How genres shape the impact of a game: Roleplaying Narratives

Genres and what a game means to a player

The use of genres to identify and categorize the content of different forms of art is nothing new, however the change in genre in games can have a massive impact on the gameplay experience.  The differences and defining points of genres within gaming have grown and expanded in recent decades to include all manner of mechanical systems, progression models, and player rewards. Today I will be analyzing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which I feel showcases character building and rich narratives found within the genre of roleplaying games.

Roleplaying narratives

In rpgs like Skyrim, the player is given a rich and detailed world, filled with lore, to discover and become a part of.  The seamless integration of the player into the game world can exist in many different forms, the roleplaying aspects of the game make it so the player does not have to adhere to the intended storyline but rather, can create their own tale.  The player’s expression comes from the combination of selecting which mechanics to focus on with their character as well as narrative choice.     

You can read more about the different playstyles and characters one can make within Skyrim via my character article series which include: Pom Pom the Illusionist, Puck the Prospector, Sandora the Shieldmaiden, and Nicole the Traveling Merchant.

skyrim skill trees.png(Skill tree constellations (Mage Magic, Combat Warrior, Stealth  Thief))

  • Mechanical systems:
    • 18 Skill trees: The mechanics within Skyrim are broken down, primarily into 18 distinct skills, 6 per class listed below. These skills are leveled up by using the skills in-game, sneaking past the detection of a bandit camp and the Sneak skill will increase.  If the player lands an arrow on an enemy target the Archery skill will increase.  This form of leveling is an immersive system that helps the player connect with their character and reinforces the roleplaying aspects of the game.  Through the use of the Archery skill the player and their character grow into the identity of an archer.
      • Magic: Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Enchanting, Illusion, Restoration
      • Combat: Archery, Block, Heavy Armor, One-handed, Smithing, Two Handed
      • Stealth: Alchemy, Light Armor, Lockpicking, Pickpocket, Sneak, Speechskyrim-sneak(Sneak skill tree with 100 points of progress)
    • Faction choice: As the players make their way through quests they will stumble upon different factions, which allow the player to define their character further by aligning with an organization.  Some represent good, others evil, some are opportunistic sell-swords, while others are committed defenders who fight malevolent forces.  You can read more about the importance of faction choice in my article Factions: politics and purpose.
  • Progression model:
    • Critical path & side quests: The player is presented with a critical path to follow and this puts them right in the middle of the game’s main narrative, the civil war between Stormcloaks and Imperials.  Making their way down the critical path narrative leads to a conclusion of the game world’s main conflict which is one way to measure a playthrough.Whereas side quests, typically untethered from the critical path narrative, allows the player to explore the game world and its lore and achieve personal goals, whether it is training to become a better hunter with a hermit in the forest, or returning a cursed relic to a shrine in ruins.
      angi
      (Training archery skills with Angi)
    • Leveling and power: Some players progress through the story to unlock their character’s potential, leveling and focusing on their character’s growth within the context of the game world and the archetype of their character are how the player measures progression. 
  • Player rewards:
    • Narrative engagement: The deep narrative of Skyrim draws the player in and plays off of their curiosity.  The stories the players get to be a part of, through the critical path quest line and side quests, give them a profound sense of involvement, as they witness the game world will change based on their actions and decisions. 
    • Unique experiences: The beauty of playing a roleplaying game is that as the player commits to the playstyle of their character they get to encounter the world in strikingly different manners. For example as a pacifist alchemist, a player may have to learn how to hide among the trees and cliffs to avoid wolves on the hunt, as opposed to playing as an archer who would see the same wolf and attempt to reverse the roles and hunt it. Depending on the role the player is trying to fulfill in the world, their experience changes.
      Skyrim_20161125125809
      (Nicole the Traveling Merchant, hiding among the trees to avoid the hungry wolves)

This is the second installment in my series titled How genres shape the impact of a game, if you enjoyed it please feel free to read through the other articles within the series: CompetitionMeditative Spaces, and Forums for Creativity. I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to playprofessor@gmail.com.

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.

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