Story Games vs. Roleplaying (Purple Daily Quest)

So lately gamers have been squabbling over the relative merits of roleplaying games vs. story games.

Roleplaying games allow you to create a character, who runs through a scenario created by a Game Master. Story games do pretty much the same thing, but the players take on some of the narrative duties.

To me, it’s an interesting false dichotomy. Many games have some narrative control mechanics; this isn’t new. And I can see why a game designer might want to shoot for one or another extreme, the “old school” or “pure narrativism.” But in life, I notice, the more you think there’s “one true way,” the more that will be your prison. Why not just concentrate on making a good game? Maybe there’s some way that’s better than both.

Most game masters I know are interested in suggestions for plot, no matter what they’re running this month. And it’s nice, once in awhile, to be surprised, not to have total control over the story.

I’ve given this a fair amount of thought lately, this narrative control issue, and some of this thought has gone into Broken Symmetry. This isn’t a pure RPG or pure story game. You can have one monolithic Mission Control (Game Master), you can break up the role into one or several Swordmasters, Envoys, and Planetologists, or you can have any mix you want. Play the game the way you want. How you play isn’t as important as having fun playing.

While we split hairs, there’s this elephant in the room. Why don’t we split it? Don’t elephants have hairs? And this wooly mammoth is made of electrons. CRPGs and JRPGs and MMORPGs swindled us out of the term ‘roleplaying game’ when we weren’t looking, and slapped that label on games where you don’t get to choose your gal or guy or hermaphrodite, you don’t get to choose the details of the world, you don’t even get to tell the game master, “screw that, I’m just going to kill Thrall and rule the Horde myself. How do you like them pomegranates?”

Those games are doing it wrong, and we shouldn’t stand for it. After all, ours is the “one true way,” right?

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