Abyssal Pixels: Role-Playing – The Absurd Versus The Faithful
Immersion is one of the topics which I have harped on ad nauseum during my years as a writer. Since gaming is my primary source of escapism, I tend to take it very seriously and given that I’m quite an emotional person, games have the ability to affect me on a deeper and more visceral level. Because of this, I’ve gravitated more to RPGs than any other genre since it’s generally the genre that can draw me into a fantastical world different from my own.
Throughout my years of being an avid RPG gamer, I’ve noticed I have a distinct style of play that is consistent across most of the games I play. I act in-game like I would act in real life. I understand that part of the draw of RPGs is to live the life of another and do things you otherwise wouldn’t, but I like to fully project myself onto a character and make decisions that are a reflection of my personality.
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While this may come across as arrogant, I’m generally always the good guy. Diplomatic, kind and always willing to help people. That is how I think I am as a person and there has to be some truth to this since if I go with the “bad” or asshole options, I always feel terrible. Even if I can get a new experience by going in the opposite direction of being a good guy, I often don’t since I can’t stomach it. My character’s appearance, if I can alter it, is more often than not made so that it looks like me, or rather a romanticized version of me. I usually go for the human options if I’m given a choice of race and to this day, after my thousands of hours spent in RPGs, I’ve never went the cat people or lizard route.
That’s all fine and well, but it’s just a precursor to my actual topic which is the differing ways in which we play RPGs. Since Fallout 4 released, I’ve seen people playing the game in vastly different styles than I have played, while also noticing people playing the same way I do. This divide is interesting to notice and it makes one wonder how people tick.
The way my Fallout 4 playthrough works is that I have a character that is basically a more handsome and thin facsimile of me, I act like I would act in real life and I try and tailor my run that it is more “realistic” for lack of a better word. For instance, I don’t wear a helmet of any kind since I want to see my character’s face and expressions even if that has a negative impact on my armour rating (they really should include a hide helmet feature). I have built a house myself that contains realistic layouts of rooms, decor and is structurally logical. My companions are decked out in outfits that make sense and weapons that fit their personality. I always try to keep things as clean as possible and staying away from absurd items and gaudy stuff.
However, on the other side of the fence we have people fully embracing the absurd and going in the completely opposite direction that I went in. Companions in their underwear with aviator shades and a captain’s hat, houses that float in the air, ridiculous looking outfits, creating characters that look like first drafts of a From Software game and always picking the craziest dialogue options.
While you can play however you want, a part of me feels that it kind of cheapens the experience when you play like that. But then again, you can also derive a lot of pleasure from playing in that fashion. There’s a reason there are Skyrim mods that turn dragons into Thomas the Tank engines. People love the absurd and playing a game as crazily as possible can mean they’re getting the maximum amount of enjoyment they can get, much like I do with my hyper realistic play style.
And therein lies the amazing thing about RPGs, especially ones as open ended as Fallout 4. There’s a plethora of ways in which you can enjoy the game and you simply have to get in there and find it. You can have the most clean cut run imaginable or the zaniest bunch of nonsense you can imagine. It’s completely your decision and how you feel.
The thing that strikes me about this dichotomy is that it’s so unique to gaming. You can’t choose to watch a movie like Inception and go in to give Leonardo DiCaprio a giant afro and have Ellen Page dress up as a postman as you watch it. There’s no way to alter how a book is written and therefore also changing your experience of it. Gaming, at least some genres, allows us to craft our own stories and tailor how we feel we want to play. I think that’s also why Fallout 4 resonates with as many people as it does since they each have their own unique stories that slowly unfold in the Commonwealth.
Simply giving us the decision to equip our character with a teddy bear head and a red sequin dress is giving us unparalleled freedom and agency and I think that’s beautiful.