So, in a computer game context, what is roleplay?
I've been pacing around this subject for a while, and rather than blurge all over my personal blog, I thought that it would make a good starting point for the gaming blog I've been thinking of doing for a while now anyway. The main thrust of the argument is essenially my opinion directly opposed that of the denizens of the RPGcodex forum, or at least those I could glean before the smug aggressive tone of that place made it impossible for me to continue reading.
You see, the prevailing theory there seems to be that stats make a game, that there hasn't been a good CRPG since Baldur's Gate and that the option to engage in activities that entail no systemic benefit or major plot advancement is 'LARPing', and that this is for some reason a bad thing.
Needless to say I could not disagree more strongly.
Here's an example: Mass Effect 2 came under fire for having lots of flashy graphics, and a very limited set of stats and weapons available. Now I like chatacter advancement, I have that impulse, and I love the lewts as much as the next geek, but I found this approach liberating, and much more like roleplay as I've come to understand it.
I wasn't obsessively comparing the stats of twelve different pistols, I wasn't waiting for my next level to see if I could get 4% stronger, I was focussing on my missions, on my people, on my interactions with my colleagues and the ramifications of my decisions.
In other words, I was much more immersed in the character than the character sheet. And the very strong graphics just made everything more immediate and visceral. Even being forced to play in third rather than first person (first always being my preference) wasn't enough to diminish the emotional impact of events that occurred around me, events which - even mid-cinematic - I felt my actions had a genuine impact on, even if the majority of my choices were binary.