RPGs: Playing the reading game

Category: Reading

In our flat, books and comics might rule the kingdom but when it comes to electronic entertainment, games consoles claim the crown.

TV shows, films and music videos are all delivered via Xbox or Playstation apps while the massive majority of our social-sofa hours are devoted to games. Most often and more specifically, RPGs.

Is a good RPG really all that different from those choose your own adventure books I once loved?

My guilty pleasures are the kind of Role Playing Games that invite you to become part of a story or, to some extent, create your own. And while I’ve often felt shamefaced about the number of hours we've racked up in one virtual world (often between 40 and 140), I’ve recently been thinking about the similarities between plot-heavy games and any other kind of storytelling. Is a good RPG really all that different from those choose your own adventure books I once loved (and always cheated at)?

It’s true that these days, computing power has advanced to the stage where all game play dialogue can be provided by actors but many developers choose not to. Even if they do, you generally have the choice to switch subtitles on and then, from the first moment your character begins to interact with the world around you, you’re reading.

Picking up quests, establishing relationships, solving puzzles – these are all ways a gamer might be interacting with the written word. I’d also argue that some games actually force you to read in a more active way than you can get away with when relaxing with a novel. True, the closer attention you pay to a book, the more you’re likely to get out of it, but you’re not likely to fail a mission or find yourself unable to progress the plot because you didn’t pay attention to what you thought was a passing anecdote.

Obviously, some games have more of a focus on storytelling than others. But adventures like the ones found in Ni No Kuni, The Fable, Dark Souls, Final Fantasy or the Dragon Age series all feature twists and turns, character insights and a good story (granted, these tend to follow certain gaming conventions – but most book genres have a few frequently followed ‘guidelines’ of their own).

I wonder if, in a world where our attention is being constantly dragged from one media source to another (oh, hi there Twitter/Outlook/Reddit etc), there’s actually a lot to be said for the kind of immersive experience a good game offers – and whether there are actually far more similarities between well-written RPGs and books than a surface glance might suggest. 

Image credit: http://www.ninokunigame.eu/uk.html


Want to read more about the parallels of reading and gaming?

Check out Matt Whyman's blog Play on: a defence of video games or his suggestions for game-based reading: Great books to read once you've played the video game

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