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May 25, 2024

Movement Across the Globe

The Definition of ‘RPG’

About ten years ago, I was the kind of gal that felt the need to prove my video game cred, so on my personal sites I’d list my favorite games in my profile.

One time I got a message from a guy that said, ‘Hey, do you play anything other than RPGs?’

‘NO,’ I typed back in all caps because I was obnoxious back then, although I didn’t know if that was true.

I hadn’t noticed whether or not all my favorite games had something such as genre in common.

Years later, after a stint in game grad school and some time in the industry, I found myself reflecting on ‘RPGs’ and their actual definition with a best friend that I graduated with.

“It’s an RPG,” Kali said, while we discussed ‘Oxenfree.’

“No, it isn’t,” I’d argued. “It’s in the RPG section of the app store, but it’s really a visual novel.”

“…I’m pretty sure an RPG is any game where you make significant choices that effect the gameplay.”

“I thought it was any game where you collected items and used them to help you along in battles and decided on what characters would fight and whatnot. Like, the original Pokemon games are RPGs, but you’re not making any storyline choices, just deciding who gets to fight when,” I’d said, although probably not as eloquently at the time.

We’d stared at each other as we realized the both of us had degrees in game production, and yet we were at a loss as to what an ‘RPG’ was truly defined as.

We then used our degrees to their full potential, triangulating the answer with all available technology.

We googled it.

‘A role-playing game (RPG) is a genre of video game where the gamer controls a fictional character (or characters) that undertakes a quest in an imaginary world. Defining RPGs is very challenging due to the range of hybrid genres that have RPG elements.’

“Wait,” I said, confused. “Doesn’t that mean like… every game that’s not Tetris or puzzle-based is an RPG?”

“Can’t be,” Kali reasoned. “I refuse to believe Halo is an RPG.”

“…I dunno. According to this, it is. But it says imaginary world specifically… does that mean Halo‘s an RPG but Call of Duty isn’t? Or, like, those World War II board games aren’t RPGs despite all the dice, just because they take place in the ‘real world?'”

“That doesn’t make sense. Look up the definition somewhere else.”

I wikipedia’d it.

‘A role-playing video game (commonly referred to as role-playing game or RPG, as well as computer role-playing game or CRPG) is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character (and/or several party members) immersed in some well-defined world.’

“What do they mean by ‘well-defined’; because I’ve played some games I’d think were slam-dunks for RPGs, but I wouldn’t call their world building anything special,” Kali pointed out.

I didn’t have an answer for that.

We’d started out arguing our own definitions of ‘RPG,’ and it turned out the real definition encompassed both of ours and more.

I’m certain many readers have their own definition, which I’d like to hear, so feel free to comment your opinions below.

Because what is the true definition of an ‘RPG’?

I have no idea.