Games, Gamers & Gaming: Sword, Sorcery, and Such

Role-playing games (RPGs) long have been a gaming staple, but a recent explosion in the genre’s popularity has generated more interest in RPGs than ever. For that reason alone, you’ll want a decent selection of RPGs for your circulating video game collection.

With roots in tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons, the earliest RPGs were true hard-core fare, with punishing difficulty and rich world-building and lore. The genre originally was divided into two classifications: Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) and Western RPGs. Western RPGs often featured a single main character and a huge open world to explore.

The RPG Ultima IV has players taking on the role of a spiritual leader to a nation and exercising virtues that would inspire the masses. Ultima IV is available as a free download from the excellent website Good Old Games (www.gog.com). It’s DRM free, which librarians love.

The site also offers the seminal Baldur’s Gate series, the first two games in the Fallout line (notable for its equal reliance on solving puzzles and social interactions as well as combat), and Planescape: Torment, a dark and violent RPG that cast players as a resurrected warrior with no memory of his past.

Most JRPGs follow a standard template of a rigid, linear narrative progression with a few points at which the story can change. Players often control a party of four characters instead of only the main character. Most gamers of any experience are at least passingly familiar with the Final Fantasy line, which debuted in 1987. The games, with few exceptions, are not direct sequels of one another and only carry over thematic elements and game-play mechanics from one title to another, so any entry is a good jumping-on point.

The late 1980s through the 1990s was the heyday of the JRPG, with so many classic titles being released, especially for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo‚ Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Landstalkers, and Final Fantasy IV, to name a few. If you have a gamer’s club that regularly meets to discuss the classics, these are fine selections.

Hero is a relative term

There always has been a darkness to the RPG, but modern releases have turned up the gritty, brutal violence and intense themes. Bethesda tends to design open-ended, sandbox games that allow gamers nearly unlimited freedom in designing their character’s look and personality. Decisions characters make‚ whether to execute a villain, lie to a major political figure, or talk their way out of a fight‚ alter how the character is perceived by others, affecting the story and environment.

Some notable titles include The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, and 2011′s newest Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim.

BioWare develops games that are more cinematic and linear in scope and play more directly upon issues of morality. It made its mark with the aforementioned Baldur’s Gate series and has met recent success with the Mass Effect series, an sf space opera, and Dragon Age, a dark fantasy political thriller (an easy recommendation for Game of Thrones fans).

Keep an eye on CD Projekt Red, the Polish developer of the excellent RPG The Witcher, following it up with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The most recent game is available for both PC and Xbox 360. It’s a near-perfect balance of combat, strategy, story, and breathtaking graphics, all wrapped up in one of the most unforgivably real settings in a video game.

Massive multiplayer experiences

You’ve no doubt heard of World of Warcraft and similar games. These are not the best choices for libraries, even on public access computers. However, if you must stock one, then I would suggest Forsaken World. It offers the most free content of any other free-to-play game than I’ve ever played (free-to-play often translates to extended trial period).

These games are excellent social platforms, so you might want to offer a library-specific guild (think team) in the game of choice for your patrons.

With these titles as your base, it’s easy to expand both the offerings on the shelf and in your programs. Also, as this genre is the one most closely associated with tabletop gaming, why not use your patrons’ interest as the perfect segue into a Dungeons and Dragons campaign?

Until next time, keep telling yourself: just one more level.

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

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