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Once Upon A Time:
Computer Roleplaying

By Alex Loke


"Dude, that is so not what human flesh tastes like."

This was about the point at which I decided that it was time to take a break from running a Role-Playing Game. I rode it out, choked back some choice four-letter words, and walked off into the proverbial sunset. Well, technically I got a lift.

By now if you've read any of my previous articles you may have realised I dawdle around for at least three paragraphs before coming to the point. This, being the third paragraph, is merely a waste of space. Thank you for reading it.

Why lie, you use it all the time?

Disillusioned by superfluous bestiality jokes (certainly this was a sentence I was sure I would never use), I began the search for a more satisfying exploration of my imaginative side and I found Computer RPGs. Strike One.

I did have faith once. It may not sound like I did, but it's true. I bought Dangerous Journeys. Let me establish the situation. I did not hand over $5AU to an Asian gentleman in a back-alley computer store in Kuala Lumpur. I did not peruse a full, comprehensive range of non-genuine commercial software before making my decision. I did not smile wickedly at the considerable discount that inevitably comes with any form of illegal activity.

If I had done any of these things, I assure you I would be in a shame/crime/evil spiral that would see me eventually sitting in rehab with N'Sync, spooning shards of broken glass and cocaine into Happy Meals. Well, that is according to the software industry.

So I insert the Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption CD in the appropriate computer hole and am greeted by a pretty little intro screen, which tells me it wants to eat 1.2 gigabytes of my hard drive.

"Damn, this had better be a good game," I thought to myself, fully aware that there were no refunds, especially since due to the efficiency of the Malaysian Police, the pirate was safely behind bars. Hopefully, they're more efficient than the Sarcasm Police who should be busting my door

I'm still here. Wow. Who would have thought?

I soon became Cristof Romanoff, or some such. Well, not so much 'became' as 'became attached' like an ass-boil. No matter where he went, I was on his back, controlling his every movement. There's a double entendre there if you look really hard.

Cristof finds girl, Cristof can't have girl, Cristof becomes pawn in endless war of immortals, girl also becomes pawn, Cristof wakes up in future. Pretty typical story - it looks like the writers Aaron Spelling hired for Kindred: The Disgrace are still working in the field.

Many hours later I emerge, no wiser, having killed some guy who was behind it all. Considering my conversation options of "Raargh" and "Die foul fiend" I challenge anyone to have found a peaceful resolution.

I tried to role-play damn it. I feel real role-playing has plenty to do with individuality, and unless one is allowed to speak for oneself, one is game-playing. Granted, considering the mood I was in, I would have chosen to type "Eat me, man-bitch' over the choice of "Thou art a cur!" I'm sure 'cur' may have been a deadly insult in ages past, but 'man-bitch' floats my boat.

So I picked up Baldur's Gate. This time, they graciously allowed me to create a character and roll up some random statistics. In the tradition of not taking choices of name seriously, Mr. LongWang the Fighter/Thief stepped off the character creation press and into Candlekeep. Apparently I had a 'dark heritage' and I had to discover its nature.

I imagined LongWang to be an average provincial idiot, not so smart (8 Intelligence), not awfully intuitive or wise (8 Wisdom) and really a bit of a prick (8 Charisma). However, he was exceptionally strong (18/98 Strength), quick (18 Dexterity) and heedless to pain (18 Constitution). The first thing that sprung to my, and by extension his mind, was "screw the heritage, it's blackjack and hookers for me!"

I wasn't exactly sure what Ed Greenwood's (the creator of Faerun, where Baldur's Gate is set) equivalent of Vegas was, but I was sure a game that boasted hundreds of hours of role-playing fun would also have a seedier side. There was indeed seedy, but not in the glorious manner that movies like Pretty Woman and Casino would have us believe. In fact, I was expected to clean up these seedy areas. No option or button that said [Lose Self in Wild Crazy Debauchery and Forget Stupid Quest].

Oh, and surprise, surprise, I met some of my first companions in a tavern.

To compound my troubles, my foster sister Imoen snuck along to follow in the quest. Funny how Bioware (the creators of Baldur's Gate) create whiny little NPCs that you honestly want to stab in the face then make you lose reputation when you act on the impulse.

Strike Two.

Computer game companies are now marketing their games as 'Role-Playing Experiences' rather than as 'index finger exercise programs'. What this means is any D&D weenie can buy a computer and say to himself "I'm role-playing!" (don't badger me about specific-gender terminology, we all know the truth).

Somehow I feel cheated.

Most of us paid our dues in the hack'n'slash dungeons and emerged wanting to 'be the character' rather than merely tallying the results of their orcish ethnic cleansing. Through this painful evolution, we became role-players - a breed of snobbish tossers who deride all adventurers who meet in taverns over cups then proceed to slaughter everyone within a day's ride who doesn't speak common.

And now, a computer company wants to put Joe Average on the self-same pedestal. Well, we all know what I want to say to that, and it isn't "Thou art a cur!"

I tried to broaden my role-playing experience, this time online, in a multiplayer game - Diablo II (which I was hoping would have a subtitle like 'The Revenge'). Ah, finally to have a true conversation option. Or so I thought. I was happily chatting with a fellow newbie when my Necromancer was attacked. I hardly had the time, or the opportunity to offer the attacking creature the life of my companion for my own, before I carked (dropping my gold in a convenient pile which Phreaker56 proceeded to loot).

An inglorious death indeed, for 1st Level DeadGuyDave, who was earlier seen taunting the 30th level Amazons in the safe areas with "I've had intercourse with all your female relatives. I could take all of you. I just don't feel like it." I'm glad he died before becoming someone's butt-monkey. But then again, it's not as if I could role-play it.

Strike Three, and I'm more out than Oscar Wilde. Don't you hate it when you spend an entire article setting up a joke and it has all the humorous value of Ebola Zaire?"

So what is the nature of my bitch exactly? Well, I am aware of the limits of the modern PC. I am aware of the limits of AI. However, I am violently opposed to the label 'Role-Playing Game' when used in reference to what is essentially a Fighting Fantasy Novel.

If a salesman came to my door and offered me a role-playing game where I was only allowed to follow a specific storyline, was given the choice of three options per conversation, couldn't do what I want when I want all for $99.95AU, I would snap his or her neck and leave them there for the neighbourhood terriers (who I am told, on good authority, go for the genitals first). Pray you aren't the Mormon who comes to my door.

Hypersarcasm has been achieved

Don't misunderstand, I love staring at a computer screen and piling up corpses (bzzt....Scanning for Sarcasm....None's getting hard, even for me, to tell when I'm being sarcastic). Maybe I'm just old, bitter and very possessive about the manner in which my favourite hobby is used by a giant corporation for profit. I am in no way alluding to the manner in which Hasbro Inc manages its subsidiary companies, nor was I threatened with any legal action in providing this statement. I am in no way affiliated with WotC and withdraw any previous inflammatory statements forthwith.

As a friendly rider to this article, I'll add the following strategy guide to Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption.

Click-click-click-click click-click. Repeat.

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