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What are RPGs?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Role-playing games (RPGs) have an extensive history, and there are many of these games now that exist in computer and video game format and there are still played in offline manner. They are games in which players assume a role or roles and may work their way through created scenarios, often based on some element of fantasy. These games may have set rules, but there can be interpretation of the rules or free form decision making within the rules. This varies based on the type of games played.

The earliest role-playing games were likely war games, which were developed as far back as the 18th century, and like chess, used pieces to simulate battles played out on a board. Even earlier games existed in the form of freeform or improvisational theater. Another inspiration for this gaming came later in the 1960s, when certain groups chose to hold events to reenact certain periods of history. These included the Society for Creative Anachronism, where people attended events dressed in medieval clothing. Other groups reenacted battles, leaning on history to create accurate representations.

There were several RPGs that explore fantasy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These were precursors to probably one of the best-known role-playing games ever, Dungeons & Dragons (D & D), created by Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax. The game allowed for a dungeon master to either use provided strategies or to create dungeons in which multiple players could enter. Based on the players’ choices and actions various events would occur, and success might be had by completing a trip through a dungeon. Players could chose to be a variety of characters, good or evil, most of them dwelling heavily on fantasy elements, and some players maintained their characters from one adventure to the next.

As D&D grew in popularity, computers and video game systems were becoming increasingly more complex. This ultimately led to the development of many RPG video games, which stole from the popularity of games like D&D. Today video game RPGs are by far some of the most frequently played, though there are still D&D fans and fans of other role-playing games that are played in person.

A number of different types of role-playing games exist. These include the tabletop RPGs like D&D. In contrast to this is live-action role-playing (LARP) where the players don’t simply describe but may act out the role. These usually take place in several rooms or an outdoor space. In computer settings called MUDs (multi-user dungeons) people may participate in virtual reality space and cooperate with other players to complete tasks or achieve goals, and they use an avatar or a character that plays a role to do so.

The term RPG is usually given to video games that have adventure or fantasy elements and allow the person playing to control one or more characters. However, the game system is usually much more defined and limited, and characters have a fixed number of choices, especially in some of the early games. They are nevertheless fun to play, and Dungeon Master or a Final Fantasy game can occupy or perhaps waste many hours. These don’t capture the original spirit of RPGs because they don’t involve interaction with others. Some games have tried to change this like the online game World of Warcraft, which has greatly risen in popularity, and involves interaction with players around the world.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon324851 — On Mar 12, 2013

Games are not the cause of declining grades as you mention, but only on the person of not taking the right amounts of time and needing to work on his skills. Games don't cause declining grades, but the person causes it by not taking time off.

By bigblind — On Jun 03, 2010

The RPG has taken on a whole different role since the rise of internet gaming. World Of Warcraft is so popular among high school and college age kids that some schools have expressed concerns about the links between the game and declining grades. People seem to get addicted to this game on a whole other level than other games. It is not that uncommon for top level players to have spent months worth of hours playing the game. Is it possible for a game to be too fun or involving? If it is, this game is evidence of it.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia...
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