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RPG Cliches: Part 1

Gabriel Ang

Cliches... ah cliches! The RPG industry pretty much can't survive if it doesn't dig deep into its pockets of cliches to form the stories we all know and love. Of course, these cliches weren't cliches at the beginning, but after developers realized that "Hey! We can use the same thing over and over again and people will still buy our crap!" was a good strategy in making RPG's, soon we all began to think for ourselves "Huh? Haven't I seen this before?"

Most of us are already veterans of the genre, and spotting cliches doesn't take a PhD in theoretical physics to even notice. However, sometimes we have to wonder how these became cliches in the first place, besides becoming overused (duh!). And as veterans, or at least internet junkies, were more or less familiar with The Grand List of RPG Cliches found in numerous gaming sites. So, because I have nothing better to do, let's take an in depth look at some of the more prominent of these cliches!

Thinking With The Wrong Head (Hiro Rule): "No matter what she's accused of doing or how mysterious her origins are, the hero will always be ready to fight to the death for any girl he met three seconds ago."

To me, I think this caught on because... well.... majority of gamers are men. And, being men, most have the attention span of tissue paper around pretty women. I'd think that most RPG's today and back then tried to emulate just how men tend to react to any beautiful women they come across, just to show that the men in the game are.... "realistic", to say the least.

As a plot device, it's perhaps rooted on the old chivalry codes where honorable men fought and died for the one he loves, specifically the girl he met three seconds ago. There's no real logic in this, but then again RPG heroes are supposed to be noble, brave and heroic, so fighting for the lady whose name he doesn't even know might just be pretty much expected out of the brave warriors of RPGdom.

This, as a cliche, is admittedly overused. RPG's were rampant with heroes willing to fight for total strangers. Final Fantasy was no exception (FFV and FFVII was clear on this). Of course not all people are comfortable with this since not all men are like this, and we've started to expect more out of our heroes than a simple minded buffoon willing to fight for the first girl that he meets. So, to me, I'd like this cliche to be something that gets "demoted" from its cliche status.

Logan's Run Rule: "RPG characters are young. Very young. The average age seems to be 15, unless the character is a decorated and battle-hardened soldier, in which case he might even be as old as 18. Such teenagers often have skills with multiple weapons and magic, years of experience, and never ever worry about their parents telling them to come home from adventuring before bedtime. By contrast, characters more than twenty-two years old will cheerfully refer to themselves as washed-up old fogies and be eager to make room for the younger generation."

Saving the world before puberty. I did an editorial on this topic before. Almost all of us will notice that a lot of our RPG leads tend to be in their teens or just barely in their twenties. When I thought about it before, I mainly believed that it was because with the sudden rise in the popularity of gaming, younger audiences we being pulled into the market. Gaming then wasn't anymore reserved to glasses wearing geeks living with their parents; people from all walks of life of varying ages came into the phenomenon. Having drawn a much younger audience into the fray, I believed that developers needed to make characters identifiable to the age bracket. With new teens coming into the RPG world, RPGs too needed teens as their leads. No more old fogies like the Avatar of Ultima fame, now we have heroes with hair barely growing out of places where the sun don't shine.

Now it's the 21st century. Those teens are probably in their twenties now, yet more and more new teens are coming into the market, which is probably why the cliche has stayed a cliche. And as a cliche it's overused, but while we have teens that are looking for other teen heroes to identify with, this is a cliche that will remain for years to come.

"Silly Squall, bringing a sword to a gunfight...": No matter what timeframe the game is set in -- past, present, or future -- the main hero and his antagonist will both use a sword for a weapon. (Therefore, you can identify your antagonist pretty easily right from the start of the game just by looking for the other guy who uses a sword.) These swords will be far more powerful than any gun and often capable of distance attacks.

I'll personally never understand why swords will never become weaker than guns, explosives, laser beams or nuclear radiation. Since the beginning of the RPG swords have been the weapons of choice, or at least other bladed weapons. Swords have been the weapons of choice due to the roots of RPGs in the D&D tabetop communities, which have always been based on the medieval setting, whose main weapons were obviously swords. This pretty much got brought over to RPG's due to the D&D's major influence. However, eventually more modern settings came into being, alongside modern weaponry like guns, and evetually sci-fi took its hold with laser and stuff. Yet, somehow, swords remained even in these new settings, and almost as a corollary were more often than not stronger in power. Why the developers chose this to be the norm is unknown to me, unknown to most gamers, heck it may be even unknown to them. To me it's almost a subconscious bias towards swords, physics and biology be damned. Perhaps, over the years, people have grown accustomed to it, and since RPG's did have rooting in D&D, perhaps there does exist an unexplainable bias towards swords.

Admittedly, this is also probably one of the most frequent cliches we encounter. Just about every game we encounter that has swords and guns will have swords as the weapon of choice. We can all probably name at least 10 RPGs each that are like this.

Edison's Lament: "No switch is ever in the right position."

Everyone's encountered this before. Everytime we enter dungeons, castles or whatever, it's always good to expect that every important area will never be immediately accessible because the switch that allows access to that area just happens to be in the "off" position. With that said, even if being in the "off" position the henchmen will be trapped with you as well, we all need to find that switch and turn it "on."

In every RPG, switches are always "coincidentaly" turned off, unless it's a trap. It's pretty obvious why switches will always ever be off: if switches were on, the game would be too easy. RPGs in their essence will require you to fight your way through hordes of braindead lackey's on your way to said switch. In fact, in many RPG's the door to the dungeon boss is just a few feet in front of you, but it just so happens that it's locked, and the key/switch is in the other end of the castle/dungeon/whatever.

But like I said, the games would be too easy if things were always left unlocked. Plus, it's prudent for dungeon bosses to obviously lock their castles tight, while providing a small glimmer of hope for the heroes to actually make their way in and take out the dungeon boss. As cliche it's something we always see, and in ways accept, because having RPGs with all their doors open aren't much fun at all. Doors will always be locked so we the gamers will have our fun smashing through hords of baddies in the process.

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