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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Role Playing Games are a mainstay genre for video games but there are several different types with different popularity levels; partly depending on where you are when you look at them. Role Playing Games (RPGs as they will be known from here on out) have a myriad amount of sub-genres but right now we’re going to focus on three of the most popular types: Western RPGS, Japanese RPGs (JRPGS), and Strategic RPGs (SRPGS). Examples of each will be given and my explanation as to why they have such different popularity levels.

Strategic RPGs are games that encompass a strategic layer to the battles and often are done in the course of a larger set of battles. Good examples of these games include Final Fantasy Tactics, Record of Agarest War, and Ys with companies such as Aksys making the games. Often the player spends their time battling with the story elements and the role-playing elements being secondary to the battling system.

Japanese RPGs are games that have a uniquely Eastern feel to them. The battle system may be turn-based or a pseudo-real time system. Story has a very large emphasis on it with their being either a very in-depth development system for the characters or one that is largely hands off. Most often, the game will have been released in Japan first and localized to the rest of the world later. Examples of this include the Final Fantasy series (minus Tactics), Dragon Quest series, amongst many others with companies such as Square Enix making the games.

Western RPGs are games that have a uniquely Western feel to them. The battle system will often be real-time and the games will often be in a First/Third Person or Isometric viewpoint. Story has a large emphasis on it but gameplay will often trump it in importance. Most often the game will have been released in the USA or Europe first and will be localized to other languages later. Examples of these games include Baldur’s Gate, Fallout 1 & 2, Fallout 3 (switches from isometric to First/Third Person), and more. Companies that make these games include Bioware, Bethesda, Black Isle, etc.

Each genre of games has its own audience with that audience not being limited to the country of origin. One of the most popular series of games in America happens to be Final Fantasy. These games are some of the most sought after by collectors and regular game players alike with the series up to number fourteen! What is interesting is that a series such as Fallout 3 does not have the same kind of audience in Japan. If you were to look at NPD data for sales of video games in Japan you would not see Fallout even breaching the list. Why is that?

Part of it I believe is the fact that Americans are used to importing and playing games from Japan while the reverse is not necessarily true. For a while the only entertainment systems were ones made and promoted in Japan. You have the entire line of Nintendo systems as well as the Sony systems. Only within the last decade have we had an emergence of systems that are local to the U.S. first with the Microsoft line of consoles. This also means the majority of games were designed with the Japanese people in mind.

If you look at the emergence of gaming systems like the Xbox in Japan you will find that there is a very low adoption rate amongst the population. This means that Western RPGs made on that system have almost no impact on the people there as well. Even factoring in the PC as a major platform, you still have a lower adoption rate amongst those users.

The other reason I believe has to do with the way the story is presented in Western RPGs versus JRPGs. Story is delivered at regular intervals in a JRPG often by having a battle lead into the next part of the story arc. In Final Fantasy for instance, to proceed you generally need to talk to everyone in the area to be given the next quest or obstacle to overcome. This means that the story is doled out in regular intervals, in a very linear fashion. In a game like Fallout 3, story is discovered as you feel like discovering it. This means you may not have a clue as to what to do next since there is not the linearity that you might be used to.

Are these the only two reasons that there is not the same amount of rabid Western RPG fans in Japan as there are in the U.S.? Certainly not! This does provide some basis though to start with if you are interested in making games for either audience. Remember your audience and you will have a successful game!

 

“I would like to purchase the game for my son, please.”

“Sure, Ma’am.” <goes to look at the rating on the game>”Ma’am, are you sure you want this game for them? It is rated Mature, 17+.”

“Oh my, well little Johnny is only 11. Why is it rated Mature?”

“Well that’s because of intense violence, blood and gore, and foul language.”

“Is there any sex in it?”

“Well, no, ma’am, but there is all the rest of it.”

“That’s quite ok. As long as there is no sex in it, it’s fine!”

Now repeat that situation every day for your entire retail career, and you can see a disturbing trend start to appear. Go onto your favorite online game with voice or text chat, and you will see Little Johnny on there, cursing up a storm and not even knowing what he is really saying other than it is inappropriate. Terms like “faggot” and “asshole” and other even more foul expletives fill your headphones from these pre-teens, and it is enough to make you want to give up online gaming. You will also note, as you listen, that these are all AMERICAN children that are spewing the profanities and not our European cousins. Why is that?

Now this is all supposition on my part, but I am quite willing to guess that it’s due to the violence inherent in our culture as Americans. Honestly, who does not like the “action flick” genre of movies or a good Tom Clancy novel where violence is the norm? That’s the issue, that the violence is the norm and not the exception. Let it not be said that violence is a bad thing in and of itself, but only when one is mature enough to understand that it is fictional. It is a similar proposition with language–that the user of the language understands social mores enough to know when the language used in that media is appropriate or inappropriate.

Europeans on the other hand seem to have a much more relaxed attitude to sex, as evidenced by their TV commercials and the shows that air in the EU. Violence, given how much violence has taken place in recent history in Europe, is much more toned down there. Germany, for instance, has a very hard limit on what violence and imagery is allowed in video games released in the country.

Prior to the advent of gaming consoles, the only way to access violence and language at the level where it could influence children was through the strictly controlled entertainment channels at home, such as the TV. These were under much tighter usage restrictions and often the parent was watching TV with their progeny. Now, more often than not, the progeny has their own TV set and, even if they do not have cable hooked up to it, they have a gaming system of some kind. With the ubiquity of high speed internet now, that console is also hooked up online so the children can play with their friends.

This means that parental control and interaction with the child is gone from the equation. No more is the parent monitoring what the child plays and restricting that access to the mature content. Often times, because of the older generation of parents who did not grow up with access to the consoles and their gaming brethren, they assume that the violence and language associated with gaming are on par or less than that on the TV. They do not realize that gaming consoles are not intended just for children any longer, nor that the target demographic for video games is the 16-34 age group.

Thus you end up with kids online who seem to think that having the most creative insults in the world “makes you cool.” These children assume profanity is the norm and that everyone wants to hear it. This is why games thankfully have a private match option and a mute option so that you can stem the tide of the childish/unwanted behavior. It is also why many people avoid playing multiplayer on an otherwise perfectly good game when they do not have these options.

What do we need here? We need more parents who actually investigate what is in a game and not just dismiss gaming as mere child’s play. We need a gaming industry that includes ways for parents to tone down the language and violence in games that Little Johnny just has to have. Several games have allowed you to turn off blood, or turn off language with Brutal Legend being an excellent example of what to do. There needs to be better ways to mute/remove offensive players in multiplayer games; no hiding it in multiple menus or making it available after the game. There is not just one solution to this particular problem.

As the current generation grows up and has kids of their own, hopefully at least the part about parental interaction will increase. There are so many ways to play games with your children that it is entirely possible that the gaming console will dominate the living room like the TV does in its current heyday. You will see it as something that the whole family can enjoy and maybe, just maybe, we can get some civility back into online gaming.

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