Computer games reviews and ramblings on games and gaming, from a gamer, roleplayer and LARPer.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

What is a CRPG? Part 3

I've talked a little about choices, and in the rambling nature of my discussions, we shall alomst certainly return there. However, this post is about immersion.

There is a theory that states that roleplaying is divisible into three overall philosophies, and all RPGs will contain aspects of all three, and fall somewhere in a triangular chart between them. Likewise, all Roleplayers will have a sweet-spot on that same triangle.

The three philosophies are:
and Immersivist.

Gamism is about the system. It's about balance, fairlness, playing challange, and-a lot of the time- the stats.

Narrativism is focus on storytelling, with a fair chunk of the characterisation involved.

Immersivism looks towards the convincingness of the player experience. Both in the ways the system allows for interaction, and in the audio-visual-tactile presentation of the setting and characters.

When looking for examples, one could say that Bioware tend towards the heavily narrativist, with a substantial quantity of gamist level balancing, 'ability' use, and stat tweaking, and less focus on Immersivism. Although with the Mass Effect series they seem to be balancing out the last two, while keeping their narrativist focus.

The Elder Scrolls and Gothic (disregarding Gothic 4) series both seem to be aiming (with varying degrees of success) for a fairly even balance.

Interestingly though, it's quite rare for something billing itself as a CRPG to focus on Immersivist philosophy except in terms of graphical quality. The Mount and Blade games do, to an extent, but that's about it.

To find true Immersivism, one often has to look outside the official boundaries of the genre.

For example, Grand Theft Auto 4 is not billed as an RPG, yet even without the first-person-POV mod which I use to truly immerse myself in Liberty City it has a great deal of Immersivist roleplay.

Note that you, the player, never get any dialogue options, Nico will say what he says in the script, Nor are you presented with a huge number of options about accepting 'quests' and how they pan out, although ignoring the plot seems like a viable option (I'm not in my playthrough, I'm really rather enjoying the story), which gives you... actually as much if not more control over the plot than most JRPGs at least..

Where you do have a lot of choice is in protagonist Nico Bellic's day to day activities and his relationships with the people in his life. As Nico, you can kill an afternoon in your flat watching (hilariously satirical) TV, you can invite a girl out on a date, hang out with your idiot cousin, go drinking with friends, take in a show, find honest work buy clothes, go for a walk or a drive around the city, mug an old lady in a dark alley (it's a GTA game, after all). You live the chracter's life, in a vast and somewhat realistically presented 'living' city. That's immersive.


  1. Interesting analysis. The original Gamist/Simulationist/Narrativist model was developed by Ron Edwards as a tool to help designers, more than as a way to classify players, but it's definitely useful in that regard. You may be interested to know that the Forge, where this model was proposed, is now working more on a Gamist/Simulationist/Dramatist model, and the difference between them is essentially their answer to the question: what are the rules for?

    In Gamist RPGs, the rules are there to produce interesting and tactical gameplay. For example, D&D 4.

    In Simulationist RPGs, the rules are there to create a model of a living world, that reacts in realistic ways to the PCs. Likely to contain rules for travel times, infection and disease, long lists of equipment, etc. For example, GURPS.

    In Dramatist RPGs, the rules are there to guide the play along certain themes, bringing out thematic elements and guiding a story along a pre-agreed route. Examples of this include Dogs in the Vinyard, Polaris, and My Life With Master.

    Interestingly enough, this section of RPG design tends not to value immersion overmuch; indeed, it was pretty much a dirty word for the past few years in the Forge

  2. Andrew Hawkins2 June 2011 at 14:36

    I get quite perplexed when I find really good CRPGs described as FPS games (GTA and Anything released by Valve that they call an FPS seems to be a good example - Half Life, L4D and Portal) I suspect because they focus very heavily on immersion. (There is a narrative but it's not exactly key to the game and the game-play mechanics are another area they focus heavily on) meanwhile a lot of CRPGs I have played give the illusion of choice but are infact rail-roaded shooters with a skills system tacked on. (Many D&D interpretations and Final Fantasy Spring to mind here)

    So I think you're right and I wonder if "RPG" is the wrong label to stick on games. Maybe "Immersive" or "Narrative focused" or "skill progression" might be more descriptive?

  3. I've never really got on with the GTAs. Well, I say that, but I did get on really well with the immersive elements you describe and the fact that you can perform random mini-micor-missions in a taxi or ambulance.

    The stories and missions? I hate them, and I hated that the game was gated by all these things. It was a sandbox that did its best to make sure you played through a lot of the crap content. (Just Cause 2 nearly fell off the same truck, but rescued itself by both mods, letting you completely free sooner and its stunning gorgeous beauty)

    I like to play games with strength in all those areas, but the ones I think I adore are the ones that strike out deep into immersive and narrative territory. And its ones which take you, as a gamer seriously and are not afraid to treat you like a mature individual (and a mature individual loves fun, japery and all that too of course) rather than a spoiled brat.

    @Andrew - lots of genre descriptions are unhelpful because they're a cross between perspective, mechanics and subject. I think we probably need to use them just as convenient shorthand but they do cause a large number of pointless arguments. They're only imbued with the convenient meaning that we choose to imbue them with, so I guess if you go in depth you just define things more and more. Shame that the masses (and gaming press at large) ignore that.