All RPGs… nay, all games… nay, all forms of media… nay, everything you can possibly conceive as a concept…is a reflection of life. The world around us inspires creations which inspire even more. Creation begets creation. But it all began with our base surroundings.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
He’s a smart guy, but he’s got it backwards, man. Riding a bicycle is like life. Everything is like life.
That’s not to say that nothing is original. Just because we’re all working with the same materials doesn’t mean the same result will come about. I tend to use too much flour. My cakes aren’t so great, but my breads aren’t too bad. Don’t quote me on cooking metaphors, especially ones that attempt to reflect life. I know almost nothing about either of those.
Getting back on track, RPGs, being a reflection of life, help me look at my surroundings in different ways. In much the same way, living in Japan helps me take another look at my life outside of Japan. In either case, they may be less clear but, like a mirror in the corner of a hallway, let you see angles you might never have envisioned with plain sight.
When developers make games, due to both logical decisions as well as technical limitations, they attempt to give players a product that’s distilled all of our values down to their basest forms. Though open-world games like Grand Theft Auto V and Skyrim attempt to give players access to a wide variety of activities, they consciously know they can’t put in everything a person could want. They can’t write and/or record billions of lines of dialogue to simulate real conversations with every character. They can’t create hundreds of hours of television to watch inside the game. Even in the most developed games, mini-games number in the tens, not the hundreds. Not only is there not enough data, there’s not enough interest. So creators look at what is going to be the most meaningful additions to their games and include only those.
Developers distill. Action games are 80% action. It’s always fighting. Occasionally, there’s something to vary the experience, but it doesn’t last long. The goal is to keep you moving. Simulation games are 80% simulation. Have control over things you don’t normally have control over. Strategy games are 80% strategy. Think a little.
RPGs are 80% progress. Around every corner is advancement. While most RPG players would say their favorite element is the story, the reason they keep playing is because of the progress they feel.
People like progress. One of our cultural go-to boring moments is “watching paint dry”. But even that is change. Imagine no progress: “watching dry paint”. It’s not going anywhere. That sucks. When people stop feeling progress, they get anxious. They feel like things are wrong. In games, they quit. In jobs, they quit. In Japan, they move away. Foreigners do, anyways. Japanese people take pride in being martyrs.
Real Life Progression
Whether it’s a game or real life, we need to feel progress to enjoy our experience. After some conscious looking, I’ve distilled life down into six main methods of progression that all people are aware of, implicitly or explicitly. Happiness comes from feeling progression in these, whether or not any progression is being made. I’ve titled them: Physical, Intellectual, Work-related, Relationship-related, Material, and Spiritual. They are all somewhat interconnected, but not inevitably.
Physical: Progress related to your body and health. This often takes the form of someone who works out, spends time outdoors, or just enjoys some physical activity like a sport. Feeling like they’re physically improving brings about good feelings. Due to the body’s limitations, this progression is usually the first that people abandon.
Intellectual: Progress related to your mental capabilities. Learning more about anything, whether it’s a language or causes of the Prussian War. As the proverb goes, “you learn something new every day”. Just because mental progress continuously happens, doesn’t mean people are aware of it.
Work-related: Progress related to our profession. Progression here can stem from obvious growth such as moving up the corporate latter, improving your skill-set, or even just feeling like the job is getting better, easier, or more stable every day.
Relationship-related: Progress related to our connections with others. For some, it is amassing a large number of connections while for others it is their closeness that matters. Knowing more people or connecting on a deeper level. Connections to their family members is also an important aspect of this.
Material: Progress related to possessions. This might upset the Buddhists in the audience, but progress from physical objects can bring happiness, if not spiritual oneness. People often go down this path of improvement as the modern world makes it somewhat necessary. However, owning a lot doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. Instead, progress brings about good feelings. How that progress is measured is a personal thing. Feeling like your house is growing or is becoming more optimized, for instance, is just as legitimate as feeling like you have more trophies. The object isn’t inherently important, insofar as it’s your connection to it.
Spiritual: Progress related to your connections to your religion or God. Feeling closer to your God or your place of worship. In late life, people who have often given up on physical progression replace it with the spiritual. In the west, anyways.
With the above six, people that are aware of 1-2 of them will generally feel empty with their life. Maybe they’re missing out on something. People that focus on 3-5 will generally feel fulfilled. Focusing on all six is improbable, but not out of the question. In addition, people that “de-level” in these will often feel temporary sadness until they feel the progress again. A loved one dies. A leg is lost. A house burns down. It isn’t until they get on the bike again and feel the movement that they come back to a good place.
In the end, this is all just a theory of mine. And not a good theory, like one that is backed by science and information and jazz. Just one spawned from the reflections around.
Have you felt progress lately? Do some progressions give you more happiness than others? Is watching dry paint a hobby of yours? Share your thoughts!