See. The big advance in FFX, as far as the series goes, is in narrative and all that it relates to. The game system underneath is just the same as always — one that leads you to dissect it in such a way as you do; to think about its characters and overall world in Pokemon terms. Some of the relative sophistication is dulled by holding back and masking the player’s involvement with Game, lowering the relationship between player and character to trainer and racing pony.
That ain’t a healthy relationship. It’s akin to the horce-race coverage of local elections that you will see on the news. The point isn’t who’s ahead, and what numbers they can come up with; the point is the issues at stake, that have a broad or specific effect upon us, upon our world.
What is required here is a whole shift of our frame of reference, of our expectations.
The question is, what specifically or generally might illustrate a place to shift it.
As far as the relationship of a character and his world, I like the image of Shenmue, crossed with the likes of Elder Scrolls or Fable. On a level.
How, then — to take that as-is, for the moment — to integrate this with a game system, game world like those in FFXII? What else would be required? To strip away the mask that numbers and statistics and superimposed gimmicks present, and to put yourself in the position of the characters you control and face, what is missing? This is a subtle question; it deals with psychology more than anything. What do we need, to make our lives meaningful, comfortable, believable? What is real, what is false, on an internal level, and why?
The challenge is to come up with some framework which will allow the player to directly channel whatever the answers might be, without the architecture getting in the way, emotionally. This is not a matter of simply taking away the superficial elements that you happen to enjoy, but to be rid of the very reasons why you would want to prop yourself up with them. I’m pretty sure, were such a thing to exist, you would have no reason to lament the loss of the system; rather, when presented with the alternative, you would be wondering why you had been leaning on it for so long.
Me, I don’t have the answers. I’m just watching.
Thing is: if you go back to the origin of these systems, the pen-and-paper RPG, and you play the game correctly, the stats stand in for abstract or complex ideas: how much damage a person can take before dying, and how likely he is to hit a monster; values and properties that would otherwise be difficult to keep track of. The purpose of these statistics is to enable everyone concerned to deal with complex situations and conflicts, which might arise during play. The intended focus is upon the interaction amongst the players: upon picking a role, and thinking within it and within the world presented to you by the narrator — the DM. An RPG is about exploring an alternate life. The rules do not dictate; they empower.
This is, of course, not how people always play it; for many people, the organizational system — a tool which exists to make the experience easier to manage — has become confused with the game itelf, transforming the system into a bureaucratic trap, and the process of playing an unhealthy exercise in tunnel-vision. And that’s the whole problem we’re discussing.
These systems are a convenience; they only exist, in principle, to enhance the core ideals at stake in the experience. If the systems are no longer doing their job correctly, then let’s find a new structure that will work with contemporary technology to address those ideals; that will be a tool instead of a distraction, once more.
The question is raised: “If, however, you remove all of the systems that people have come to associate with the RPG, will a game still be recognizable as such?”
I think so. Again, it all depends on burrowing back down to the essence of what an RPG is trying to illustrate. If it’s there, people will feel it.
A decent comparative model might be our definitions for different genres of fiction: tragedy, comedy, farce. Each of these has a specific definition, which tends to be tied to a certain combination of defined human emotions and certain models of human behavior, desire, and ambition. The colors can be combined in any way you desire, clearly; such is the manner of life.
Nevertheless, there are certain keys to the RPG which are not present in the shooter, in the (closely-related) adventure game, in the platformer. There are certain real human traits that these genres exist to placate, stir, or simply acknowledge. It might be helpful to dig up what these are, if we are to do much of human meaning with this medium. Then we can build with them.
I think I have hit upon why videogames remain an immature form of expression: the focus remains generally upon the method of execution rather than the underlying themes.
In other media, genres are generally classified in terms of what they have to say about life. In videogames, genres tend to be broken down by the actual game mechanics — by the process, rather than the goal. This is rather a shortsighted approach, akin to the way one sees life as a child.
I think this is something to revise, someday.
[For more discussion, see this thread.]