Save vs Death: article from the fine gaming site State positing that a lack of reliance on stat-crunching and character customisation is killing the computer Role-Playing Game. It had me spluttering with disbelief, mostly at the notion that 2nd Edition AD&D (nostalgically looked back to by the writer) was some kind of paradise of player freedom rather than an illogical hotch-potch put together by rule-obsessed megalomaniacs. My entire referee-ing career was spent trying to persuade people to play the character not the numbers, and I’m delighted if the numbers are playing less of a role in current RPGs. “If you want story, read a book”, suggests the author, provocatively. “If you want stat-juggling, buy a management sim”, I’d reply.

But the guy does have a point in that computer RPGs have been attempting to mimic tabletop games and failing dismally. Removing the numbers in my view will make them fail better, but fail they still will. What initially sold me on AD&D was the promise of a game in which there need not be any winners. Most players took this to mean that there would not be any ending, that characters would just get more and more grossly powerful. But hidden in that promise was also the hope of a different kind of game, where losing would be just as exciting and interesting as winning. My RPG players would often make mistakes on purpose, because that was what their character would have done. More than stat-tweaking, this seems to me the essence of role-playing: understanding an avatar’s flaws as well as powers.

Computer games can now do this a lot more, indeed it’s a selling point of something like Knights Of The Old Republic, where minor PC decisions can lead your character to the light or dark side of the Force. But the simple rewards of dicking about in character and entertaining your fellow players by it are still missing. If computer RPGs are continuing the tradition of tabletop games (and if pushed I’d say they aren’t really) it’s that element they need to soup up, not the stats.