In Which the Esteemed Author Argues with Great Resolve that Elder Scrolls and Fallout Games are not RPGs, and that He Definitely Does Not Cheat

The problem with me and Bethesda games is that they are too awesome. Awesome, not in the sense of being really good, although they often are, but rather in the older definition of the word: denoting magnitude. There’s so much to do in the games that they are no longer simple Role Playing Games (RPGs: those games in which one chooses one’s character and uses it as a guide to react to the environment given to them) but rather sandbox games. This is evidenced by the loose main quest of their last major game Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, as they instead chose to spend energy fleshing out side quests and other aspects of the game. Which is fine, I thoroughly enjoy the game, but as I’ve previously mentioned, this fleshing out causes games such as Fallout 3, New Vegas (not made by Bethesda but it is in the style of F3), and all of the Elder Scrolls games to lose their sense of RP-ness and instead cause me to play as a new character. One not based of personality but rather based on the meta-perspective of me wanting to experience the most game I possibly can.

For instance, when I began playing Fallout New Vegas I modeled my first character after the Joker and began playing in a highly destructive style with all the explosions, mass murder, and betrayal that comes with the territory. However, as the game progressed, and my desire for awesome weaponry and to experience the most exciting quests lead me to look at the Wikia site for instructions as to where to go, and I found myself doing quests to help people that my assumed character normally wouldn’t. Furthermore, in order to use them later as the game progressed, I reigned in my character’s chaotic tendencies to strategically keep people alive that Mr. J normally wouldn’t.

This play style resurfaced when I played Skyrim. My Dark Elf began life as a Wizard-y archetype, roaming the land doing do good Gandalf-y stuff and pretending I was a firebender all over Draugrs’ faces. I soon became the Arch-Mage at the WinterholdCollege, yet I was unsatisfied since 1) I was getting roflstomped by high level dragons because mage characters were totally nerfed when they took out the Make-Your-Own-Spell aspect of the Elder Scrolls game. B.S. And 2) I was missing out on some of the most fun quests and quest lines by keeping my character away from the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. (Who doesn’t have fond memories of dropping the elk’s head on that old dude in Oblivion. Awesome stuff.)

As I began stretching outside of my assumed character, rationalizing it by whatever means I needed (“my dude’s got a darkside w/e”), I began further removing myself from my character as I began strategizing how I would assign Perk points in the future. Eventually I settled on being a heavy-armor wearing ninja, because that’s totally viable if I keep in mind I can invest points later to make my armor weightless. However, this thought process doesn’t seem how a/my Dragonborn would think. (Although with the point-y fingers of the Daedric gauntlets I totally look the Witchking or Sauron. Bitchin’.)

Time passes and I become head of both the stealthy guilds, but I grow weary of weak side quests and wish to again immerse myself in the world of Skyrim, and decide to become head of the Companions guild. At least now I can justify the heavy armor.

And now I’m playing as a vampire in the Dawnguard DLC, even though (SPOILERS in the next independent clause!) blocking out the sun is a terrible idea, just so I can play around with the vampire powers for a while. There’s no longer a common thread to my character’s actions of motivations. I can’t even reasonably explain my character’s choices by saying he seeks to gain more and more power since I can already one-shot a freakin’ dragon with a dagger.

The avid RPer will respond to my issue by saying I could just play multiple characters with differing personalities. If they were smart they’d even point out that the in-game world around me only becomes more unrealistic (“Like the guy in the 7,000 gold coin suit is gunna get arrested for pick pocketing. COME ON!”) as I myself make it unrealistic by playing outside of a reasonable character, and that I as a player worsen the rift by removing myself from the world by gaining extra-universe meta-knowledge of the game as a game by going on the Wiki site for information.

My response the first point is two-fold 1) I don’t necessarily want to take the time to create a new character and do all the intro quests and main quest over again just so I can use a bow instead of magic 2) the game isn’t really set up for multiple characters. The save system and the fact there’s no character select screen on the menu screen suggests to me that the devs didn’t really have that in mind.

My response to the second counterpoint is to say, “Shut your face hole.” (Yes my philosophy degree is going well, why do you ask?)

Another counter-point to my gripe would be to point out that after playing 4 different Bethesda games, I should know what to expect when I begin playing a new game, and that my presupposition that Bethesda games are RPGs is one of ignorance. My response to this is to point out that the studio advertises every new game as an RPG, with taglines such as “immerse yourself in a rich world,” and “choose your character/weapon.” F- that! I just spent 60 bucks on a game (sans DLC) and real life is boring. I choose ALL the weapons, and if I have to choose between my character and the whole world, I will choose the whole world.


-Eric Rosenzweig

  5 comments for “In Which the Esteemed Author Argues with Great Resolve that Elder Scrolls and Fallout Games are not RPGs, and that He Definitely Does Not Cheat

  1. Chocobunnysk
    January 25, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Your post could do with a litte bit of work. First off, the title is too wordy, and not at all interesting. Sure it gets the point across of what you’ll be talking about, but it’s dry and might I say a tad self-important. Then you proceed to cram the text right after the title, and this looks like something one would just take a look at and go “tl;dr”. The whole post is your opinion, you shouldn’t need to put parenthesis, unless this whole thing is to be taken as fact. And if you’re going to use a bulleted or numbered list, make it separated so that: 1) It calls attention to the list. 2) It doesn’t interrupt the flow of a paragraph.

    I’m currently asking Whalen about spoiler tags, so I’m not going to hold that against you. Yet.

    Now as for the actual context, ‘awesome’. If you’re using the current word, it is to, as you said, be really good. But using the etymological definition, it is to have the quality (-some) of inspiring (implied) awe. This does not have anything to do with what you defined as the old word. Now you also define what an RPG is, but you why don’t you give one for sandbox? Now for make-your-own spell, I don’t have any experience in that, but there are mods to add more spells. You know, it’s your own fault you made a character that was supposed to stay away from dark influences. If you decide to bend your character instead of using another character when you feel like being evil, then the fault is yours. You point out holes in your argument, and you respond to it. That is good. But, you say you don’t feel like taking the time to craft a new character, but get bored that your super-bipedal force of nature is just destroying everything. Conflict of interest. Now for the save system, you can’t really do anything about that. So you have a point there. Then you go ahead and just tell your hypothetical opponent to shut up… You don’t need a philosphy degree to tell you what was wrong in your statement.

    If you wanted to play a megalomaniac, then why didn’t you do that in the first place? You say it’s not an RPG, but your ideas on how to play the game do not coincide with what you expect the genre should look like. And if you think real life is boring, then you should go outside more. Seriously, go travel, pick up a hobby, or even take a hike. Those things will do wonders to one’s mood.

  2. nelsondee0085
    January 30, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    “The avid RPer will respond to my issue by saying I could just play multiple characters with differing personalities.”

    Your comment about playing various characters is accurate. Skyrim was one of the games my husband introduced to me as well that was actually fun for a non-gamer like myself to play. I enjoyed the freedom in Skyrim to engage in random side missions and bother random giants roaming the plain. I usually didn’t play the majority of the missions because I was too busy shooting random animals or fighting giants! 🙂

  3. marnold
    January 30, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I would agree with you to the tone of how Bethesda makes their games in sandbox style. However, I would also say that it is possible for both to coexist and to live within each other. Just because it’s a sandbox doesn’t necessarily rule out the fact that it’s a RPG or vice versa. It’s called “Role-Playing” after all based around how you play the game.

    For instance when I first played Skyrim, I decided to go the path of a Battle-Mage; Heavy armor, lots of destructive magic, you know the deal. While yes, this did allow me a lot of flexibility when roaming the world (i.e. allowing me to wield sword or shield in one hand with a spell in the other), I did force myself to maintain a play style. To me, it’s all about the level of commitment a person can make to their character that truly makes their sandbox and RPG.

    I refused to use two handed weapons, and I was far from sneaking around and shooting people with bows. My methods were in your face, destructive and to the point, regardless of the fact that I was doing a mission for the Dark Brotherhood. A small price on my head? It didn’t matter to me. The best weapon I could use was going to be a two handed long-sword? Nope, I was set on putting the next bandit’s face on fire. Because that was my character, and I made the commitment to stick to it regardless. And that is what made my game so fun.

  4. althky
    January 31, 2013 at 11:54 am

    issues:: –in a sandbox game, harder to keep a consistent and assumed character –is it really an RPG if you can’t see it all without breaking your role?

    I don’t know if I agree that Skyrim and similar games are necessarily weakened by their sandbox nature. I’ll certainly concede that if you want to go through every quest-line in the game, you’re most likely going to lose any sense of a consistent character. However, towards that sense of immersion, Skyrim does give you a choice unique to more structured RPG’s; the choice to not do it, and the world goes on. You can ignore any number of questlines and focus only on what seems important to you. You obviously won’t experience the “whole” game, but if your goal is to only do or not do what your character would, the option’s actually pretty much there.

    Though it could be done better!

    Certainly there can and should be more possibilities. There should be consequences to refusing to join the Thieve’s Guild, or the possibility of taking the other side. That, I think, it something of a weakness of such “awesome” games; they much less often explore the “No” option than the “Yes”.

    Nonetheless, I think sandbox RPG’s and really just different to more traditional and structured RPG’s, where sometimes you don’t have any say at all in the story goes and mostly sit along for the ride. Towards playing who you want to, I’d definitely rate Skyrim higher than any game where your only real choice in the matter is what your character’s name is.

  5. Ben
    January 21, 2014 at 12:46 am

    I would argue that fallout is more of a “true” RPG series compared to any of the other contemporary games like mass effect that hold that mantra because of it’s roots in classic table top RPG’s. further more you weren’t playing the game correctly and didn’t have enough resolve to not choose choices in quests that weakened your character

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