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What is a computer role-playing game and what isn't? How to tell?


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Here is a rather controversial topic on what a role-playing game is and what isn't... What I think of it anyway...

Some people define role-playing (in games) as "acting out a given role", but I think that's not only an insufficient definition, but it would also apply to *all* games that have a single player-controlled character, from Pac-man, to Super Mario, the latest EA sports games. In all those games you are "acting out a given role", but they're not all RPGs.

I can't give you an encyclopedic definition of what a computer role-playing game is, but I think I can tell you a way, well, my way of identifying them. I simply ask this question, "How much of the character I control is of my own making?".

In order to make the character "your own", the game must actively present you with "choices" regarding your character. If these choices aren't present in the game, then it's safe to assume that it's NOT an RPG.

What are those possible choices you need to be presented with to make the character your own? Here are some of the ones I can think of...

  1. Cosmetic choices (e.g. choosing gender, hair style/color, armor/clothing)
  2. Character development choices (e.g. getting a particular trait/perk, investing on a particular skill)
  3. Game-play choices (e.g. handling a problem/quest in multiple different ways (e.g. by peacefully, by stealing, by violence etc.), siding with the faction A or B)

However, just having one or more of these may not be enough to call a game an RPG. It's the amount of variation or difference between all possible player characters is what determines the amount of role-playing possibilities a game provides you with. If the difference is very little, then it's either barely an RPG or not at all.

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