For a long time I, like many others, have been looking at immersion almost like a mandatory element in most games. I've always liked the concept of RPGs without being really an RPG player, the idea of building my own character, choosing their aspect, their skills and their personality (and making up a background to justify all of that just for the sake of doing it, if there's enough room in the story) looked to me like the coolest thing you could do in a game.
It started when I was a kid (don't leave yet! I'm not gonna tell you the story of my life!), every game I played I was so absorbed it the universe I would do dumb things like going back to places where i captured a Pokémon so they could feel at home, or making up background stories for all the characters I didn't know in Smash Bros and give them a reason to fight each other, I was basically doing what every kid does when they play with regular toys or, if you prefer, I was roleplaying. As I got older I started to play games differently. The narrative and immersive aspects were still important to me, but without the magic I think, I just started looking at games and analyse them as an artistic mean and a product (nothing wrong with that, it be clear), less as an experience.
Fast forward a little bit, I find out some people roleplay while playing videogames. A new world of possibilities arises and I start roleplaying in every RPG I laid my hands on. Problem is, I'm not actually having a good time. Roleplaying feels more like a chore, something that limits my playstyle rather then the expression of said playstyle, and so I gradually give up.
I think most games aren't meant for roleplaying, most RPGs are RPGs just because of number crunching (please lets not go down the what-makes-an-RPG-an-RPG rabbit hole), and the ones with really good writing that give tools to the player so they can "build their own story" often require number crunching because that's still a game, and a game requires a set of rules and challenges and goals and math is the easiest way to achieve it in a game like that (like, I tried Divinity Original Sin, and while it's awesome how much freedom it gives you, I'm just too dumb to keep up with all the stats, equipment and party management actually it really gives you a lot of freedom, I kinda want to pick it up again).
Recently though, I played a game that totally changed my way of looking at roleplaying/immersion/creating-your-own-adventure: Breath of the Wild. I'm not gonna tell you what makes that game awesome or explain how it achieves giving the player sense of freedom (well, actual freedom tbh) and that "personal adventure" feeling, I just want to say that given its structure it really allows you to create a series of
head-ganons head-canons about what you do. I'll elaborate: playing BOTW I found myself narrating what I did to myself like a story. If I defeated a bunch of bokoblins with a stick it would become the story of how Link had to find shelter from the rain to light a fire and found a skull camp (for the ones who didn't play the game, they're basically huge skulls in which monsters live) full of enemies, so he bravely beat a couple of them, stole their weapons to kill the others and finally had some rest in front of a campfire, sheltered from rain. Same goes for less heroic activities like selling stuff: I imagine Link being broke and starting wandering around to sell lots of junk to the first merchant he sees, usually Beadle who's enthusiastic to see him because half of his goods are bought from Link. I know it sounds silly, but it was great to actually play a game like a game and, at the same time, have a great story that felt like it was my story. (Also, slightly OT, but am I the only one who didn't feel like I was playing as Link, but more with Link, as if he was my fellow traveler?).
Of course you can't do that in many games, BOTW allows you to have your story because it almost has no story and, more importantly, no dialogue choices (I mean, you can choose to be serious or tell a pun and stuff like that, but it'll never affect the story in any way). However, it put me in a different mind set, maybe I don't need to actively roleplay to actually roleplay?
So, recently I picked up one of my favorite games of all time: Fallout New Vegas. I played it several times in the past but finished it just once (fun fact: that one time where I did finish it was the only time I haven't roleplayed). I downloaded it, installed a bunch of graphics and QOL mods, create my character and, for the first time in a while, I didn't come up with an actual character, I just asked myself how I wanted to play. Do I want to shoot a lot? Talk a lot? Sneak a lot? Maybe I want to craft stuff for the first time in this game? Then I decided I would play a mostly good character and jumped right into the game. Boy am I having a good time! For the first time in while in a game like this I'm actually playing while also having a narrative-satisfying experience with a character that feels coherent to his actions most of the time without feeling restricted by him. Yeah, I'm a good-harted, charismatic nerd with a love for justice and equality, but I so want all those plasma guns and I'm too broke, so I'm just gonna kill the Van Graffs and steal their weapons because I freaking want to. Wow, the Legion isn't attacking me, would it be morally correct to kill those legionaries? Fuck it, they got good weapons for my lvl 3 character that I can steal.
I basically discovered that not every playthrough has to have a perfectly coherent narrative, and that gamey doesn't necessarily mean bad if it's fun.
I don't know, maybe I got roleplaying all wrong, maybe I'm doing it wrong right now, probably there's no right or wrong way as long as you have fun. Point of this post is, how do you roleplay? How do you fill that gap between game and story? What games do you think manage to deliver a good "fluid" story while also being fun and coherent, and what systems do you think might help developers achieve that more easily? And last but not least, why do I see al this hate towards gamey mechanics and all this need for immersion on this sub?
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