Roleplaying or playing roles?

Someday, I want to see a poll of the world’s comic book gamers, with just two options: ‘I like playing as Batman’ and ‘I like playing an original, badass ally of the Bat’.

But nobody’s done that, and settling the vote by existing titles’ popularity is flawed – pitting option 1’s 800-pound Arkham gorilla against option 2’s washed-out hunter, DC Universe Online, is a joke.

Yet I passed on games like X-Men Legends and Marvel Heroes. Because those only let you step into existing heroes’ spandex, not design your own (hero, not spandex). Just as I passed on any Lord of the Rings title where you only control canon characters (didn’t hurt that most of them sucked).

I’m a card-carrying voter for option 2, because wearing the skin of a familiar figure just makes me feel strange.

Take Batman: the living, breathing standard of unattainable badassery to all wannabe DC vigilantes. Which angle has the richer potential for a game plot – living the Batman Always Wins meme, or being one of the aforementioned wannabes, rising from alley-rolling amateur to stand with the Bat Family?

Give players ownership of their avatars, in a setting that makes full use of this personalization, and you get a closer approximation of ‘roleplaying’. Not merely ‘playing a role’, which is what you’re doing in the Arkham games.

That being said, honorable mentions must go to rare titles that make you ‘play roles’, yet leave sufficient wiggle room that you still feel the ownership. Like Deus Ex, and the Mass Effect trilogy. I’m sure a lot of folks got pretty attached to their JCs and Shepards, and so did I – even though they’re essentially those games’ Batmen.

So no, I’m not wailing on games where you don’t get to cook up your own avatar. I’m not saying that’s what makes a game great – look at any Elder Scrolls entry, and then any B-grade RPG with a 1-hour chargen sequence, and tell me if there’s any sport in comparing the two.

All I’m saying is, it’d be nice to have a game experience where you decide the protagonist, canon figures take center stage, and player-centric content (like origin stories) is procedurally generated a la Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis or Skyrim’s Radiant systems. And make this single-player. Because online worlds are like bananas in the refrigerator – sooner or later, something makes them go bad.

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2 Responses to “Roleplaying or playing roles?”

  1. […] one of my first posts on this blog, I talked about the difference between ‘roleplaying’ and ‘playing a […]

  2. […] Is it, perhaps, a tad unfair to attribute such freedom for personal storytelling to old games only? Try conjuring up your own rendition of what’s going on in the great adventure titles of yore, especially those littered with FMVs. Not a whole lot of room there. Modern titles may qualify as well, if not too restrained by script and cinematic; not a whole lot of room either in, say, Diablo III or Dishonored where protagonists are given so much background and exposition, players are made to feel less that they are roleplaying, and more that they are playing a role. […]

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