In fevered anticipation of the upcoming Game Masters exhibition I gleefully offered to write about the evolution of Role Playing Games (RPGs). How naïve I was to think that anything short of a thesis would cover this so, I’ll keep it simple and touch on the genre’s gameplay milestones.
Before we get into that, let me start with the basics. An RPG, to put it simply, is a game where the player takes the role of a central character and acts out said character in a fictional setting.
Of course role-playing predates computers. Prior to 1981 the genre was largely tabletop. Taking place in mainly social settings, participants dressed up as elves/orcs/dwarves etc., rolled dice and battled foes sent by an omnipresent game master (think Dungeons and Dragons and you’ll get the gist).
So what happened in 1981? The groundbreaking Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness was released, bringing RPGs to computers, marking a turning point for the development of the genre and the games that followed.
‘Sandbox’ or ‘open world’, are free roam games. Characters are thrown into a situation where there are fewer rules and more choices. Like real life, each choice comes with its own limitations, personal developments and consequences. Players therefore experience incidental lessons in morality. This makes for multifaceted, relatable gameplay.
The next notable milestone was in 2007 with the release of Mass Effect. The game’s popularity was due to the fusion of Role-play with First Person Shooter (FPS).
FPS games are from the point of view the character. You are effectively looking out through their eyes, controlling their hands etc. Until Mass Effect, FPS games were reserved for shoot-em-up strategy style games – Savage/Doom/Halo. Mass Effect added a level of realism and, dare I say it, motion sickness to the genre.
Last but by no means least, we must go back to where we began. Ultima Online (16 years after the first Ultima) yielded one of the first in the now popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Player Games (MMORPGs), most notable being World of Warcraft (or WoW).
In MMORPGs, you go online and complete quests with other players. The appeal is somewhat like social networking meets fantasy. You can live a multifaceted second life online complete with friends, foes, loves and dragons.
And that brings us to now. Sounds fun, huh? It’s goddamn addictive, so consider yourself warned.
- Lucy Telford, Facilities Administrator, ACMI