Now that we think about it, aren’t you playing a role in every video game?
You play the role of a plumber who has to save a princess from an army of oddly aggressive turtles. You take up the mantle of a hedgehog who uses his prodigious speed to defeat a mad scientist. You act out the life of a cyborg marine, exploring a weapon shaped like a ringworld. If roleplaying is pretending, then every video game is a roleplaying game.
We know that’s not a useful definition – if every game is an RPG, then the term “RPG” is meaningless.
But the video games that we call RPGs don’t require any more acting or pretending of the player – that’s you, the 18-to-45-year-old white or Asian male holding the controller – than any other games. You don’t have to do improv warm-ups to get “in character” before you play Final Fantasy VII. And if you do, there’s no reason you couldn’t do those same exercises before firing up Gears of War.
In spite of this lack of let’s-pretend, everyone knows there’s a difference between console RPGs and action shooters or platform jumpers. You wouldn’t buy someone Oblivion if they asked for HALO 3, even though both games involve a lot of running, hiding and shooting. Developers and producers market the latest Final Fantasy chapter to different demographics than the latest Call of Duty game. Everyone intuits the distinction, but we can’t quite put it into words.
Well, if Overthinking It has one niche, it’s putting into words a distinction (or a similarity) that nobody saw the need to comment on before. So here we go!