Are you a fan of video games? Do you regularly enjoy franchises like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or the Mana series? If so, even if you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, you probably know more about it than you think! Many classic video games, especially role-playing games (or RPGs), find their roots from tabletop gaming.
If you’ve ever seen the term RNG but didn’t know what it meant, it stands for Random Number Generator, and is essentially the computer equivalent to a dice roll (sound familiar?). In this case, game developers input a possible number range (for example, the number of damage your level four fighter can do to an enemy with his sword) and the computer “rolls the dice” in real time when you attack.
I’m no historian, but I played a lot of video games growing up. In my younger years, games like early installations of the Final Fantasy series had a blank canvas when it came to characters and personalities. This, like D&D, allowed you to fill in the blanks and make up your character’s “role” when playing the game. Even when there were less customization options in the early days of gaming, it was still something you could make your own–because there wasn’t as much specifically laid out for you. Decades later, webcomics like 8-Bit Theater still use this open world of possibilities like a playground, because it allowed for so much freedom and interpretation.
A groundbreaking difference between D&D and Final Fantasy and other RPGs is that instead of just your main character, you have control over the whole party. In that sense, Final Fantasy makes you the DM of your own story. How cool is that? Although you don’t have as much control over the plot as a DM might, the ability to pick the classes and concentrations of the whole cast is such a wild possibility.
In 1992, five years after the original, Final Fantasy V introduced a massive “job” system that allowed you to make your party whatever classes you could possibly want, branching out as the story progressed from typical D&D classes like thieves and barbarians into jobs like gladiators, necromancers, and dancers. To be both the protagonist and the Dungeon Master in a game is a really interesting twist that doesn’t get nearly enough credit!
On the other side of the coin, Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII began concentrating on defining your protagonist’s role in the story. Rather than naming your voiceless character in the beginning of the game, you were given a pre-made protagonist who already had a distinct personality and a major role to play in the plot. Essentially you are given a role to play, which really gives the term role-playing game its name. Characters were also given more dialogue, more intense storylines, and plots with unforeseeable twists, just like in film. Video games today can be mistaken for movies at times, and this is where it all began!
Fast forward to today, where series like Dragon Age, Fable, and Mass Effect advance the world of character personalization by leaps and bounds. Nowadays, you have more control over your character than ever before. You can make critical decisions in the storyline that have severe impacts on not only the plot, but how other characters view your protagonist. Did you decide to kill that captured renegade, or did you give him a second chance to turn a new leaf? (Most importantly, did you kick a lot of innocent chickens in Fable?). These choices often affect your moral alignment, and can have other effects such as what quests are available, down to what armor your character is allowed to wear.
Not only is your moral alignment at your fingertips, but these games also give you significantly more control when it comes to your character’s appearance and physical features. You might think you’re playing a lifestyle simulator, like The Sims, rather than an RPG when you start. Just when you think we’ve reached the pinnacle of game design, and that the most recent game can’t possibly be more detailed, another game is one-up’ed by the next. Cyberpunk 2077 might have gotten flack for being a little glitchy upon release, but it can’t be argued that the character creator is absolutely insane with the amount of details you have control over, from scars and tattoos, to even more “sensitive areas” that might not ever see the light of day. (You might have seen the meme about how in Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar Games really outdid themselves with the realism.) And I for, one, couldn’t be more excited to see where video games take us next.
Until then, players, let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂