I have been a role-playing gamer for about thirty years and I fell in love with only two systems that I probably can’t name because of article writing guidelines. What I can say is that very few game producing companies have come even close to the pen and paper versions of the best role-playing games on the market, you know, the ones that people actually enjoy playing. I will say that I rejoiced when role-playing games became computerized as it meant I could do my role-playing without the need to hunt for people with similar tastes and even though some games have risen to become great role-playing games, they are sadly few and far between. On that note, of the styles of role-playing games that include pen and paper, computerized games and online games, there is only one type that can meet the fully immersive needs of a role-player and I’ll reveal why later.
Okay, what are the elements of a great role-playing game then?
I’ll give you one at a time but the very most important piece of advice to keep in mind during this whole discussion is immersion. To be a truly great role-playing game, it has to grab the players attention and not deliver diversions that allow the player to slip back into the reality of the real world. The player must be kept in the fictional world if they are to feel that they have experienced a great role-playing game.
One of the most vital elements of immersion is a storyline; a really believable and yet gripping storyline. A role player doesn’t want to load up the newest game and find to their dismay that storyline consists of the flimsy idea that they have to kill heaps of things to get enough experience to kill the apparent bad guy. Who wants to play a game where the bad guy is designated the bad guy without good reason? Have you played a game where you are part of one group of people and you’ve been chosen to defeat the other group of people but there’s no actual evidence that shows why the other group is bad? The worst of these are the recent thug games where one criminal organisation wants to defeat another criminal organisation and you’re the hitman. Who is really that stupid to fall for such a terrible storyline? It’s certainly not for intelligent role-players.
A good storyline can’t be a shallow excuse for a war and it has to be something you’d want to be a part.
The storyline also has to be included in the gameplay itself and delivered in a way that doesn’t interrupt the reality of the gameplay either. There’s nothing worse than a big cut-scene that drops into the middle of the game and makes you sit idle for more than a minute or two. For role-play gamers, the immersion of the game comes from being the character, not from watching the cut-scenes as if you were watching television. What’s next… advertisements?
Another part of a great game play experience is being aware that you have been a part of the fictional world since you were born. This is conveyed by knowing where things are in the world and knowing who the current leaders are, along with knowing current events. This can be done cleverly by feeding snippets of information in a natural manner during conversations with non-player characters. Some extremely vital information can be revealed in otherwise meaningless banter, just like in the world you’re immersed in right now.