Monday, June 20, 2005

The Narrowing Experience of "Experience"

Should have mentioned this one the other day when I read it.

Brian Colishaw's interesting comments on a quite alarming direction he sees Video Role Playing Games headed.

"all video game genres -- sports, fighting, racing, shooters, platform games, puzzle games -- are adopting the essence of the RPG, which is "leveling up." "Leveling up" refers to what RPGers spend most of their play time doing: seeking out and defeating virtual enemies to gain "experience points" ("XP"). When characters have accumulated enough XP, they gain a level ("level up"), which means they also gain statistical improvements, new abilities, and improved equipment.
for a very large and still-growing segment of our population, the leveling-up mode of thinking is a key part of everyday life, of everyday thought. This is troubling, in part because the concept fits all too neatly into the firmly established American myth that any and all competition is good for us... games require and develop particular kinds of strategic, critical thinking. Because RPGs push players constantly to seek and to impersonally conquer "enemies" in order to level up, they develop and reinforce a specific mode of thinking: "I must destroy everyone I encounter, so that I myself may become stronger."

This powerful lesson sinks in more surely and deeply every day, as the in-game definition of what constitutes "experience" narrows farther and farther. That is, the word "experience" in video RPGs continues to grow more and more strictly synonymous with "killing."

Compare video RPGs with their direct ancestors, classic pencil-and-paper RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu, and the ongoing process of narrowing becomes more apparent. The paper-based games support multiple ways to gain experience: killing bad guys, yes, but additionally, solving problems of all kinds posed by the ongoing game narrative, or, as the generic name "role-playing games" suggests, "pure role-playing" -- that is, truly attempting to assume the role of one's character, making choices the character would make regardless of their strategic inconvenience to the player."

The Narrowing Experience of "Experience"
or The PDF Version

Time to dust off the old dice bag and creak open those rules books. At this point, person to person RPG is still da king!

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