Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 8    February 1999

Sacrificing Your Life to Role-Playing Games

by Adam Trionfo

Is it really worth it? Throwing away hours, days or weeks because of one game? I'm not talking about getting addicted to a game and playing it over and over. I'm talking about a game in which one session lasts for weeks. People brag about playing Final Fantasy VII for 60 hours. What is the appeal of this? Wouldn't it be better to play sixty different games for an hour each?

More people are beginning to play role-playing games. Companies are promoting them because they are finally able to create the worlds that they have always imagined. I could once see their appeal, but no longer. When I was younger, I used to play games like D&D; I was actually quite addicted. It was a good way to pass my free time. Not only that, but traditional RPGs can be great social events. As I've matured, though, I have much less free time. I must split it between family, school and a host of other activities. I could never even play a computerized role-playing game all the way through. My life isn't a lamb: I'm not willing to sacrifice it to the gaming gods.

I always understood why RPGs were underground; there were few people who could bear to sit there in front of games and save them over and over. I never expected RPGs to attain the mainstream status that they have now.

When Zelda was finally released for the N64, I met some people who had beaten it in one week; it took some of them eighty hours apiece. Spending eighty hours in one week on one game is obviously devotion. It is a type that one would think that most people do not possess. But anyone who plays Zelda or Final Fantasy all the way through does have this devotion. Maybe it takes some hardcores longer than others to finally beat these games, but I wonder what they sacrifice in order to do it?

The game companies should know better, too. If a game is sold that someone is going to play for months at a time, that person can't be sold another game for a while. I don't want companies to create games that I get bored of in an hour -- that isn't what I mean. The ideal game, as I've stated countless times, only takes a few minutes to play. Some games that work rather well in this category are shooters and platform games. I am able to complete a wave or level and understand the mechanics in a short while. Basically, I want to be able to play a game as fast as possible so I can get to the next game quickly!

Games like Warcraft II, Starcraft, Quake and Age of Empires are being played by people against other people from all over the world. This isn't a social activity in the common meaning, but it does make the gray matter function just a bit more than playing in an ultimately familiar, preprogrammed scenario.

What can be improved about RPGs? If they are indeed too long, is there anything that can make them more fun to play? The gaming magazines have field days slamming games that "only" take ten to twenty hours to complete. "Where is the replay value?" they ask. If a game has a short quest that can be beat in ten to twenty hours, this will please the gamer who prefers relatively shorter games. Any player who feels that he needs more bang for the buck could continue to play, looking for secrets. Why not add side quests that might be discovered after the game has been beaten? The second quest in the NES Zelda provides another great model (I know -- that's a pseudo-RPG).

Role-playing games would benefit highly from the option for multi-player sessions. Ultima Online is a good step in this direction. Look what happens to these innovators, though: People sue them because they can't always be connected, or because they get kicked off on occasion. If you want something good, you must be prepared to weather the bad that will bring the good. A little patience is in order here. Don't destroy something that holds so much promise.

A major overhaul is required to get the musty smell out of these games. They continue to be little more than hack'n'slash garbage that has the player collecting the next item so that the item after that can be obtained. Right now, role-playing games are like books, except that you can't skip past the boring parts. -- AT