We live in the future now, really.
We have iPods and iPhones and Droids and Blackberries and laptops and netbooks and iPads and eight thousand other ways of keeping in touch with everything.
But we don't walk up to others and talk to strangers on the street. At least, in big cities you sure don't. You might exchange a polite word ("How about that rain?" "Sad about the Caps, huh?") in the elevator, or say, "Excuse me," or "I like those shoes," to someone on the Metro, but that's about it. There are so many of us in such a small space that when you're on the T, the MTA, or the Metro -- you just politely keep to yourself. You don't ask a stranger for his entire life story, then walk into his house uninvited and start talking to his wife.
(We also keep our hands off other people's stuff. My neighbors don't have stacks of barrels sitting outside their front doors, but if they did, I wouldn't go rooting through them to look for books, vials, food, or coin. That would be rude, and criminal to boot.)
But then there is the world of gaming. Or rather, there are the worlds of gaming. When you reach a new location in an RPG, what's the very first thing you do? (After saving, of course.) You talk to every. single. person. in town. At great length. You ask them their life stories. You perform their tasks and errands, up to and including murder. You ask anyone and everyone you meet if they need help, and if they do, you immediately proffer it. Your sword (or gun -- Fallout and Mass Effect are not innocent of this) is at anyone and everyone's disposal, with small exceptions for not helping members of a problematic alignment, or persons perceived as evil or shady.
In the same way that so many RPGs hearken back to a medieval world that never existed, I think they also hearken back to a small town / village perspective that never existed. They are all small-town Britain (or occasionally France), where everyone is happy to see you, will share his woes, and will ask a favor of you. You, the Mary Sue Gamer, are going to save the world one lost kitten at a time, and locals expect and allow this sort of behavior from you. In some games (again the newer installments of the Fallout series leap to mind) the locals at least distrust you until you do some small tasks to prove your good intent. And there is more and more of that.
But part of me can't help but feel that the longing for a never-extant perfectly pastoral world keeps expressing itself in our game worlds. This isn't just one game and it's not just one designer; the theme repeats itself over and over in European, Japanese, and American RPGs.
|They pretty much all look like this. (This one's Oblivion.)|
If some weird dude with pointy armor and a bad-ass companion showed up in most actual small medieval hamlets? The majority of townsfolk would hunker down and avoid coming to his attention until he went the hell away. The coming of warriors meant the coming of war, and untold number of fields were ruined and everyday folk killed in the battles, wars, and skirmishes that popped up all over medieval Europe. Armed conflict was an unpleasant and commonplace way to go.
I mean, really: you're a pig farmer, a peasant who lives in a thatch hut with a hole in its roof for smoke to get out. Your immediate village has about 50 people in it, and for market days, when you go, you head (on foot) 10 miles down the road to the big town. Life's all right, if dirty and smelly. You think you have almost enough food stored for winter and you've figured out who to marry in the spring, and then these people show up:
I don't know about most of you but I personally would go hide behind the hut, with the pigs, and hope the creepy men and women with the ridiculous and expensive armor and visible, obvious, heavily-used weaponry would just mosey on by and leave me alone.
Although I've only lived in large, East-coast cities for the last 30 years, the rest of the modern world is not so different. I've just been out in the countryside for the past three days, hanging out at a bed & breakfast with a vineyard, a wild garden, and some friendly critters. (The cats decided my husband was their particular friend; the ducks mainly just quacked in a panicky sort of way. And the peacock decided that the humans needed to be awake at dawn.) We were 150 miles out of the city and about 50 years back in time, out in the woods with the wines. And when we went into the small, local town, we shared some polite words and conversations with the various folks we met, but I didn't ask our waiter if he needed help avenging his brother, or check with the bartender to see who owed her an outstanding tab. Nor would I have done so in 1911, 1611, or 1311.
We all know that games are emphatically not reality. If they were, we wouldn't play them, gamification aside. And there's a definite line where we do and don't want "realism" in our gaming. It's one thing if our heroes need food, water, and sleep. Sometimes we'll even put up with lingering injury from wounds, or NPCs going to bed at night. But anything more realistic than that and we start to get grumpy. And I'm not asking for greater medieval realism in my games, either. I don't have the energy to play that, for starters. Nor do I want my gaming to be as depressing as that reality was.
Gamers are stereotypically and infamously asocial introverts. (As always, the truth is something less than the image.) And yet, where our game worlds could give us missions in a hundred different ways, the most common means is through dialogue and lots of it. Is that what, collectively, we really crave? A conversation?
No real research here, or anything, and I'm not sure I expect answers. I'm just wondering why the patterns in our games are the patterns in our games.