The Rise of the RPG

How dungeoneering crawled out of the dark ages

Colossal Cave Adventure - C64
Zork I Box Art - Atari ST
Witcher 3 Townscape

Guest essay courtesy of SweetMrGibs

Back in the early Eighties, the general perception of a hardcore role-player was a yellow fingered loner with a level five beard and a penchant for graph paper and Devenish ale. They’d rather roll a die in a darkened room than roll out of the pub at closing time. They were intimately familiar with the works of Tolkien long before Peter Jackson brought them into the public consciousness via the big screen (and they probably disapproved of the exclusion of Tom Bombadil). Dungeons and Dragons provided the ruleset for life, the anchor. Level 42 meant lessons in conjuring, not love and Necromancers were the height of fashion, not New Romantics.

This view was probably unfair – they’d simply chosen a form of escapism different to most others. And anyway, who’s to say what’s more acceptable; venturing to the local park for a game of football, or venturing into an imaginary dungeon looking for imaginary treasure? Regardless, things have changed in recent years… the modern gamer is as likely to pick up the latest Witcher release as they are FIFA 18 – Rooney Hair Transplant Edition. And it’s not just the Witcher series which has risen in popularity; Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Diablo, Mass Effect, Fallout – they have become as well-known as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. So what changed? When did RPGs become a form of mainstream entertainment? Didn’t I get the parchment?

Role Playing Game Dice
Role Playing Game Dice

In the past RPGs were a niche market, outshone and over-whelmed by arcades and the games they spawned. Shoot-‘em ups and racers remained popular throughout the Eighties, but arcades didn’t lend themselves to the more complex nature of RPGs with their persistent stats and ponderous long-term gameplay. However, as gaming platforms became more powerful, they allowed developers to not only render beautifully crafted worlds, but flood them with life, mystery and virtual bodies.

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