one), is the presence of Kreia. At the end of that game I remember her talking about how she accepted neither dogma. She was part of neither the light side or dark. Instead, she was her own side, which had its own interesting point of view with rationalizations and perceptions that made her have her being a part of her own category of the Force. I found this fascinating, which is why I liked the second KOTOR much more than the first. Anyways, my point is that the Star Wars universe definitely has the capacity to escape the rigidly perceived structure of Light Side versus Dark Side, and it is sad that KOTOR II is the ONLY Star Wars game I can think of that manages to escape this sad simplicity.

(As a sidenote, I haven't played every single Star Wars game, so I could be wrong on this statement)

Regarding Jade Empire, I definitely agree with you. That game brought forth the concepts of Open Palm and Closed Fist as two contrasting philosophical outlooks (rather than good versus evil) and explained them well to that effect. I could go into it, but I'm sure you already know. The sad part (as you know) is that in practice it ended up being just like good versus evil, with Open Palm having the goody-two-shoes answers whereas Closed Fist had all the malevolent asshole answers. Again, a sad waste of a good concept.

I can't speak for the last two (ME and DAO) but I'm happy to hear that Bioware has started thinking up more complex and multi-faceted storylines.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 04:04 AM
Seru Kai -


There are a couple ethical choices to make however, you can choose to be the victim of torture, and save Meryl at the end of the game, or you can choose to give in to the torture and she dies. (If she dies, Dr. Otacon comes with you, but he doesn't die if you choose to save Meryl, he just isn't there).

Following the line of thought from the article, I would be curious as to how this could be a true sacrifice in the context of the game. After all, why would you, as the player, have any reason to give in to the torture whatsoever? It isn't hurting you in real life physically. Is Solid Snake permanently hampered or crippled by choosing to take the torture and save Meryl? I ask because, from simply reading that ethical dilemma, why would any player want to chose the "give in to torture and the woman dies" scenario? Does this Dr. Otacon fellow benefit you in some way enough to justify giving in to the torture and having the woman killed?

I'm just trying to assess that ethical dilemma seriously, when it sounds a tad ridiculous. After all, letting you're character sprite get tortured for a good cause doesn't sound too bad. If he was threatened with death in order to save her, though, that would be a different story.

As for what the author said about Final Fantasy, here is the part where he mentions the Final Fantasy series:

"What I�ve been trying to get at in this article is that despite our appreciation that games are meaningful, they often celebrate the worst aspects of our humanity (selfishness, the desire to dominate others) with the guise of moral righteousness. Worse, games like Arcanum, the Final Fantasy series, and Fallout 3 make it completely impossible to complete a game without needing to max out the protagonist�s attributes and inventory and in doing so celebrate adolescent power fantasies. The original spiritual quest, despite it being the entire point of the game as acknowledged by the story, is totally maligned by the underlying gameplay."

Earlier in the article, he specifically mentions FF7 as prime example of one of the games he decries. He mentions it, and a number of other RPGs before going into his lengthy assessment as to what is wrong with these games. His assessment is too long for me to quote here, but I think I've done a decent job summarizing it thus far. As a consequence, the papa bear in me decided to defend FFVII (as always) earlier in this thread.

Unfortunately, FFVII is the only Final Fantasy he specifically targets (although he targets them generally in the quote I place above). As a result, I've no idea what his thoughts are on FFIX and Zidane. But given his general statement of all Final Fantasy games being an example of what is bad in moral gaming, he probably wouldn't say much good, and would probably say Zidane is as bad as the rest of them. The Artful Gamer would probably say that he's still a hero, just one whose accomplishments are almost meaningless given the steady accrual of loot, levels, and power that make any sacrifice in the game without purpose. And that is what I imagined he would say about Cloud as well, given FFVII's specific mention, hence my long defense of it.

Seru_Kai
01-09-2010, 04:31 AM
Following the line of thought from the article, I would be curious as to how this could be a true sacrifice in the context of the game. After all, why would you, as the player, have any reason to give in to the torture whatsoever? It isn't hurting you in real life physically. Is Solid Snake permanently hampered or crippled by choosing to take the torture and save Meryl? I ask because, from simply reading that ethical dilemma, why would any player want to chose the "give in to torture and the woman dies" scenario? Does this Dr. Otacon fellow benefit you in some way enough to justify giving in to the torture and having the woman killed?

Well, it changes who breaks you out of prison, who drives out with you at the end, and what item you unlock for a new playthrough. However, I'm going off the basis of a 1st time player, and they don't know that you get an item at the end (I didn't know the first time I played it).

The torture scene involves mashing the circle button to keep your stamina up, if it falls to low you die and Game Over. You can give in or survive a certain number of rounds (I think it's 5, not sure). I think the game mentions Meryl if you give in to the torture, but I don't think it says anything about her actual death. I remember playing the first time and not being able to get through it (I was about 12 I think, not too quick on the button mashing) so I gave in, and later I watch Meryl die. Pretty intense feelings involved. She's also the niece of the Colonel that sent Snake into the base if that puts it a little clearer.


The Artful Gamer would probably say that he's still a hero, just one whose accomplishments are almost meaningless given the steady accrual of loot, levels, and power that make any sacrifice in the game without purpose. And that is what I imagined he would say about Cloud as well, given FFVII's specific mention, hence my long defense of it.

It's starting to sound as if Artful Gamer just wants to be challenged and run low-level games everywhere? It doesn't force you to level up, but eventually (in most games) you'll get slaughtered by bosses if you don't level up. Also, most powerful stuff in the game is usually optional. You don't have to get the Zodiac Spear in XII. Nothing forces you to become a step below a god in the game. That's a personal reason I like RPG's is that once you reach a level range you can either beat the game, or complete all the optional stuff and then beat the game.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 04:54 AM
Seru Kai -

Well then, that torture scene does sound pretty weighty, and its nice (and actually kind of rare) to have tricky scenarios like that in games such as first/third person shooters.

As for what you say about The Artful Gamer and his opposition of loot and leveling up, I agree with you entirely. However, I do think that for many people it is hard to resist the temptation to do a little grind here or there to get those levels up to a point where it is hard for enemies to overcome you. So I do see where The Artful Gamer is coming from to a certain extent. I remember having a discussion with someone on one of the other subforums and I was explaining how Sephiroth is actually a challenging boss (not to mention psychologically scary given how he is built up to the point of being a dark, all-powerful, shadowy myth given form) IF you don't grind to lvl 99 to become a supreme being before you fight him. Many people do participate in that grind to become all-powerful in any game where you can level up, and that leads to the gamer feeling empty after beating the final boss because "he was just too easy". Well they didn't make the damn boss to fight lvl 99s!

So I do think that the leveling system is not the greatest thing in the world, but it does work to a point and it can be addicting. When you get the chance, you should read the article (as I've said before) but with paying particular attention to what The Artful Gamer says about the game Planescape: Torment. Unless I was misunderstanding him, it is possible to beat that game without fighting a single fight. Here's the brief quote:

"The Nameless One can fulfill his spiritual quest without destroying or battling anyone as he realizes that he has always faced an inner (moral) battle."

He explains much more than that, but the prospect of a game where you don't have to fight, subdue, or kill ANYONE and still have a dynamite story and great characters is one that has me a bit in awe. I don't think I've played anything like that.

Also, there are games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask where you don't have leveling up at all. There is some loot involved, but it isn't like you go around looking to hoard vast quantities of it. Each piece of equipment has its specific use, and those uses aren't overpowering. Granted, Link's characterization is minimal and we can refer only to his variety of mannerisms to ascertain who he is as a person, but imagine a game where he goes through character development and actually changes. While I'm veering into subjective territory, that sounds pretty awesome to me. But those games are largely considered adventures.

So we look at the RPG. Is there any RPG out there that isn't based on the premise of levels? I actually don't think so. Maybe this staple of RPGs isn't necessary. I don't know. But it is interesting to think about...

rezo
01-09-2010, 05:36 AM
So we look at the RPG. Is there any RPG out there that isn't based on the premise of levels? I actually don't think so. Maybe this staple of RPGs isn't necessary.

It isn't necessary. If you just want to play an open ended game and interact with people in the game world, there are quite a few non violent games where the the freedom is based on how you interact with characters/explore the environment and not about whether you choose to hit someone on the head with your sword. They may not be called RPGs by everyone but that doesn't really mean anything since they can potentially come with everything RPGs have except for combat and leveling.

The problem with the complaints about loot and leveling up is that they're just tropes that don't have much bearing on the game world beyond their role in game design. As video games, RPGs basically started out as dungeon romps where you kill enemies and find treasure while gaining levels which make it easier to kill enemies and find more treasure. That's it. That's why no matter how much money you have, you often can only use it to buy more weapons, armor and items which make it easier to kill enemies and find more treasure. It has nothing to do with moral hypocrisy, if you change genres then you can have the exact same setting and story, only you solve puzzles instead of fighting, and you're not drowning in loot because you only carry key items that you get during story events.

There's nothing wrong with what they'd like to see more of in games obviously; I'd like to see more RPGs/adventure games that aren't based on the concept of the hero at all, but that just means I spend time finding those kind of games instead of wondering why an FPS won't let me go on a spiritual quest for enlightenment, or why a game where you have to fight a creature that can destroy the world has you discovering extremely powerful items to hit it with.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 06:45 AM
Rezo -

I find that I agree with you entirely ;). It does seem like the essence of most RPGs are based upon that tried and true leveling mechanic which doesn't necessarily have an impact on the story or characters themselves. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before with the example of final boss battles in Final Fantasy and their tendency to be regarded as absurdly easy given player proclivity towards grinding up the levels, I think that they can have an unintended consequence of ruining immersion.
But at the same time, taking the example of an adventure game like Ocarina of Time, the pursuit of heart pieces or skulltula tokens can take away from immersion there as well. So perhaps what I'm seeking in the end is more along the lines of an interactive movie...

Hrmm... So I want virtual reality? Ugh. Bad puddles.

ThroneofOminous
01-09-2010, 12:39 PM
When you get the chance, you should read the article (as I've said before) but with paying particular attention to what The Artful Gamer says about the game Planescape: Torment. Unless I was misunderstanding him, it is possible to beat that game without fighting a single fight. Here's the brief quote:

"The Nameless One can fulfill his spiritual quest without destroying or battling anyone as he realizes that he has always faced an inner (moral) battle."
Untrue. There are four battles in the game that can't be avoided at all, and unless you run away from everything you're going to be fighting a heck of a lot more than that. It has less combat than most RPGs, but there is still a substantial amount of dungeon crawling to be done.

puddles123
01-09-2010, 07:14 PM
Then I was mistaken. From the way it sounded, Planescape Torment had the option of avoiding all combat. I didn't know cause I haven't played it.

rezo
01-09-2010, 08:53 PM
Rezo -

I find that I agree with you entirely ;). It does seem like the essence of most RPGs are based upon that tried and true leveling mechanic which doesn't necessarily have an impact on the story or characters themselves. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before with the example of final boss battles in Final Fantasy and their tendency to be regarded as absurdly easy given player proclivity towards grinding up the levels, I think that they can have an unintended consequence of ruining immersion.

That's what leveling is for though. If something is too strong in the game, you spend a little while building up strength before trying again. People who devote their time to grinding are opting to play the game at a low difficulty level, so if they say a boss is easy because of that just remind them that they had to spend a dozen hours working to make it so easy.

But RPGs in general aren't difficult anyways so it doesn't matter. It's probably the norm for most people to finish them without ever dying at this point.

If you want interactive movies, try PC Adventure games like Grim Fandango. I've only played the older ones but they're all story and you advance the plot by solving puzzles.

Darth Revan
01-09-2010, 10:41 PM
If you want interactive movies, try PC Adventure games like Grim Fandango. I've only played the older ones but they're all story and you advance the plot by solving puzzles.

It would seem that a lot of companies are doing this now, making interactive movies. On the PlayStation there's at least three I can recall: The X-Files, Wing Commander III: The Heart of the Tiger and Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom.

The PC though has many more 'Interactive Movies' though, Grim Fandango is one, but also imo, a lot of the old 'Point and Click' adventure games (The Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road etc).

Psycho_Cyan
01-20-2010, 12:17 PM
Okay, before I wind up creating a wall o' text, I didn't fully read every post in this thread, but it seems like more attention is being paid to the stories in these games rather than the actual game mechanics.

Having read most of the linked article, it appears to me that the author isn't criticizing the individual stories in said games; he's criticizing the fundamental design of them. Since puddles so ardently defended FFVII, I'll use it as an example to illustrate the point.

The Artful Gamer isn't saying Cloud isn't "heroic enough" because of the events in the story. He is saying that all the "good" that has to be done in order to advance in the game is hollow because the easiest way to progress in that particular style of game is to acquire phat lewtz and tons of cash so you can bash monsters more efficiently.

In other words, The Artful Gamer claims that, from a purely moral standpoint, all the supposed sacrifices Cloud makes is nigh-pointless because, for many players, at the end of the game, Cloud is filthy rich and has a stockpile of Materia capable of annihilating the Planet. The very mechanics of the game reward players for being everything that he claims heroes are not, which is what makes whatever heroism Cloud might possess in the story irrelevant.

In short, while Cloud may be a hero in the story (that subject is tangential to the actual point TAG makes), you the player are not because the mechanics of the game reward you for being greedy and power-hungry, ultimately making any morality in the story hollow and hypocritical.

edit: I know that I repeated myself, but I wanted to make my point in a couple different ways so as not to be misunderstood. ;)

Eshvoide
01-20-2010, 09:17 PM
Interesting topic... but I dunno if I want to reply... there's so much I do want to talk about, but there's no chance that I can get what's really in my head on paper is the problem... I'm terrible with psychological stuff.

Are you the type of gamer that wants everything in the game HAS TO OFFER making you godlike or do you speed run it because you really don't have time to get everything in the game. Of course, we can differentiate oh... almightly chain gun versus twig sword, but if we really can't differentiate fantasy and reality... oh, I'll shoot a cobalt nuke up your ass at really range and still live is uh...

But morality wise... there's always more than what it seems as they say. What defines heroism to you? Sacrifice is always one problem that a hero always must endure.

Psycho_Cyan
01-21-2010, 08:58 AM
I think I see where you're coming from, Eshvoide, but I think you're missing The Artful Gamer's point a little bit. His point is that traditionally, the "hero's quest" is a spiritual journey, an internal journey if you will, and that typically, the most spiritual acts are those of self-sacrifice. While some "hero" characters in the plots of some games may commit selfless acts and even make great sacrifices, the very mechanics of these games ultimately make these acts hollow, if not downright hypocritical. This is because the games he questions reward the player for being a power-hungry loot-whore. If you can disconnect the gameplay from the story, then maybe you can marginalize this issue, but considering that the general idea is that you are the character in the game (this is the idea of role-playing), disconnecting the two elements is rather disingenuous.

Enkidoh
01-21-2010, 09:33 AM
The interesting thing about KOTOR and the Star Wars universe in general, is that there is a capacity for a sort of grey morality, making its absence from the first KOTOR game rather sigh-inducing. Take smugglers for instance. Han Solo (initially) is someone who does illegal acts for a living (bad) but later on we discover he has a heart of gold (good). Also, I think KOTOR II is the superior game because it introduces a number of interesting moral concepts among Jedi. The only one I can think of right now off the top of my head (but it is a major one), is the presence of Kreia. At the end of that game I remember her talking about how she accepted neither dogma. She was part of neither the light side or dark. Instead, she was her own side, which had its own interesting point of view with rationalizations and perceptions that made her have her being a part of her own category of the Force. I found this fascinating, which is why I liked the second KOTOR much more than the first. Anyways, my point is that the Star Wars universe definitely has the capacity to escape the rigidly perceived structure of Light Side versus Dark Side, and it is sad that KOTOR II is the ONLY Star Wars game I can think of that manages to escape this sad simplicity.


Actually, you're incorrect about the 'absence' of a neutral alignment in the first Knights of the Old Republic Puddles.

Besides the obvious way of shifting your character's alignment to neutrality by dabbling in small evils or showing the occasional kindness to people, there was also at least one party member who starts out as 'grey' and stays that way in the first KOTOR game - Jolee Bindo, the former Jedi who lived in self-imposed exile in the Shadowlands of Kashyyyk. He even scoffs when your character calls him a 'Jedi', saying he was fed up with the idea of only following 'light side' or 'dark side'. His alignment suitably is grey/neutral, and can use both light and dark powers equally well, just like Kreia in KOTORII.

And speaking of which, there is even a piece of equipment in KOTORII called 'Jolee's Robe' which can only be equipped by Jedi characters with a neutral alignment (the description even refers to Jolee as being a 'Grey Jedi'). I think the utility droid T3-M3 was also neutrally aligned as well.

puddles123
01-21-2010, 10:11 AM
Enkidoh-

There are some exceptions to what I said, but for the most part you have to agree that the first KOTOR failed in regard to allowing a neutral path for your own character, and the story was pretty starkly good versus evil compared to the more murky and complicated story of the sequel.

My issue with the game's morality (and many Bioware games do this) was that the only way to be neutral is to achieve a balance of doing evil things and good things. In my eyes, kissing a baby at one moment then kicking a cat across the room at another aren't the actions of someone who has a neutral outlook on life. It just sounds confused and inconsistent; it is what I perceive as being a terrible gameplay mechanic.

I don't deny that there are the occasional characters or extra pieces of content that help flesh out the game, but I don't think they can overcome what is simply a black and white scenario. Also, doesn't the game actually force you to choose a big good or big bad decision near the end of the game that rigidly forces you towards being totally light or totally dark? There was no allowance for a neutral viewpoint in that scenario...

Let me know if I'm wrong on that though.

rezo
01-21-2010, 02:12 PM
I think I see where you're coming from, Eshvoide, but I think you're missing The Artful Gamer's point a little bit. His point is that traditionally, the "hero's quest" is a spiritual journey, an internal journey if you will, and that typically, the most spiritual acts are those of self-sacrifice. While some "hero" characters in the plots of some games may commit selfless acts and even make great sacrifices, the very mechanics of these games ultimately make these acts hollow, if not downright hypocritical.

How is it hypocritical for a ragtag bunch of homeless people who seem to devote their entire lives to fighting monsters and helping people to acquire newer better weapons to fight monsters with while risking their lives so they can help more people?

Darth Revan
01-21-2010, 03:24 PM
@puddles123

The 'black and white' morality you speak of, is something which does reflect the 'ideal world', that Good people do good things and Bad people do bad things etc etc.

One thing about the Bioware games, specifically Knights of the Old Republic and games Bioware made/released afterwards, did something which we weren't allowed to do in the 'standard RPGs'. Being allowed to choose which path you want to proceed along, whether Good or Evil. RPG's like Final Fantasy VII for example, force you to be Good, no matter what. It's not like you can finish FFVII and say:

"Ok, finished it with Cloud and co., time to play as Sephiroth and Shinra."

That's what I honestly like and enjoy about most of Bioware's games (Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins), is that it's up to me, the Player, to decide which path I want to go and not follow a preset/linear path to only one outcome.

puddles123
01-21-2010, 07:54 PM
@Death's Head -

But earlier Bioware games such as the Baldur's Gate series, Icewind Dale series, and Neverwinter Nights to a certain extent (altho I don't recall if that came out before or after KOTOR), allow you to be neutral, make more "gray area" ethical decisions, and construct a party made out of neutral characters who help cement that ethical standpoint. And arguably do it better, although that veers into more opinion based reasoning.

Hence, from that experience, I expected more with the ethical system of KOTOR. Jade Empire is another offender, imo, as it pretended to an ethical system of differing philosophies (Closed Fist/Open Palm) with interesting explanations, but it just came down to Closed Fist decisions being actively malevolent and Open Palm decisions being obscenely goody two-shoes. Now, I don't think that having options like that open are a bad thing, but when they aren't tempered by more neutral, reasonable, and rational viewpoints, then the game just seems unreal.

Psycho_Cyan
01-21-2010, 09:02 PM
How is it hypocritical for a ragtag bunch of homeless people who seem to devote their entire lives to fighting monsters and helping people to acquire newer better weapons to fight monsters with while risking their lives so they can help more people?

*sigh*

Have you read anything I've written in this thread? Or the article linked in the OP?

Before I continue, I'm not arguing in favor of The Artful Gamer's position--I was just restating what he said because others seem to have misunderstood his point. That being said...

TAG's whole point is that RPG's don't line up with the archetypal "hero story," which was an internal, spiritual journey. Despite any sacrifices the 'hero' character may make throughout the story, the way the game works make these sacrifices seem hollow, particularly when you keep the archetypal hero's journey in mind. By the resolution of the story, the 'hero' is ridiculously wealthy, has probably slept with half a dozen women of ill-repute, and has enough power to blow up large chunks of the world. Not exactly the most 'spiritual' of journeys, eh?

Prak
01-21-2010, 09:37 PM
But earlier Bioware games such as the Baldur's Gate series, Icewind Dale series, and Neverwinter Nights to a certain extent (altho I don't recall if that came out before or after KOTOR), allow you to be neutral, make more "gray area" ethical decisions, and construct a party made out of neutral characters who help cement that ethical standpoint. And arguably do it better, although that veers into more opinion based reasoning.

Subsequent Bioware games to the ones you mentioned, particularly Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, have allowed more "gray area" than KOTOR and Jade Empire. Hell, DA:O didn't even have an alignment system. If Bioware's entire catalog only has two games which only allow black and white morality, they're doing pretty good, I'd say.

rezo
01-22-2010, 05:19 AM
TAG's whole point is that RPG's don't line up with the archetypal "hero story," which was an internal, spiritual journey. Despite any sacrifices the 'hero' character may make throughout the story, the way the game works make these sacrifices seem hollow, particularly when you keep the archetypal hero's journey in mind. By the resolution of the story, the 'hero' is ridiculously wealthy, has probably slept with half a dozen women of ill-repute, and has enough power to blow up large chunks of the world. Not exactly the most 'spiritual' of journeys, eh?

I understand the summary, I was just wondering how characters who clearly are not on a spiritual journey are being hypocritical by not following the tropes of spiritual journeys. But if you don't actually think they were hypocritical and were just repeating someone else's point, that's fine.

puddles123
01-22-2010, 07:27 AM
Prak -

I realize that and I'm not trying to stomp on Bioware's reputation of making games with moral choice. You are right; most of them are good. But for the purpose of my argument in this case (holding forth KOTOR and Jade Empire as examples of moral dissonance, or games built on a moral system which is black and white, and thus unrealistic) I'm dropping the hammer on those two games. Mainly, I'm doing it because KOTOR, at least, is a game that most RPG players have played in their life time, thus it makes good fodder for the discussion at hand.

And that discussion is the gauging of morality in video games and whether it is effective or misguided. As Psycho_Cyan has pointed out (and I think I got the gist of the argument in my earlier posts), the argument put forth by The Artful Gamer is that gameplay and the accrual of loot and powers makes any moral victory hollow given their power and wealth.

What I set out to do in my defense of Final Fantasy VII is point out that the effectiveness of the story and characters overwhelms any sort of moral hollowness that one gets from becoming more and more powerful and wealthy. If one plays the game without too much grinding, one is subjected to a fairly challenging game where the threats you face (Shinra, WEAPONs, Sephiroth) are just as powerful as, or more powerful than, you. Given this equality, I don't see the eventual victory of the protagonists as being hollow.

HOWEVER, the capacity for grinding that exists in all RPGs DOES allow for a system that results in moral hollowness. You won't feel like your victory in any game was earned or meaningful if you lvl to 99 with every character then steamroll the final boss in 5 minutes. So I see what The Artful Gamer is trying to point out.

But I maintain that if you play any RPG as it is meant to be played, then the strength of the story, characters, and complexity of the world are what makes each game brilliant (or not).

Which ends in my points I was making before with regard to KOTOR and Jade Empire failing in these regards (moral complexity and depth).

Psycho_Cyan
01-22-2010, 08:31 AM
I understand the summary, I was just wondering how characters who clearly are not on a spiritual journey are being hypocritical by not following the tropes of spiritual journeys. But if you don't actually think they were hypocritical and were just repeating someone else's point, that's fine.

Okay, fair enough. As far as my opinion on his essay (if that's what it is), I understand his point, but I think his complaint is misplaced. If he wants to feel spiritually fulfilled, then gaming, especially RPG's, is not the entertainment medium for him.



But I maintain that if you play any RPG as it is meant to be played, then the strength of the story, characters, and complexity of the world are what makes each game brilliant (or not).

Many (if not most) jRPG's, especially after FFVII, are chock full of super-powered optional bosses and side quests that have some bearing on the game's plot. Some of these side quests reward players with powerful weapons/spells/etc. Why are these included if we're not meant to play them?

Even if we, as players, were not "meant" to get super-powered like that, the fact remains that the games reward us for going that extra mile. That's an awfully big carrot that you're claiming we're not supposed to follow.

Darth Revan
01-22-2010, 08:49 AM
@Death's Head -

But earlier Bioware games such as the Baldur's Gate series, Icewind Dale series, and Neverwinter Nights to a certain extent (altho I don't recall if that came out before or after KOTOR), allow you to be neutral, make more "gray area" ethical decisions, and construct a party made out of neutral characters who help cement that ethical standpoint. And arguably do it better, although that veers into more opinion based reasoning.

I can't comment on the Baldur's Gate series or the others you mentioned as I haven't played them, but regarding Knights of the Old Republic, the universe, culture etc has already been established in other games, movies, novels, comics etc, therefore Bioware had limitations in the whole 'Good/Evil' to contend with. In those other media, ultimately it comes down to either GOOD or EVIL. No real inbetween, though there are some who are I won't deny that, but in the end it does come down to Good or Evil/ Black or White. Blame George Lucas for that.


Hence, from that experience, I expected more with the ethical system of KOTOR. Jade Empire is another offender, imo, as it pretended to an ethical system of differing philosophies (Closed Fist/Open Palm) with interesting explanations, but it just came down to Closed Fist decisions being actively malevolent and Open Palm decisions being obscenely goody two-shoes. Now, I don't think that having options like that open are a bad thing, but when they aren't tempered by more neutral, reasonable, and rational viewpoints, then the game just seems unreal.

I think the game is unreal WITHOUT the choice for Good or Evil. With games nowadays, there are only one or two outcomes, depending on how the game is made/story is/etc. One outcome, is predominantly Good... the Two outcome is Good storyline or Evil Storyline. Playing a game which would have just a 'Grey'/Neutral ending would be a let down imo as there is no real closure per se.

What would Final Fantasy VII be like, if it ended with no closure with Cloud, Sephiroth and co? (I'm not referring to the whole Compilation of Final Fantasy VII either, just the main game released in 1997.) If that ended with a 'Neutral' option. The Final Fantasy games are quite linear in the fact that you have no other choice but to play the 'Good' path to the end. No Evil path. No Neutral path.

topopoz
01-22-2010, 12:03 PM
I think the game is unreal WITHOUT the choice for Good or Evil.


I think not necessairly, when we read a book do we have to make choices about how to follow the story?...

Keep this topic updated, it's fun to read it. =D

puddles123
01-22-2010, 07:55 PM
@Psycho Cyan -

I acknowledge that there are factors such as side bosses and side quests that give you more enhanced powers or require you to be at an abnormally high level to beat them, but I don't believe that these are the norm. In fact, with Final Fantasy VII, the Ruby and Emerald WEAPONs were put into the game only upon it being sent to an American audience. And these provide a challenge to those particular gamers who feel like they need to explore or complete every inch of the game, which is fine. But they aren't the norm. I ran into one of the WEAPONs by accident during my first playthrough, and avoided them ever since. And the urge to level my characters up to lvl 99 and to achieve perfect materia never was persuasive enough for me to actually do it. I may be presumptuous, but I think that this viewpoint is standard for the "casual gamer", who plays a game when he can for enjoyment but doesn't have the time or inclination to max out his characters or confront bosses that are obscenely powerful and optional. And, like it or not, but the "casual gamer" is the highest population of gamers out there.

Consequently, I see that simply because a game offers a number of options, extra loot, or a leveling ceiling far beyond what is needed to beat the game doesn't mean that people have to do them. I personally think that if I were to do something like this and get all my characters to lvl 99 and beat every side boss and THEN confront Sephiroth at the end, I think my victory would feel hollow to me. Steamrolling the final boss, the end of the story, wouldn't feel right. And this is how I see where The Artful Gamer is coming from. I believe that developers put in extra options into games to keep them diverse and to appeal to those completionists out there, but when it comes down to it, I highly doubt that they expect everyone to do it. I would be surprised if more than 1 in 4 people who played Ocarina of Time did the long sidequest to get Biggoron's Sword, or chose to get all the masks, or all the Gold Skulltulas.

Anyways, my point is that these are carrots for the gamer to follow. But they aren't intended to ensnare every gamer. And, when it comes down to it, I'm pretty damn sure I can say with conviction that every developer spends the majority of their time on the main "quest", the story, the events that help shape the story, the characters within this main story, etc. It is prioritized above the extra carrots. Therefore, when I say that

"I maintain that if you play any RPG as it is meant to be played, then the strength of the story, characters, and complexity of the world are what makes each game brilliant (or not)."

Then that is what I mean =)

@Death's Head -

My complaints about the ethical simplicity of KOTOR stem from the fact that there actually is a hefty amount of Star Wars source material allowing for ethical dilemmas and ethical depth. I used to be a Star Wars nerd myself, and read a good amount of Star Wars books, so I know that, in the books, it isn't all black and white. I could expand on some of the plots, but if you are curious, then I suggest looking up the plot summaries for the books Shatterpoint and Traitor as examples of Star Wars books with fairly deep philosophical and moral dilemmas. And these books came out before KOTOR. Therefore I don't think that they are limited by using Star Wars as their 'universe'. The Star Wars universe has some pretty elaborate and surprisingly complicated viewpoints on ethics, morals, and choices if you look in the right places. And I can't deny that they improved on their Star Wars knowledge with the sequel, which offers far more depth and dilemma. But I won't get into that.

As for your second point, I did not say that pure good and evil choices should be removed entirely. Instead, I stated that a game populated ONLY by pure good and evil choices seemed unreal to me. Here is an example:

Your character meets an ambassador from another realm who wants to seek an audience with the leader of your kingdom about a possible alliance. Here are your options on how to deal with him:

A. Kill him on the spot or undermine him so that you can seek to take over the kingdom without his interference.

B. Assist him in seeing the leader with as little delay as possible so that the kingdom will be ready to face the evil Orks with a new ally.

C. (Various dialog choices giving background on the ambassador and his realm that help you decide on whether you want to take option A or B).

Now this is a great example of how the typical "ethical dilemma" in KOTOR and Jade Empire worked out. You have an evil choice, a good choice, and then background info helping you to make either choice. You also see dilemmas like this in more recent games like Oblivion and Fallout 3. Now I'm not saying that questions like these are bad, and I'm glad that games have them. But I am saying that they are unreal because they tend to ignore more neutral or "gray area" decisions that, for better or worse, you are far more likely to encounter in real life. Take these examples.

D. Offer to help take him to see your leader, but only if he gives you something in return.

E. Reference him to the Duke so that he can do it, as you want to get in his good graces.

F. Tell him that you'll help him out, but purposely delay it so that you can check with intelligence and see if his story and purposes are legitimate.

G. Send him to the Senate instead of your leader, sending them the message that you support them above the leader.

None of these extra choices are clearly good or evil; they are neutral. And this creates ethical complexity and a more realistic array of choices on how to deal with the ambassador.

As for a neutral storyline "not allowing closure", I have to disagree. One could spend the entire storyline of any game choosing to enhance your power or personal status above making obviously benevolent or malevolent decisions because, in real life, doing what is right (or what is evil) is often harder to do than compromising or taking the middle road. But for some reason, games almost always emphasize either a good or evil ending with nothing in between, which doesn't seem very realistic to me.

As for the linearity of Final Fantasy games, I don't find much wrong with that so long as it is pulled off in a believable manner, which I think most of them do. Cloud's journey to find himself is complicated and mentally murky, as well as morally confusing, which helps allow the game's linearity to work in its favor by raising interesting ethical questions such as: is it justified for Cloud to join SOLDIER simply to gain Tifa's affections given the ramifications it has? Most of what I've said above tends to apply more to Western RPGs than JRPGs given the Western RPG tendency to allow a "blank slate" character who develops himself through many 'diverse' ethical decisions.

But in any case, my argument above is why I think there needs to be more neutral or "gray area" options in RPGs of all colors. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

Prak
01-22-2010, 08:31 PM
Shatterpoint and Traitor

Matthew Stover ftw

puddles123
01-22-2010, 09:05 PM
Amen to that. Great author.

If you like, here is some more diversity, although my memory is more hazy when it comes to these particular Star Wars novels as good examples of moral depth in a Star Wars context:

I, Jedi.

Dark Tide I: Onslaught
Dark Tide II: Ruin

Star by Star

Darth Revan
01-23-2010, 02:13 AM
@puddles123


My complaints about the ethical simplicity of KOTOR stem from the fact that there actually is a hefty amount of Star Wars source material allowing for ethical dilemmas and ethical depth. I used to be a Star Wars nerd myself, and read a good amount of Star Wars books, so I know that, in the books, it isn't all black and white. I could expand on some of the plots, but if you are curious, then I suggest looking up the plot summaries for the books Shatterpoint and Traitor as examples of Star Wars books with fairly deep philosophical and moral dilemmas. And these books came out before KOTOR. Therefore I don't think that they are limited by using Star Wars as their 'universe'. The Star Wars universe has some pretty elaborate and surprisingly complicated viewpoints on ethics, morals, and choices if you look in the right places. And I can't deny that they improved on their Star Wars knowledge with the sequel, which offers far more depth and dilemma. But I won't get into that.

I stopped reading the novels after reading Outbound Flight, as they seemed, to me that is, to take too many liberties and also the whole Luke Skywalker and co. has gotten too old. I prefer the Old Republic over the the rest, as there is more history to it than the others, more universe as well as more Jedi/Sith history. I admit, I did enjoy Timothy Zahn's trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force rising and The Last Command)


As for your second point, I did not say that pure good and evil choices should be removed entirely. Instead, I stated that a game populated ONLY by pure good and evil choices seemed unreal to me.

That may be true from your perspective, but to me and probably others, it was something real. Having a 'Grey' alignment offers no real fulfillment imo. Take for example Jolee Bindo from Knights of the Old Republic or Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. True they are Grey Jedi and are not Jedi or Sith aligned, however due to their neutrality they can use both powers from the Light and Dark side, but can't utilize the more powerful aspects of those powers.


As for a neutral storyline "not allowing closure", I have to disagree. One could spend the entire storyline of any game choosing to enhance your power or personal status above making obviously benevolent or malevolent decisions because, in real life, doing what is right (or what is evil) is often harder to do than compromising or taking the middle road. But for some reason, games almost always emphasize either a good or evil ending with nothing in between, which doesn't seem very realistic to me.

I have to disagree with you there. Take a look at most RPG's, even going back to the old AD&D tabletop RPG's. In them, yes you can make a 'Grey character', but ultimately though to get the end of the game (Apart from the old school AD&D games that is, as their ending is determined by the Dungeon/Game Master themself) you are forced into a 'Good' ending.

Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire true have the 'Black and White' morality alignment shift which determines the ending, however Jade Empire does have a 'Grey' ending as well.

The 'Open Palm' ending is your character defeating your former master and freeing the Empire. The 'Closed Fist' ending is your character defeating your former master and taking over the Empire. The 'Grey' ending is your character agrees with your former master, and allows him to kill you and continue to rule the Empire, using your character as a figurehead.


As for the linearity of Final Fantasy games, I don't find much wrong with that so long as it is pulled off in a believable manner, which I think most of them do. Cloud's journey to find himself is complicated and mentally murky, as well as morally confusing, which helps allow the game's linearity to work in its favor by raising interesting ethical questions such as: is it justified for Cloud to join SOLDIER simply to gain Tifa's affections given the ramifications it has? Most of what I've said above tends to apply more to Western RPGs than JRPGs given the Western RPG tendency to allow a "blank slate" character who develops himself through many 'diverse' ethical decisions.

The majority of Final Fantasy games force you to follow only one path. Not evil. Not neutral. Just one. Good. How does that make them superior? No offense intended by my next comment, however I have a feeling that you puddles123 WILL take offense.

In all of your posts here on this forum, you have raved on about how great a game FFVII is, when it's not. I'm not going to derail this thread into a flame match regarding FFVII, but in all honesty Final Fantasy VII is not the epitome of a great game, which you puddles123 believe it to be. Besides, this is all about personal opinion etc. You can think what you want, and I can think what I want. Fair enough?


But in any case, my argument above is why I think there needs to be more neutral or "gray area" options in RPGs of all colors. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

Then send a letter to Bioware, Square-Enix, Konami, Capcom etc, asking them to do so, instead of going on about it here.

:imout:

puddles123
01-23-2010, 03:13 AM
@Death's Head -

- Well if you are interested in reading some damn good Star Wars books, then you could try checking out the ones I mentioned. Even the ones deep in the Yuuzhan Vong "Era" are pretty self-explanatory and don't require previous reading, imo. The Thrawn trilogy was pretty damn good too; I forgot about that one!

- A "gray" alignment may not offer fulfillment, but that isn't really what it is there for. After all, the evil path doesn't offer one fulfillment either. Take Fallout 3, in that game, it is justified and I think fulfilling to spend the entirety of the game making choices that benefit only yourself, but not necessarily hurting others (thus making it neutral), because of the crapsack world it is set in and the fact that all materials, ammo, and weapons are scarce. But, when it comes down to it, it seems like it might be more opinion based than I thought. I thought everyone would want more moral diversity and depth, but if you and probably others are fine with the way these decisions are laid out in games right now, then that's okay too. I am just curious, which is partly why I made this topic to begin with.

- I'm not trying to state that there is any way to get around a game, D&D or otherwise, that forces you down the good path. I'm simply raising the possibility of the rewards of offering other paths that aren't quite as clear-cut as pure good or evil. I hope to see other paths such as this in the future.

- As for that alternate Jade Empire ending you mentioned, I suppose that is an example, although you would have to be a pretty strange person to want to (SPOILER) kill yourself and give up your right to live simply to let your former master rule the world. But, hey, I guess it is nice that they put it in there for diversity's sake.

- I wasn't trying to argue that linear RPGs like Final Fantasy VII are superior to others, I was merely attempting to explain that linear RPGs have rewards of their own, and that moral dilemmas aren't a requirement to having a good game with a good story.

- I don't take offense. And I don't think FFVII is the greatest game ever made. In fact, I don't think it even ranks up near the top when it comes to gameplay. It is the story that I like so much, and the story which I tend to rave about. If you would like to debate that element, then I would be happy to do so on another topic elsewhere, but I just wanted to reiterate my point that I understand that you, and many others, don't like the game. And that's fine.

- Finally, I don't have the inclination to send a letter to the companies. I freely admit that I don't care enough to do so. But the reason I'm discussing these things here because I find it fun to talk about with other gamers on this forum, and to assess their viewpoints on various things. If you find the discussion irrelevant or immaterial, then don't discuss it. I'm cool with that.

Darth Revan
01-23-2010, 03:54 AM
@Death's Head -

- Well if you are interested in reading some damn good Star Wars books, then you could try checking out the ones I mentioned. Even the ones deep in the Yuuzhan Vong "Era" are pretty self-explanatory and don't require previous reading, imo. The Thrawn trilogy was pretty damn good too; I forgot about that one!

I'm not really interested in the novels involving the New Republic or the New Jedi Order tbh. Ever since I got into the Old Republic era, I'm a fan of that era moreso than the other.


- A "gray" alignment may not offer fulfillment, but that isn't really what it is there for. After all, the evil path doesn't offer one fulfillment either. Take Fallout 3, in that game, it is justified and I think fulfilling to spend the entirety of the game making choices that benefit only yourself, but not necessarily hurting others (thus making it neutral), because of the crapsack world it is set in and the fact that all materials, ammo, and weapons are scarce. But, when it comes down to it, it seems like it might be more opinion based than I thought. I thought everyone would want more moral diversity and depth, but if you and probably others are fine with the way these decisions are laid out in games right now, then that's okay too. I am just curious, which is partly why I made this topic to begin with.

Playing as a Sith Lord in Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords, offers one the experience of being on the other side of the coin in comparison to that of a Jedi. Remember each person is different and what they themselves want to experience in a game, may or may not be the same as others.


- I'm not trying to state that there is any way to get around a game, D&D or otherwise, that forces you down the good path. I'm simply raising the possibility of the rewards of offering other paths that aren't quite as clear-cut as pure good or evil. I hope to see other paths such as this in the future.

That's all very well and good, but playing a game which has a neutral outcome, doesn't appeal to me. It may to you or to others, but imo that'd be a cop out.


- As for that alternate Jade Empire ending you mentioned, I suppose that is an example, although you would have to be a pretty strange person to want to (SPOILER) kill yourself and give up your right to live simply to let your former master rule the world. But, hey, I guess it is nice that they put it in there for diversity's sake.

There are plots in the story, which do alter your affinity to either Open Palm or Closed Fist, however to get the 'Grey' ending, it's just a simple choice before the final battle. You could be full Open Palm or Closed Fist, then choose the third option to get the third ending.


- I wasn't trying to argue that linear RPGs like Final Fantasy VII are superior to others, I was merely attempting to explain that linear RPGs have rewards of their own, and that moral dilemmas aren't a requirement to having a good game with a good story.

You make a apt point there, but once again it all boils down to personal opinion of the player themselves, what they want out of the game itself.


- I don't take offense. And I don't think FFVII is the greatest game ever made. In fact, I don't think it even ranks up near the top when it comes to gameplay. It is the story that I like so much, and the story which I tend to rave about. If you would like to debate that element, then I would be happy to do so on another topic elsewhere, but I just wanted to reiterate my point that I understand that you, and many others, don't like the game. And that's fine.

I could respond further to this point, however this is not the relevant thread or sub forum for it. For all Final Fantasy VII matters, the appropriate sub forum is best for that.


- Finally, I don't have the inclination to send a letter to the companies. I freely admit that I don't care enough to do so. But the reason I'm discussing these things here because I find it fun to talk about with other gamers on this forum, and to assess their viewpoints on various things. If you find the discussion irrelevant or immaterial, then don't discuss it. I'm cool with that.

I never stated in my posts that I thought it 'irrelevant or immaterial'. Debates are good, but remember everyone has their own opinion and views, and that it is wise to be mindful and respectful of each person's views.

Vrykolas
01-24-2010, 04:24 AM
I myself have an aversion to playing games where the core thrust seems to be making the player feel powerful and cool, as opposed to telling a story of true significance.

But I think Final Fantasy does behave responsibly with regard to telling such stories. It isn't always made as plain as it might be perhaps, but I think the problem lies more with how easy it is to show dynamic and cool action, against showing the true cost of your actions.

Because fans rarely thank writers for disrupting the 'happy campers' mode of existence that they get into with their parties. They love big dramatic scenes and swirling action, but kill off their favourite characters (NPCs or PCs) and they get very, very upset.

Whatever happens, people still expect to see a happy ending. They want the baddies beaten, the hero and heroine to end up together, the world to be saved... etc etc.

Final Fantasy does trade heavily on the virtues and drawbacks of a life of adventure, as opposed to the drudgery of 'real' life however. In FF7, the party get to experience the thrills and spills of a truly epic quest, living a life of exploration and excitement.

But this is paid for in blood, as Aeris dies. She got to live a life far greater than her meagre existence selling flowers in the smog choked slums of Midgar, but it cost her her life.

This is perhaps not the best example, though. Even though she died, it was a saintly mystical sacrifice kind of deal, with the promise of everlasting peace and existence with the Lifestream and all. Basically, if you had to die, there were worse ways to go. She went on a high as it were.

The question is, does FF do enough to show that wishing for such an exciting life is in effect asking for death and carnage to be rained down upon innocent lives. If you want to be a saviour and a hero, it follows that someone must therefore commit great evil, so you have something to stop.

FF8 is greatly concerned with this question. Seifer Almasy is someone who cannot abide the world he lives in. Filled with restrictions and political realities, he just can't stand it - he wants to be a hero, a knight etc.

And in Edea, he find someone who will let him live the life he wishes were true, rather than the one that is true. As Edea says to the crowd in Deling City, she will take them on a fabulous and terrible adventure, bringing colour to their lives.

And we know that on some level at least, Squall is on board with this. He follows the rules, but more because he has accepted that the world is a joyless and dull place. Speaking to the old man in the news room, he is quietly disgusted and appalled at how ordinary the man's life was.

Does FF do enough to show the penalty of divorcing yourself from reality. Barret for example, reduces the moral implications of what he does to a need to 'Save the Planet', that he's fighting the Shinra because they are evil etc.

He lost his home to Shinra, because he gave in to their 'These are the times; you have to live in the real world' argument about accepting Mako etc. So to escape from this, he lives the life of a freedom fighter, standing up to evil and believing in a greater Good etc.

But he reaps what he sows. He loses his comrades, loses Dyne all over again (who is locked in the same fantasy view of life as he is), and sees the Weapons tear the world apart in a grim mockery of Avalanche's activities. (Like Avalanche, their overkill destroys innocent lives, in their bid to destroy threats to the planet).

In FF12, Vayne and Ashe both want the world to be simpler than it is. They both construct and hunt for ways to bring the other side into open conflict, so things can be decided properly and completely.

Vayne has to scheme to stop Dalmasca from keeping part of its sovereignty, has to draw the rebels into direct confrontation etc. He is symbolic of Bush and Blair, concocting reasons for invasion, reducing complex situations to simple necessities of action.

Ashe also wants this. She wants the Empire to be the villains, so she can feel justified in driving them out. She doesn't want to hear of compromises and problems with stating the facts (as she sees them) that they are wrong and the resistance are right.

She even contemplates the use of nuclear weapons (i.e the stones), because she believes the only thing that should matter is saving her people from an unfair occupation by an Empire that must be and deserve to be, punished.

And yet she is able to step back from this path, seeing that by and large, the Imperial citizens and soldiers are not devils or evil - they are just people. Throughout the game, the imperial soldiers often show that they genuinely do care about the people of Rabanstre, considering them part of the Empire now.

And this redemption applies to Gabranth also for example near the end, finally accepting that he was always siding with the wrong faction, even though his intentions were good.

His real name is Noah after all, and he is symbolic of the biblical figure, ever trying to salvage what can be saved in the direst situations. When the Empire destroy his homeland, he joins them and serves them to best of his ability, reasoning that something must continue or Landis' fate will have been for nothing.

Not all RPGs tell a truly substantial story, but FF usually does. Western RPGs tend to be more focused on a powerful hero (i.e you), defeating a terrible evil by doing it your way. As such, they tend to be very rewarding to the player, but rather short on lasting significance.

(Dragon Age may allow the option to let another party member defeat the Archdemon for example, but it's a bit of a cheat when that action is letting your character live, rather than die a painful death).

But to a large extent, games like KOTOR give as much as you are willing to put into them. The games are getting increasingly sophisticated in allowing you to play your character the way you want and having the game appear to cater for the particular telling of the story you have in mind.

They encourage you to make your own narrative and fill in the blanks (because as much as they try, they can't cover absolutely every eventuality).

In KOTOR 1 for example, I chose to play as someone who didn't care much for Jedis and disliked the idea of them. Even after having to become one, I refused to use the powers and trappings of the Jedi, reasoning that my character was going through a crisis of self.

I'm a huge fan of detective fiction, so I'd already sussed the twist, basically immediately (no bragging - it's just that 'Tec fiction teaches you all the tricks to be able to spot these things coming).

And it ended up fitting quite nicely, as after the revelation, my character had to accept who he was and take up the lightsaber etc.

A bit of imagination and a willingness to absorb myself in a game world that Bioware had obviously put a lot of work into, made the game a hugely enjoyable experience. (This is one of the most important aspects of any game for me - did the developers try, or did they just crank out any old rubbish).

I helped people out, because so long as it seems even remotely plausible, I genuinely wanted to help people. And the situations were pretty good (although I agree that KOTOR 2 is far superior - it's just a shame that it is so riddled with bugs and unfinished, as what is there, is excellent).

Anyway, my point is that many (but certainly not all) RPGs offer a story that is truly satisfying for the soul, if you care to look for it. It is to FF's credit that the high production values of the series (visuals, smooth running mechanics, voice acting etc) which aid credibiltiy are usually supported with a strong story and message.

But it is escapism at the end of the day. They are far more lenient on thieves than they probably should be for example, painting them and pirates as romantic figures of freedom, rather than criminals.

They are often too forgiving of the 'tragic villains', purposely making the world's authorties villainous and/or stupidly neglectful, to lend credence to the villain's insistence that 'all life is shit and needs to end'.

(Take Saren and the Citadel Council for example in Mass Effect - could they make the Council seem any less like a bunch of jerks, whilst Saren is all cool and tragic and even takes his own life in a final moment of redemption... etc etc.)

But this is nothing new. People love Supervillains, because they do the things that marginalised kids who feel the world is unfair, dream of doing (although hopefully they grow out of it!)

Consider how many memorable SuperVillains there are, compared to Superheroes. I don't read comics, but I can still probably name the all-time top 5 of Heroes. Because there are so few heroes that capture the public's imagination, compared to the villains.

The extent they apologise for their villains is hilarious. Seifer sets armed troops on schoolkids, bombs another school, killing who knows how many innocents, tortures prisoners, aids in the assasination of a head of state (Vinzer Deling), tries to sacrifice Rinoa etc etc.

And what is his punishment according to the end sequence? He's thrown out of school! And that's it, apparently! And what about Reno, who drops the plate on all those people? His justification is 'It's our job'.

I'm sorry, but that sounds suspiciously like 'I was just following orders'... And yet everyone thinks he's the coolest thing since sliced bread...

And again, most of the time, the heroes will win big and won't suffer any losses that are too great for the audience to bear. So the message that this kind of adventure can be harmful is often lost on people.

Yeah, Zidane and Garnet are together... What's that? Terra, Lindblum, Cleyra, Burmecia got destroyed, millions dead... Never mind - we had all those cool cutscenes and even Steiner and Beatrix are together.. yaay!

You get the point. People are happy to see death and destruction on a massive scale, so long as no-one they really like gets killed and the heroes win in the end.

People have certain expectations and needs. Without completely disabusing them of these (and in fact abusing them by killing people you know they'll like etc), it's hard to say that you've told a truly significant and worthy story.

They expect to see youthful heroes standing up to 'The Man' (who they also expect to be 'getting on people's backs'), they want the hard/soulful villain who actually has a point when you look at it their way etc etc.

It's a trade-off, but one that FF does very well.

puddles123
01-24-2010, 08:14 AM
@Vyrkolas-

Wow, the size of that post made me boggle. I did read it all, though, and it was very interesting. Thank you, and welcome to the forums!

Here are what I regarded as being your major points (correct me if I'm wrong):

- "Does FF do enough to show that wishing for such an exciting life is in effect asking for death and carnage to be rained down upon innocent lives? If you want to be a saviour and a hero, it follows that someone must therefore commit great evil, so you have something to stop."

- "Games like KOTOR give as much as you are willing to put into them. The games are getting increasingly sophisticated in allowing you to play your character the way you want and having the game appear to cater for the particular telling of the story you have in mind."

- "They (games) are far more lenient on thieves than they probably should be for example, painting them and pirates as romantic figures of freedom, rather than criminals. Games are often too forgiving of the 'tragic villains', purposely making the world's authorties villainous and/or stupidly neglectful, to lend credence to the villain's insistence that 'all life is shit and needs to end'."

- "People have certain expectations and needs. Without completely disabusing them of these (and in fact abusing them by killing people you know they'll like etc), it's hard to say that you've told a truly significant and worthy story. They expect to see youthful heroes standing up to 'The Man' (who they also expect to be 'getting on people's backs'), they want the hard/soulful villain who actually has a point when you look at it their way etc etc."

And now that I've taken the time to read and summarize what I've derived from your post, I'm going to have to actually write what I thought of it tomorrow, as I just don't have time tonight.

But once again, thanks for the effort, and welcome to the forums!

Vrykolas
01-24-2010, 01:32 PM
Tally ho! Cheers for that, and hello to thee (and everyone else of course!)

Ah, you've noticed about the length of my posts... I'm afraid my posts are often huge. I operate strictly on a 'talk until you feel you've said what you came to say' policy.

Sometimes, it doesn't take long; others time... it does. I've learned to accept that it's how I operate and I just have to hope that on any given day, it doesn't irritate too many people!

I'm interested in hearing what you have to say in reply. I would only reinforce that on the last point of mine that you mentioned, Final Fantasy does often address the need to potentially ruffle feathers to tell a more realistic story.

I just want to make it clear that when I said the desire for adventure etc was wishing destruction etc, I was talking more about the players themselves, rather than the characters. There are characters who feel this way of course (Seifer as I've mentioned), but he is mirroring many gamer's reactions IMO.

The same people who complain that 'nothing happens' in FF12. Well, FF12 was all about stressing how terrible war and conflict are, and that you shouldn't wish for it. Huge explosions and millions dying to terrific powers may get us all fired up with tears and sympathy for the victims, but it's still entertainment. We are happy for it to happen, so we can experience the thrills and chills.

As in FF9 for example. You may say you felt sorry for the world's inhabitants etc, but you enjoyed those cutscenes of mass devestation. Surely if you really cared, you wouldn't want that to happen to them at all. But if it didn't, you'd be as bored as many were with FF12.

It's all ultimately about finding a balance that people can live with. More fun than just the daily grind, but not so far removed from reality that all hell is literally set loose.

Final Fantasy (and many JRPGs) operate on the basis that to get rid of the diabolical forces at work in the work, you have to eradicate the divine too. If demons are banished (Yu Yevon, Seymour etc), then angels must be too (Tidus, Auron, the summons etc).

And this is true for Aeris and Sephiroth as well, of course. Also, heroines are often truly saved by becoming less divine. Yuna survives because she does not have to assume her martyrdom role and can just be an ordinary woman in the new Spira. Edea loses her powers and becomes herself again, able to lead a normal life.

The Godlike figures of Yu Yevon, Necron, Ultimecia etc often combine both angelic and demonic aspects. By getting rid of them, you eradicate both divine and diabolic forces. It's the games way of saying that even in a world with no God, there will still be a point to life. Even without that mystique and magic that belief in a greater plan or higher purpose, we can still find reasons to justify our existence.

But there is always that idea of needing to find an acceptable middle ground between the wild, destructive fantasy of a character like Seifer, Brahne (and say a Sir Spencer or Alfred Ashford from Resident Evil), and the soul crushing drudgery of modern life that threatens to suffocate Squall etc.

Seifer needs to tone down his behaviour and find some way to live in the world. Squall also needs to lighten up and follow Zell, Sephie, Rinoa etc in finding colour and joy in regular life.

You can't have it all your way is what they're saying. You can't have fantastic magics and a life of fabulous adventure, without opening the door to terror and death. You can't just have angels and no demons. Either you accept it all, or you make do without either.

You can live an exciting life if you put your mind to it, is what the games are saying. It might not be the thrill a minute extravaganza you were hoping for, but everyone else shouldn't have to pay the price for doing things your way.

Unlike in western RPGs, where the world routinely pays the price for you doing things your way!

Before I leave, one thing about Bioware's games. I see the issue of morality and the potential hypocrisy in acting just to get 'Goodness' points came up earlier. Now I covered this already really, but here's a further example of how a bit of goodwill helps things along.

Dragon Age took the step of removing morality bonuses and penalties. It did however make your actions impact on follower's opinions of you, which whilst not exactly the same thing, is along the same lines. Regardless, I tried to play true to how my character was (basically, a good and decent person, loyal to her country, but extremely and almost fanatically intolerant of evildoers).

I found that there were lots of quests which I could not accept in good conscience as a player. The Antivan Crows assassin missions, the Rogue's Guild missions etc. And this was awkward, because the game doesn't really penalise a good character for accepting such missions (because there is no morality meter). So it's up to you, will you pass on the extra loot and EXP?

I did, but then I have to wonder that if the game was much harder and these items, EXP etc were more needed, would my high ground stance be able to stand up to scrutiny? But I stuck to my guns and felt much 'cleaner' for having done it, nevertheless.

Now before people start grousing about this, I'm not suggesting that everyone do this. I'm just saying that putting myself firmly in the mindset of my character helped me to make the choice that was right for me. It's an awkward one, because many people will justifiably say that it isn't their fault if the game allows them to profit in unusual ways and they'd be fools not to take advantage of that.

And it's not like I was always fine with this system. I accepted a Mages Collective mission for example, which said that a group of adventurers were going to falsely accuse someone of Blood Magic. Now, I was dubious about this, because it seemed far more likely to me that the person was in fact guilty.

But I gave it the benefit of the doubt and looked into it. I went and met the group and from the way the leader greeted me, it was clear he has no idea what your intentions are. You ask him 'So, where are you lot off to?' and he says they're going to accuse someone of Blood Magic.

Now that seemed very odd to me. These people didn't know me from Adam, and had no reason to lie about what they were doing. It therefore seemed likely to me that they were telling the truth and had seen a Blood Mage. So I let them go.

But the game doesn't reward that at all. It just ends the mission and you get no loot, no EXP, no anything. If I chose to fight, my upstanding warrior would murder a band of very likely innocent, people. And I would not be docked any points for acting in such a dubious manner, plus I'd gain EXP and loot.

I guess you could say it's the very essence of doing good, that it's its own reward etc, but I'm not sure that excuse would satisfy many people for long! I think that however mechanical it seems, you need to put in some kind of incentives for actions of all kinds. It is a game after all.

It's simply not reasonable to leave it to someone's conscience over whether they'll accept missions that garner big rewards and give them nothing in return (i.e if you turned down the Antivan Crows, you could have gotten an offer from a more reputable, more 'Good' group, that you wouldn't get if you accepted the former).

Neutrality is another thing again, but I'll leave that for another time. I will say that the way Mass Effect 2 apparently does things by scoring EXP for missions completed (however you did it) seems a sensible move. It removes the benefit of turning every situation into a bloodbath to earn more EXP (although you'd still miss the loot, although that apparently is also toned down in ME2).

But it still doesn't really help with what missions to accept in the first place.

Anyway, these are thoughts for later hours and days. Thanks for the welcome, Pud.

CC
01-24-2010, 11:16 PM
Welcome Vrykolas! And don't worry, I'm rather long-winded too at times ;) Good thing is, you've got nothing to say that I wouldn't want to read :D

Vrykolas
01-25-2010, 02:36 AM
How do, how do?

Note to self: I met a kind stranger on the road today. We exchanged pleasantries, but were unable to pronounce each other's names! He seemed a nice chap though...

But seriously, cheers for rolling out the welcome mat. The colour's a bit off though. Kind of... neutral.

(Lightbulb switches on above head).

That's right! We were talking about Neutrality in games. And we arrived back at it in a completely non-forced and entirely natural way...

My thoughts on Neutrality in games like those Bioware make are that it should primarily be useful for gaining access to the widest variety of missions.

What I mean is that if you do enough good or bad deeds, word of mouth should spread about you that will close off certain offers of missions etc. I also think that certain types of enemies could be given bonuses when tackling persons of strong Good or Evil alignment etc.

All of which a Neutral person could avoid.

More generally though, by far the most common kind of neutral characters tend to be the archytypal 'Really Hard Man' basic human mercenary.

You know the kind - the honest to goodness sellsword, who will kill for cash. Much beloved by guys of all creeds, colours and ages.

The other most common in my experience is the Thief version of this. The lockpicking, slightly treacherous, 'will backstab for cash' (stop that sniggering) type.

Not very ambitious ideas for characters, I know, but I think we've probably all created many of these 'old faithful' style characters in our time.

But many writers (the ones who actually want to tell a decent story, anyway) often have a problem with the idea of mercs. Many JRPGs revolve around the 'conversion' of thieves and hardcore fighters into heroes, usually through falling in love with assorted heroines and rediscovering their humanity etc etc.

And indeed, it's clear that Bioware would prefer you to be definately Good or Evil. They usually include morality meters and various incentives for being one or the other.

From a writer's point of view, the best thing that can happen when someone reads their work is that they will have a strong reaction to it. That they will feel sufficiently moved to cast their vote in any particular situation to champion an NPCs cause or tell where to go etc etc.

Basically, it's easier to elicit strong emotions from people by hitting them with situations that it is very hard to take a neutral stance about. And even in games like Dragon Age, where you are given more latitude and choices than usual, the main quest areas usually come down to a 'Are you going to be Good or Evil here?' choice.

Because it's all very well saying your character is just a sword for hire. But if someone says 'Will you allow innocent people to be sacrificed to make an army of Golems or not?', it's hard to imagine your character would ask 'Which pays higher?'

Because if he/she did do something like that, you'd have revealed your character to be extraordinarily cold hearted. And that would inform later choices, (assuming you care at all about continuity - some do take a purely mechanical 'which rewards are best in which situations' approach).

It all boils down to the fact that the Bioware writers want you to be involved with the story and not just shrug it off. If you wanted to play that kind of uninvolved merc, you could play dozens and dozens of games to cater for you, at any given time.

Pound for pound, they include far more conversation and dialogue than any other RPG. Just about everyone has a morality problem to be solved that defies a neutral standpoint if the character has any semblance of humanity (it tends to be a choice between saving someone or condemning them).

They do allow for you to be uttery ruthlessly interested in money, but again, the situations they present mean that you would be viewed as a pretty evil person nonetheless.

But then again, Neutrality cannot be so simply categorised. True Neutral is one of the most awkward alignments and guarantees all sorts of oddball ideas for characters. But because they often rely on intensely personal internal logic, it's unreasonable to hold Bioware to account for not catering for these kinds of characters.

(As an example, one of my characters believed in harmonious coexistence between Good and Evil in any particular place. Therefore I would divide my attentions equally between tasks, making sure neither alignment outstripped the others).

'Pshaw!' I hear certain hardcore RPGers cry. 'You call that creative - I spit on thee!' And yes, I'm not saying this is any kind of new character, or even close to being as wacky as some people dream up.

But it is an example of a fairly non-standard approach, that will cause havoc with a game that is trying to gague where you stand.

So ultimately, I can't criticise Bioware too heavily for slanting towards Good and Evil. It often makes the situations you come across seem a bit silly and artifically taking your moral temperature, but they want to tell intensely personal stories that generate intense personal responses from their gamers.

So I think having Neutral characters be able to dip into more varied skills, missions etc is the way to go. The trick is in making sure that all the skills are useful and that there is a real benefit to being able to do that.

Otherwise, I think we just have to accept that Good vs Evil is so omnipresent in storytelling for a good reason. Because it allows powerful stories, that everyone is familiar with.

For is it not written in the Book of Judges... etc etc.

I agree that being able to adopt a neutral standpoint might make for some more interesting stories (as opposed to the standard emotional gut punch ones).

Because most people are of a fairly neutral standpoint and real life usually doesn't require you to make decisions regarding cures for deadly plagues and whether or not to sell crippled orphan kids to slavers, so you can afford a new dagger, around every street corner.

But you'd be going pretty high concept, the more truly realistic in tone you try to make it. Bioware present a fairly plausible illusion of reality, that is quite ridiculous at times, when you stop to think about it.

But it entertains and for all its progressive aspects and non standard storytelling, FF12 for example, often didn't, so...

But hey, don't blame me. I'm taking a neutral stance...

Cheerio for now. (So, do I call him Cant, Mr C, 3x3...?)

puddles123
01-25-2010, 02:55 AM
@Vyrkolas -

So, now I will attempt to address your points (as outlined in my post yesterday) and assess their validity via my own perspective.

Your first point = "Does FF do enough to show that wishing for such an exciting life is in effect asking for death and carnage to be rained down upon innocent lives?"

I think to a certain extent you answer this yourself. With FFXII, you noted that the game's depiction of war and its effect on different races and regions shows that the path of the "adventurer" in this case is quite a dark one, seeking to pass through the toil and struggle of everyday life with the amorphous goal of trying to make things better. In FFVII, I would point out that the game being a deconstruction of a hero shows how twisted and deluded a hero can be, illustrating to the player that being heroic isn't all shining glory. Cloud is depicted as a tough, strong and silent hero for most of the game, until it is revealed that this outlook is a farce; a result of mental genetic tampering by Shinra and psychological manipulation by Sephiroth. In FFVI, (although my memory is hazier on this one) the actions of the main characters permit Kefka to effectively shatter the world; unintended consequences always make a hero seem less so.

In short, I do think that Final Fantasy does enough to show that wishing for the exciting life of a hero is not all glory, victory and adoration. I think that the series does a damn good job of making the hero's victory, or the path to that victory, one laden with tragedy and complexity.

Your second point = "Games like KOTOR give as much as you are willing to put into them."

In other words, you state that one can enjoy games like KOTOR if they do things like roleplay, or get into your character to the point where the structure of the story doesn't matter so much, as your imagination is engaged to the point of filling in the blanks. This, in effect, invalidates everything I've said about KOTOR, ironically, as you are basically saying that, if you allow yourself to enjoy the game by getting mentally involved enough, then any dissonance in the game's plot, characters, or moral system can be overcome.

Now, this isn't really a point one can argue with, but I would like to say that, by including more neutral viewpoints or morally noncommittal decisions, you can enhance your roleplaying further by allowing a greater amount of decisions that match whatever character 'template' you choose to use. You have to admit that purely good and evil options limit what you can do with any character you want to be, so more variety can help the genre. To a certain extent, this is already being done with games such as Dragon Age Origins, which is good. I'm just continuing the argument I began with my attack on KOTOR.

Your third point = "Games are often too forgiving of the 'tragic villains'."


I'm not sure I agree with this. In a sense, this depends on what you mean by "forgiving". Tragic villains almost always have a tragic end, often ending in death at the hands of the protagonist. The tragic villains rarely survive the end of the game. Also, tragic villains are not the norm, even for Final Fantasy games. An example would be Kefka, who has little to no redeeming qualities and yet rips the world asunder.

Anyways, my perception of tragic villains is that they are appreciated by many because you understand where they are coming from. Oftentimes, I believe that those villains that you can empathize with are, in a sense, the most dangerous and the most effective. Those that you can't can be effective, but often aren't. Those villains who just kill people or slap babies because they are the "bad guys" is not good and oh so common. Always active malevolence is a result of bad writing, imo, unless given some sort of legitimate explanation. And this is why tragic villains are so good. If given a legitimate explanation, you have a villain who you can imagine existing in real life, and is thus more terrifying or disturbing because of it.

Your fourth point = "Without completely disabusing people of their expectations, it's hard to say that you've told a truly significant and worthy story."

The context here is your explanation that people expect to see the hero overcome the villain, and are disappointed when their expectations fail. Standing up to the Man, expecting villains you can empathize with, etc.

I also disagree with this. This is the norm in stories, that is true, but those movies and games we find brilliant are those that break this norm. In The Empire Strikes Back, the heroes attempt to stand up to the Man (The Empire) and basically get their butt handed to them at every turn. The movie is often considered the best in the series. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is a villain you cannot empathize with; he is a total psycho devoid of rationality and base morals. It is one of the highest grossing films of all time as a result. That same film also has Batman turned into the 'villain' at the end of the movie, illustrating that the hero doesn't always stay the hero (Two-Face is another relevant figure to this statement). In V for Vendetta, it is unclear whether the hero is a good person or an insane sociopath (this question is even clearer in the comic book), and that movie is largely considered a very good one.

Consequently, I find that companies that try and serve the general public what they expect are able to get by, but it is when movies, books, video games, and entertainment attempt to break or twist the norms that they become brilliant.

EDIT: As a final note, this is optional and just a suggestion, but please try to make your posts a bit shorter. I have a pretty high tolerance and patience for such things, but seeing posts of the size you are continuing to make just exhausts me and makes me want to not bother replying. And if I am getting a bit impatient with posts of that size, then I guarantee that the majority of those on these forums will see the size of the posts and won't even read them. Just a suggestion, and this isn't one that you have to comply with or listen to; I'm just trying to be helpful.

But if we want others to participate in the debate as well, then lets try and make posts so that they aren't massive walls of text that scare others off! =)

Vrykolas
01-25-2010, 03:37 AM
Word up to me Bred'riiiin...

As I stated, Seifer Almasy commits all kinds of atrocities. And the end sequence suggests he has not been punished in any kind of way appropriate to his crimes. He certainly isn't running for cover when he sees the Garden coming and Raijin and Fujin look entirely relaxed.

And Reno is guilty of mass murder, yet nothing happens to him. In fact the characters basically get on fine with him. Now I realise that Barret at least, also fills such a category, but at least the game addresses that (and his excuse holds much more water than Reno's Nuremberg defence).

Kuja also kills how many people (including a whole world!) and we are supposed to say 'Never mind' at the end? A lot of people have problem with authority/father figures etc - we don't all become mass murderers though (well, I didn't anyway...)

As for the standard story thing.
(Feel free to skip this 'Film 2010' bit if you like...)
Taking 'The Dark Knight' as an example, is probably not the best idea. The Joker is someone that people sympathise with, because he goes to war against institutions of all kinds, heroes and criminals. He has that kind of romantic and free, invincible appeal that makes people like the tragic villains.

Where The Dark Knight does succeed, is that the authorities, although generally still depicted as corrupt etc, have at least got Dent and Gordon as good examples.

But the situations are so silly at times that they resemble Bioware and say 24's illusions of reality. It looks real enough, but actually isn't. The Joker's ability to just go anywhere and do anything, because absolutely everyone is corrupt and he has info on everyone is a device of the most artificial nature.

The film also ends with several pretty cheesy sequences, where the convicts show that the good spirit of Man can overcome the blanket corruption that The Joker believes in.

And Batman arrests the Joker, rather than kills him, proving himself to be the Hero etc etc.

Suffice it to say that I don't hold The Dark Knight in anywhere near the same esteem that some people do. I think it's riddled with poor dialogue (I was crying with laughter at the mafia bank manager's speech about honour in criminals being gone, for example).

And the lack of sympathetic characters outside of the core (like Gordon and Dent etc) enable people to more easily side with the Joker and his rampage.

Because its exciting and he's standing up to dreary and boring reality by providing an Edeaesque menace that captures people's imaginations as surely as Jack the Ripper etc (who is hugely popular, considering that he was a vicious, crazed murderer!)

Add in Christian Bale's silly deep throated voice and the selective stupidity of the interrogation scene for example (Batman's costume is designed to look terrifying in dark areas - turn on the lights and he looks like a man in a rubber suit - not to mention that a trained Ninja cannot apparently come up with a better method of cocercion than a simple beating), it was a lacklustre film for me.

And both it and Empire also have the benefit of being middle films. They are made with the clear intention of continuing the storyline at some point. So it's unfair to judge the closed stories of the FF games, against that.

Anyway...
To return to gaming, my point was that the series is very old now and the formula well established. FF12 tried to shake up the formula and tell a different kind of story in a different way, but it didn't go down well with the fans.

Which means they'll probably go back to what they know. I think we both broadly agree that this is not really a bad thing, though. We have some disagreements over what makes a truly substantial story and what is simply catering (understandably) to its target audience.

Your points about post length have been heard and... well, I can't make any promises. I would only say that people are not obliged to read my posts, and can feel free to skip them.

But I don't want to mess up your thread, as it's a good one and you've kept debate going nicely. So I'll just be on my way.

Carry on...

puddles123
01-25-2010, 07:20 PM
@Vyrkolas -

Well, I can't speak to Seifer, as I've never played FF8, but the developers of FF7 seem to hold President Shinra as the one directly responsible for dropping the plate, not Reno. As the plate is dropped in the FMV, the camera lifts up to the Shinra Tower, where President Shinra is quietly watching from above. It is true that Reno is sort of guilty by association, but for the purposes of the game, they punish who they think is responsible, and President Shinra dies shortly after.

As for your take on the Dark Knight, your position on the Joker being a sympathetic villain is, I suppose, a valid one, since you think that is the case (and this can be opinionated). But, for my position, I found myself spellbound by the movie because of how the Joker completely annihilated any sense of safety and order throughout the film. He did this through his devotion to sowing the seeds of chaos wherever he went, and I found myself wishing and hoping that Batman would stop him as quickly as possible, particularly when the Joker started his end gambit forcing people to choose between killing strangers or saving their own. That shit is twisted, and thus I found him to be a villain without any sympathetic qualities or rational appeal at all. But I guess, from where you are standing, you can find those qualities. I'll have to find another example.

American Psycho is a good one, I believe. Largely considered a good movie; part of what makes it so interesting is because the main character operates on a moral playing field of his own devising, making it impossible to empathize with him as he treats other humans as idiots and playthings. That is another movie where I found the villain (himself) to be without any sort of empathetic qualities or "tragic". Not to mention he gets away in the end, when he oh so deserves to be caught.

Another could be that villain from No Country for Old Men. Psychotic killer who you know little about who deserves to be caught but escapes nonetheless. Considered a damn good movie, but he isn't a villain with sympathetic qualities or a bad background or anything. He is just nasty and sadistic.

But these are just thoughts for argument's sake, and I'd be curious to see if you consider those movies to be better examples of how good movies can go against the grain of "tragic villains" and still be considered high quality.

Finally, I'm sorry for attacking the size of your posts. Please see my private message to you in your profile for details.

Vrykolas
01-26-2010, 01:58 AM
Hail to you once more, comrade.

Reno is the one who throws the switch. Not only does he do it, he never shows any remorse over his actions. And his excuse is the exact one that Nazi officers and soldiers used to try to justify their hideous acts in WW2.

The fact that the order doesn't originate with him, counts for something. But he's still guilty of doing the deed. Saying 'it's my job' is no defence at all.

I'm not saying that the party have the moral authority to throw around accusations and get too high and mighty about it (many of them are also criminals and not for trivial offences).

And for this reason, FF7 is one of the few games where I can accept their lenient attitude to a certain extent. It's the fact that Reno and co never express any guilt and that fans tend to think they're cool and great etc, that is unsatisfactory.

Primarily because most of the rest of the character's dubious pasts and actions are explored and thoroughly addressed for the crimes that they are (and said people suffer greatly for them - but Reno et al, get off scot free).

(Again, we are straying into films here. I don't want to belabour this point, but you did ask, so I'll say my piece...)

It is by no means the case that I am alone in liking the Joker. He was ranked #2 in a recent poll of all the Top 100 Comic Supervillains (just behind Magneto). The writeup admitted that he has a huge following and was arguably more interesting than Batman himself.

And though there are many different versions of him in film and comics etc, this following he has, usually stays very strong. But I should point out before I go on, that I actually wasn't all that fussed with him in 'The Dark Knight', but I know many were.

I recognise the qualities that people admire in these kinds of villains (and heroes). It doesn't mean I particularly care for them. In fact, I have grown very, very weary of such characters, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

Basically, whilst I don't support his actions, he does embody many qualities that people in modern society find very allluring. People love their counterculture antiheroes, everything from Aleister Crowley, Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga, to the guerilla artist Banksy etc etc.

If the Joker was actually real and actually attacking your city, then you'd feel differently. But if was attacking another city, chances are you'd still find him fascinatingly horrific.

By standing up to and exposing the vacuity of modern life and taking shots at the status quo, such people garner followings. The Joker is, to quote himself 'A better quality of Villain', a villain that is making their lives more interesting and colorful, rather than doing it because he wants money, sex or whatever.

Again, American Psycho is not an example I would be keen to use (although it is a better one). The film in particular (much moreso than the book) encourages you to like and feel sorry for Patrick.

There is much more humour and he often comes across as an amusingly ridiculous character. The film uses this to set up some extreme scenes too, but they are nowhere even close to being as vicious and awful as the book.

It does want you to think his actions are horrific, but undercuts this by making him a generally amusing and entertaining person to follow around.

The ending in particular encourages you to feel sorry for him. The film (and book) heavily imply that this is all just a fantasy he has had, to flee his utterly banal life.

It strongly, strongly implies that none of this actually happened - it's the midlife crisis of a chronically unhappy man, his soul crushed and sanity threatened by the sheer tedium of modern life.

Bateman is an antihero - he isn't a villain.

Remember that this is just fantasy. People have always rooted for villains in films, books etc, because they do the things that you simply cannot do. It isn't that people actually want to do these things themselves - they just like to see how things would be shaken up, if someone could.

The 'Good is Boring' Trope address the fact that heroes often need a villainous, roguish, militant streak to them, to avoid being considered dull and weak by audiences. People love Darth Vader for example, but they prefer Han Solo over Luke Skywalker.

Villains who actually do harden and disgust people at their actions, are actually quite rare in films. A good example would be John Doe in 'Se7en'. The severity of his crimes, coupled with the cold hatred he has for humanity in general, genuinely chill the heart.

There is nothing romantic or alluring about him. He is a monster and views us as something even worse. Doe believes he is doing good work, but his actions do help us realise that whilst there are many kinds of people we may not care for, we wouldn't want anything like that to happen to them.

The Joker and Bateman entertain us as they commit their crimes. Doe does not do this. So 'Se7en' would be my example.

My point was that films and games etc manipulate our perceptions of these people, to encourage us to forgive them. And it often annoys me, because the victims get swept under the rug. Regardless of what reasons the villains had, they still killed poeple who didn't deserve to die - who is speaking up for them?

Anyway, that's my say well and truly had. I'm not looking to hijack the thread over this - I was just answering your query.

Won't get no trouble from me Guv'na...

CC
01-27-2010, 03:44 AM
(So, do I call him Cant, Mr C, 3x3...?)

Well, feel free to ask me directly if you'd like; you can call me whatever you wish I suppose, but Corey or Center Core work perfectly.

Vrykolas
01-27-2010, 04:09 AM
Cheers for that! (My grasp of Netspeak is truly woeful - I actually thought the 3 was supposed to be an A, for some reason...)

Hey, I put all my attribute stats into Magic and Willpower - didn't have any left for INT...

CC
01-28-2010, 01:15 AM
Oh, don't worry about it. I'm not terribly internet-savvy myself. It just takes time to learn, but you'll go far here, I can tell :D

Vrykolas
01-28-2010, 01:25 AM
Th3t's gre3t! I think I'm getting the h3ng of it, now!

M3n, I c3n't believe I got it mixed up! What a j3ck3ss!

Oh w3it...

...

D3mn...

:D

stephencolbert5
02-17-2010, 08:08 AM
(I don't know how to do quotes. Oh well.)

Psycho Cyan_
"His point is that traditionally, the "hero's quest" is a spiritual journey, an internal journey if you will, and that typically, the most spiritual acts are those of self-sacrifice. While some "hero" characters in the plots of some games may commit selfless acts and even make great sacrifices, the very mechanics of these games ultimately make these acts hollow, if not downright hypocritical. This is because the games he questions reward the player for being a power-hungry loot-whore. If you can disconnect the gameplay from the story, then maybe you can marginalize this issue, but considering that the general idea is that you are the character in the game (this is the idea of role-playing), disconnecting the two elements is rather disingenuous."

This is what it boils down to for me (well said, Psycho Cyan). Since the very beginning when I saw all sorts of (at first glance) silly gameplay stuff like how shopkeepers instantly disintegrate the goods they buy from you, monsters carry around money, some people can get hit one hundred+ times with deadly attacks without suffering nary a scratch, no one minds you robbing them blind, and so on; I've learned to separate gameplay and story entirely (because now, I recognize they are ONLY made this way for gameplay reasons).

I even do the same with story presentation, story, visuals, and audio by mentioning story presentation separately from the others; where I define story presentation as how well the visuals and audio enhance the story, story as what the original screenplay would entail (dialogue, inner-monologue, probably brief stage commands, and probably brief setting descriptions), visuals as any visual entertainment in the game, and audio as any audio in the game (which I then separate into music, sound effects, and if there is any, voice acting).

My ultimate point on this is that there are always different people working on different parts of the same game's creation and that the only way any criticism could be at all helpful is if the critic is clear on precisely where and how things improved or worsened, what one would guess for most players since this is a business, the overall experience with that game. Sure, the project manager coordinates everything into what should be both a functioning and coherent blend of several entertainment forms (gameplay, visual, audio, and (sometimes) story), but everyone must already know it's bad to, most likely, cripple one part of the game's entertainment (in this case, gameplay) only to, most likely, slightly improve or do nothing for another part of the game's entertainment (in this case, story).

Generally, I find gamers often expect too much. Doesn't everyone realize that virtual reality can never become as sufficient or satisfying as actual reality? There will always be a disparity between the two in fulfillment, achievement, freedom, detail, emersion, and so on.

I also find most gamers exhibit the common human behavior of assuming others think and feel the same way you do, which is understandable because it's instinctive human behavior yet more often than not results in erroneous assumptions, and as a result forget that any rpg gamer (avid, casual, contemplative internet poster, etc.) is a minority. Self-centered attitudes seem to run rampant, too, often resulting in the willfull ignorance of how the industry is a business and, thanks to Japan and the U.S. both using captitalism as their economic system, MUST be a business. This combo usually leads to adament and dumb arguments revolving around the false belief that games are only made for one person to play and one person to play alone, which turns most arguments into rubbish. This is not quite what I sense in the initial article, but I almost get this notion from it.

To his credit, however, he has provided, what to me at least is, a new insight into the effects videogames have on real people and the effects videogames can have on real people, which interests me greatly because I center my storywriting goals around influencing real people since real people feel real pain and real death unlike fictional characters. To summarize this: the difference in benefit between entertaining someone and preventing them from making a collosal mistake in real life is tremendous.

IMHO, I don't think the choice has to fall on the player. I think it's just as good for the fictional character to be faced with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other (or preferably, a devil-angel hybrid on both shoulders) as it is for the player to be faced with the same. I'd say inner conflict and a clear progression of event->motive->action that really make characters round instead of flat. I also get the notion some of you are, so to speak, gamers of yore who don't want to admit the rpg genre has picked up an additional grouping to traditional role-playing: simply put, story-driven or story-heavy games. Simply put, meanings of words change like the word rpg but not the word role-playing.

I also want to mention that this, of what I read, has been one of the best and most mature online gaming debates I've seen for years. I like this place.

RedMajesty
02-18-2010, 06:27 PM
As many have said, this does sound like an interesting debate and with so much to digest already, let me see if I get the gist of it:

The modern-day RPG hero's acts of supposed "heroism" are out-weighed by the fact in his journey to be a saviour, he's amassed a considerable amount of wealth and power, turning him essentially from the oppressed into a greedy oppressor?

That can't be right though, because that sounds like... well... war.

But if it is, that would mean in order to be a true hero, you'd need to face your oppressor with whatever your current level of power is? The weak defeat the strong? And whilst journeying to this tyrant, cannot indulge in greed by killing the weak to become stronger or to acquire new loot?

This does sound like some sort of metaphor for war. Where the antagonist is seen as the enemy because we believe the hero's cause is righteous. But the antagonist would be believing his cause is righteous and to them and their lackeys, the protagonists would be the enemy.

The oppression of the weak turns the oppressor into a monster.
Someone pledges to destroy the monster, thus becoming a monster themselves.
Cycle repeats.

Am I looking at this from the wrong perspective?

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