Role-playing games are a cornerstone in the video game industry. RPG games have found a niche that few other games can fulfill — one that emphasizes story over cinematics, and strategy over gameplay. Play an RPG, and you will be challenged to find solutions to problems you never thought you would have to face.
The worlds that surround most RPGs also ensnare their players. You’re bound to lose yourself in the world of Divinity: Original Sin, or in a science-fiction themed RPG like Destiny. It’s hard not to appreciate the work that goes into making a place believable and immersive.
Yet, like almost everything in the video game industry, it didn’t start out that way. RPGs actually have their roots in literature and tabletop games — both field that encourage people to engage with the material instead of passively consuming it. Literature helped RPGs find the themes that they would explore for years to come, and tabletop games gave them their gameplay mechanics.
The origin of RPG video games is a long tale, so keep reading below to learn more about it.
RPG Video Games Are Rooted in Literature
Fantasy and science fiction novels gave RPG video games the themes would explore for decades to come. Writers like R.A. Salvatore, Jack Vance, and Michael Moorcock wrote books that seemed to be pulled straight out of their dreams. They shared similar magical themes about the contrast between good and evil and the nature of a personal quest.
Heroes were people that found themselves on heroic journeys. They became a part of something bigger than themselves, and readers learned what it meant to be a part of a community. And those themes were perfect for games, which needed stories to compel players to engage with quests.
At the time, classic dungeon crawlers were just that: games where players explored dungeons. There was barely any story to them, and players were unconvinced their actions meant something. You can read more about early dungeon crawlers in this review, but the main takeaway is that people wanted more.
RPG Video Games Took Inspiration from Tabletop Games
After fantasy books hit shelves that introduced the world to magical worlds of dragons and wizards, tabletop game creators took note. People craved more out of their games than ones like Monopoly or Chess provided them. They wanted stories and characters they could be invested in.
People wanted to fuse literature and games. In 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson did exactly that by creating the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons, drawing inspiration from literature. The classic tabletop game let people build entire worlds, and let their players explore them.
Gygax and Arneson didn’t know it at the time, but they didn’t just make a tabletop game. They built a way for people to connect with each other in new ways.
The 1980s Saw More Than Pac-Man and Tetris
As more people began playing Dungeons and Dragons, there were other kinds of games that were attracting attention. Video games were emerging as a legitimate form of entertainment. Pac-Man machines filled arcades and movie theaters everywhere, and home consoles were on the verge of hitting the market.
People were introduced to the idea of games as a thing they could get invested in. They didn’t need stories, themes, or characters for people to be entertained by them. Yet, once RPGs brought those things to the video game market, people were enraptured.
Games like Dragon’s Quest placed people into the shoes of heroes they could relate to. The hero’s journey became their own, and countless pounds of quarters were spent trying to beat games in arcades everywhere.
Arcades Brought Gamers Together
Arcades were more than just a place where people could go to spend a few hours playing games. They soon became the arena where gamers would challenge each other for top scores, and it was a place where gamers could to find people like themselves.
Arcades were the place where gaming communities first started developing. The groups of friends that formed in arcades soon grew into a full-fledged gaming community. Then, when companies realized they could make money from gaming enthusiasts, gaming became an industry.
RPGs Found a Role in the Home
Soon, companies like Nintendo and Sega made home consoles people could use to play video games. They were advertised to be arcades you could take home with you. It wasn’t just about the games though; home video game consoles also gave people a chance to form closer connections through video games.
People had to spend actual money in the arcades, which discouraged exploration. Instead, people were focused on simply beating the games they played at arcades, instead of enriching themselves in the stories and themes behind them.
Since home video games didn’t require money to play, gamers finally had a chance to lose themselves in RPG video games. Home consoles gave gamers the opportunity to realize what RPGs could be. And they rarely explored RPGs alone; friends filled living rooms across the world to experience the same story.
RPG Elements Are in Everything
As RPGs spread into the living room, so did the elements that built them. Characters were given leveling trees, and gameplay was never about mindlessly trying to earn a high score. RPG video games made gameplay strategic and expected their players to be able to think about what they were doing.
It forced gamers to engage with games on a deeper level, and as a result, gamers had more fun.
So, other kinds of games adopted RPG elements into their own formulas. RPG video games were directly responsible for the engaging elements that can now be found in genres like FPSs and strategy games. Whenever you upgrade a gun in Call of Duty, you have RPGs to thank.
Imagination, Magic, and Friendship Form RPGs
The crux to understanding RPG video games is simple: they’re about having fun. They seek to take players into new worlds where they can lose themselves in the roles of legendary heroes. And even though they are video games, for the most part, they’re rooted in sophisticated fields like literature.
They were instrumental in creating the gamer identity. They taught people about the value of exploration and discovery and created clear lines between good and evil. The prize at the end was the friends that gamers made along the way.
It was the beginning of a new industry — the gaming industry. And to learn more about the gaming industry, just keep reading here. Our website is always updated with news from all kinds of industries so that you can learn about the news for all your favorite hobbies.