Sunday, June 6, 2010

Two Books on CRPG Histories

About a month and a half ago, in response to my posting on Ultima IV and virtue, a reader recommended that I try the book Dungeons & Dreamers (2003) by Brad King and John Borland. While I was ordering it from Amazon, I also purchased Dungeons & Desktops (2008) by Matt Barton, a prolific writer on old games who also maintains a blog. During my month of traveling, I had a lot of plane trips on which to read these books, consider them, and take notes.

Barton's book is a methodical and chronological history of CRPGs from their precursors through a few years ago. He divides his history into six "ages," which are quite sensible and useful:
  • The "Dark Age" from 1974-1979 when dozens of programmers were writing mini CRPGs for university computer systems.
  • The "Bronze Age" from 1979-1983 when commercial CRPGs were getting their legs and figuring themselves out. Akalabeth and Temple of Apshai are exemplars of this era.
  • The "Silver Age" from 1983-1985, when the first landmark CRPGs--Wizardry and Ultima among them--appeared.
  • The "Golden Age" from 1985-1993, when the number and variety of CRPGs exploded, including The Bard's Tale, Ultima IV, and the D&D "gold box" games.
  • The "Platinum Age" from 1996-2001, which saw what Barton believes (and I agree) to be the best CRPGs yet designed, including the two Baldur's Gate games and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
  • The "Modern Age," with an emphasis on high-resolution graphics and a shift to more online multiplayer games.
Barton is occasionally dry in his methodical progression through the chronology of games. He describes them fully but rarely stops to consider broader themes and tropes. Except for some skimming and selective jumping around to my favorite games, I decided to stop reading once I caught up to the games I've played so far as part of this blog. I'll probably refer to Barton's book occasionally in future postings as I read his comments on those games.

King and Borland's book is in some ways more interesting to read but extremely selective in its material. It's basically a biography of Richard Garriott (the real-life "Lord British") with a few stories from other games thrown in. If someone knew nothing about computer gaming and simply read this book, he would think that the history of computer gaming progressed from nothing to the Ultima series to Doom to Quake and then the world was awash in multi-player games. The beginning of the book talks about the development of the paper Dungeons & Dragons RPG but says nothing about CRPGs based directly on D&D. Hundreds of games vital to the development of the genre (Wizardry, Baldur's Gate, the Elder Scrolls series, Fallout), not to mention hundreds of non-CRPGs (the book presumes to cover every type of game, really) are not mentioned at all. What they do cover, however, is meticulously researched, specific, and valuable.

While neither of my brief reviews is exactly a ringing endorsement, I am grateful to both of these books for filling a lot of holes regarding the games I'm playing. Here are some nuggets from them that explain some mysteries of CRPGs I've already reviewed:

  • Barton makes a useful distinction about the difference between CRPGs and regular RPGs: "It is easy to get carried away and assume that CRPGs are little more than computerized adaptations of D&D. This claim disregards one of the most critical aspects of conventional D&D--namely, the playacting...though it's certainly possible for a CRPG fan to pretend to be his character, even going so far as to dress the part, it is doubtful indeed whether his computer is capable of appreciating these antics" (p. 23).
  • Given the amount of material he gave to King and Borland, Richard Garriott seems like an honestly cool guy. He comes across that way in his biography, too. This is a man who combined his love for programming and RPGs into a fantastic series of games and got rich enough doing so that he could afford to visit the International Space Station as a tourist. It's too bad his latest endeavors haven't turned out so well.
Garriott in his flight suit [source].

  • Lord British got his nickname at computer camp when some boys knocked on his door and he greeted them with a formal "hello" instead of a less formal "hi." Coincidentally, he was born in England but had lived in the U.S. since he was a baby (King & Borland, 12).
  • Great quote about the development of an early game called Spacewar! at MIT: "Tens of millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Defense funding poured into computer research labs at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford, earmarked for serious research, while recipients of the funding spend hundreds of hours figuring out better ways to model space battles" (King & Borland, 26).
  • There was a game called Avatar kicking about university PLATO systems in the 1970s (King & Borland, 29). While the authors don't say this game directly influenced Garriott, it's hard to see how it didn't.
  • An enigmatic character named "Dr. Cat" who makes an appearance in a couple of Ultima games is based on a real programmer--just as enigmatic--named David Shapiro (King & Borland, p. 28). Similarly, Dupre, your erstwhile paladin companion from Ultima IV onward, is the Society for Creative Anachronisms nickname for one of Garriott's friends, Greg Dykes (p. 49); Chuckles the jester is based on Origin Systems programmer Chuck Bueche (p. 68).
  • Ultima was originally titled Ultimatum but was changed because a board game carried the same title (King & Borland, p. 47). The first Ultima, published by California Pacific Computing, was barely released before the company went bankrupt (p. 50).
  • Garriott had difficulty finding a publisher for Ultima II because he insisted that the game be sold with a cloth map similar to the one that appeared in the film Time Bandits (Barton, p. 66).
  • Garriott was influenced by the success of Wizardry in making sure that Ultima III was a multi-character game. Barton calls Ultima III "one of the most important CRPGs ever made and the pinnacle of the Silver Age" (p. 68).
  • The Bard's Tale was the first game series to generate a series of fantasy novels (Barton, p. 93). [Edit from 03/05/2012: I was wrong about this. Barton mentions a successful series of eight novels but does not say that BT was "the first".]
  • Garriott conceived Ultima IV after getting a lot of angry letters from Christian groups and concerned parents saying his games were corrupting America's youth. While he didn't really take these seriously, it did get him thinking about adding morality to games, as in previous Ultimas, "players came into the world, killed virtually everything they saw, stole money from anyone or anything that had it, and walked off with smiles on their faces. Who was really the evil one, after all?" (King & Borland, p. 73). The principles of virtue--truth, love, and courage--are based on the characters from The Wizard of Oz.
  • The subgenre of "Rogue-like" computer games split off from regular CRPGs early, when efforts to sell the game commercially failed due to widespread piracy. To this day, most "Roguelike" games are noncommercial (Barton, p. 35).
The books have a curious view of the utility and pervasiveness of CRPGs. Consider this quote from Barton:
"CRPGs are not only the most fun and addictive type of computer game, but possibly the best learning tool ever designed. They are truly grand adventures with real rewards for dedicated players" (p. 3).
Despite Barton's attempt to back up this bold statement with quotes from other authors and psychologists, I don't buy it. "Fun and addictive," sure, but not the rest. Look, as I've said before, I'm investing hundreds of hours into this blog and this project, and I more than anyone have a vested interest in believing that what I'm doing isn't just a grand waste of time. But aside from the interesting virtue system of Ultima IV, I can't honestly say that I've "learned" much from my time spent in CRPGs--however, this is a topic that I will explore in some detail (and solicit your comments on) later. [Ed. I did!] Similarly, after I finish a marathon night of CRPG gaming, all I have to show for it is bleary eyes and eight undone tasks that I could have done in that time frame. If there are "real rewards," they've yet to show up at my door.

King and Borland don't have any quotes quite as provocative, but the subtitle of their book is interesting: "the rise of computer game culture from geek to chic." Again, as much as I'd like to believe that all this gaming is making me hip and stylish, I really don't see this "rise." Speaking about RPGs, King and Borland note that among a culture at computer camp, "They shared an implicit understanding that computers, programming, technology, fantasy, and role-playing games were okay. They weren't nerdy, dorky, or strange" (p. 14). That's great for this subculture, but I think for 75% of the world, gaming--and especially CRPGs--are still nerdy, dorky, and strange.

It is partly due to this fact that I have kept myself anonymous on this blog. It's not so much that I care that you know who I am (frankly, I've said enough about my life that a dedicated sleuth could figure it out from my postings) as that I don't want people from my profession stumbling upon this blog and asking how I could possibly have time to play all these games, and write about them, when I'm three months behind on half a dozen projects. If, in contrast, I announced to my boss that I planned to spend all weekend watching sports, or kayaking, or attending a rock concert, I would not get the same comment because these activities are "normal." First-person shooters and console games are slightly more respectable in the real world than CRPGs, but not a lot.

I'm not trying to dis CRPGs. I'm addicted to them, I play them a lot, and I love writing about them, but I just can't agree with these authors' contentions that they are teaching me anything, providing any real rewards, or socially acceptable. If I could force myself to give them up and spend as much time practicing the piano, I would.

Well...if I could force myself to give up half the time, maybe.


  1. Excellent post! You eloquently put forward the dilemma of CRPG lovers who also desire social and professional success outside of the gaming industry.

    I myself am a High School teacher and when staff (and students) ask me what my hobbies are I certainly do not tell them 'I like to play Computer Role Playing games for hours on end'. To do so would be professional suicide. Students would lose all respect for me and I would likely be ostracized by fellow teachers.

    Again, great post!

  2. Great story, Quip. I could bemoan this state of affairs, but as hypocritical as it is, even *I* tend to make fun of people who spend most of their free time playing computer games. In this, of course, computer gaming joins a long list of things that we all do but still look down on/make fun of others for also doing.

    1. First, I'd like to apologize for threadomancy.
      Second, I'd like to apologize for possibly inappropriate post.

      You said "things that we all do, but still look down on others for also doing it". It inevitably reminds me that anytime my father saw me playing computer games (of course mostly crpg), he never forgot to sneer and say "masturbating again, huh?".

    2. Either he was a bit of a jerk or you have a very weird way of playing games.

    3. I totally forgot this comment thread, but I finally have something to contribute. I started at college last fall and one of the classes I had was an Intro to Psych course. Our professor in that class is a total unadulterated gamer nerd and makes no bones about it - though he's primarily a console player. A good ten minutes of most classes would be spent discussing his latest forays into digital worlds.

      He'd probably tend to agree with Barton about the *potential* of cRPGS as teaching tools, but they're not often utilized that way by designers whose primary motivations are to make a living doing what they love. On the other side of the spectrum, the makers of edutainment games are often severely hamstrung by what they are and aren't allowed to showcase in the name of knowledge.

      I think there's definitely a conversation to be had about bringing the one group's ability and creative resources together with the other's motivation and throwing money at them to see what they come up with. The Extra Credits youtube channel has done a video or two on the topic.

    4. Here I am again, pointlessly commenting on old posts. I guess I'm talking to anyone like me who finds the blog for the first time and decides to read it from the beginning. "If, in contrast, I announced to my boss that I planned to spend all weekend watching sports, or kayaking, or attending a rock concert, I would not get the same comment because these activities are "normal."" Yeah, any activity, no matter how pointless, is not a problem as long as a big enough slice of the herd does it. If it's an activity a minority of people enjoy, then it must be shameful, pathetic, and harmful. Video games have distinguished themselves even from that pack by becoming the very definition of a destructive waste of time, one of the culture's favorite whipping boys. I used to feel this shame, but finally liberated myself from it. This has made my life a lot more fun and fulfilling so it's great for me. If for others video games are interfering with their ability to do other things that they feel are more valuable, then I can see that would be a problem. For sure when I was raising my kids I had to push the games to the margins (although I had tremendous fun playing Baldur's Gate and Warcraft 2 with my enthralled son sitting on my knee). Now that the kids are grown, I have substantial free time which I gleefully devote to games, and I'm fortunate enough not to have to listen to derision from anybody. By the way, I used to teach at a community college and from time to time would talk with my students about my love of games, and never suffered any negative repercussions. Not saying that other teachers would be so lucky, and I can understand the instinct to keep mum about it.

    5. I don't think I really feel the same way that I did when I wrote this 11 years ago--partly because video games have gone more mainstream and partly because I'm old enough to have passed into the phase of life where you don't really care what people think about you. I happily admit to my students and colleagues that I play lots of video games, although I still keep the blog secret.

    6. Things have indeed gotten a great deal better, although in my current circumstances it's only a concern in the abstract. There's nobody around me who has a problem with my gaming, and I no longer give myself a hard time about it.

  3. That was a great post! Since I am "the reader" who recommended the "Dungeons & Dreamers" book to you I was very happy and a little bit surprised to see that you so readily bought and read it. Wow!

    Anyway, I was (and am) a huge fan of the Ultima games, so I very much enjoyed the Richard Garriott parts of the book. I agree with a lot of your concerns about it, but overall I thought it was a fun and enjoyable read. I would be interested in the opinions of anyone else who has also read it.

    And finally, not openly admitting to playing role playing games (computer or paper) is only one item on my hush-hush list - the others being science fiction stories and comic books! Oh well, I certainly enjoy all those things and I am not about to stop now! :-)

  4. I get it. My other items are watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" repeatedly and having imaginary conversations with Ben Franklin.

  5. I agree with you that most commercial CRPGs are generally devoid of educational merit. However, I agree with Matt Barton in thinking that the *medium* of role playing (both socially and on the computer) is one of the most powerful teaching tools an educator has at their disposal, especially when teaching humanities subjects.

    In order to pull off a convincing role-play, a student truly has to own their character, and if you can base that character on a text that you are studying, or on a particular historical setting, then you've got yourself a fun and engaging learning activity that will keep kids captivated and motivated.

    I'm actually thinking of leaving the teaching profession and studying I.T. I then want to design educational role playing games tailored specifically for classroom use, developed in close adherence to the (New Zealand) curriculum.

    1. Wow, I was thinking about this exact idea. That somehow the "addictive" nature of gaining experience might be applied to teaching. There's a video game that teaches programming with a FRP front end that does it. I was thinking more LARP'ing for the fresh air benefit.

    2. I'm sure many teachers have wanted to shoot their students.

  6. Quip, I'm with you as far as regular RPGs go, but I don't see how what you're saying applies to CRPGs, because in a CRPG you emphatically DON'T have to "pull off a convincing role-play." That's why I agree with the Barton quote above (first bullet point above LB's picture). Nonetheless, I congratulate you on your idea. I've been to management training sessions in which role playing is used to reinforce management techniques or philosophies, but one of the weaknesses is that they're over too quickly. Perhaps a longer "game" would better internalize certain key lessons.

  7. That's a good point and an important distinction to make. The social aspects of role playing are certainly the key to their being effective educational tools.

    I think though that the technology we have now is at a point that educational institutions can effectively and dramatically incorporate CRPGs into the curriculum, provided there is sufficient investment in educational software.

    When I was a kid at primary school (elementary school in the states) my class undertook a computer role playing exercise that spanned several weeks. The topic was Captain Cook's voyages in the Pacific. Each child was given the character of a particular member of Cook's crew (I was a private in the marines, I still remember that!). The computer software (on old Apple IIes no less: green screens and all :)) plotted out our voyages and gave us scenarios that we had to play out. We had to make logistical and tactical decisions, but the computer ultimately acted as 'dungeon master', mercilessly killing half of us off when we made a bad decision to resupply in a malarial zone... Now, all these years later, that computer role playing experience is probably the most vivid and powerful thing I remember from my primary school days (aside from the school play, which was another RPG of a sort :)). If that sort of learning experience was possible with late eighties hardware, imagine what we could make now with today's technology.

    So I agree with you that it's the social aspects of role playing that make for the truly valuable learning experiences, but I think computers can play a significant role in facilitating those experiences too.

  8. Quip: I truly wish you the best of luck/skill. That sounds brilliant. Computers are great arbitrators. How can a computer show "Favouritisim"? (yes. Kind of a silly question, but in todays mindset it's kind of valid for the majority of the population).


    Addict: THANK YOU! Whilst reading your blog, a memory returned.... Temple of Apshai... I *LOVED* playing this on the C64. It wasn't til I saw that brief screen shot that I started thinking. Now I had a search phrase I confirmed that it was my childhood love. Another sleepless night averted.

  9. i'm quite surprised some of you guys should feel ashamed for playing crpgs. never thought about it that way, at least. people around me either don't give a damn or they play games too and don't really differentiate crpgs vs fps/other all that much.

    as far as i remember, when i was a kid and my friend's dad turned out to be an avid Lands of Lore player, he inevitably became my hero too ;).

  10. I love the site!! I recently started replaying some of my favorite old school CPRG's namely Bard's Tale... Anyways I stumbled... err should I say googled upon your site. Well so far the work you have done is great. I wish I could find a DOS version of ShadowKeep but unfortunately I could only find APPLE II versions which is beyond your RULES!!, Since you are into books a great book to read on this game is a novel by Alan Dean Foster (Warning the Book contains spoilers if you plan on playing the game!!). This can be had on ebay for a few bucks with shipping. This game was released around the Bard's Tale I era in the early 80's its a shame there isn't any dos copy's around, another interesting game released around that time was Xyphus although it wasn't released for PC.

  11. Thanks, fellow addict! I appreciate the recommendation. I was thinking about buying a couple of the CRPG-based books and seeing how good (or awful) they are and doing a post on it. I'll give it a try.

  12. I think the "geek to chic" transformation is a generational one. I'm your age, apparently, Addict, but my profession, as an actor, keeps me in constant contact with people 10 to 20 years my junior. And even the 10 year gap reveals a COMPLETELY different mindset towards computer games. Women my own age were always baffled by my love of computer games, and RPGs. Women in their late 20s, on the other hand (and yes, I appreciate how broad a generalization this is, but it's what I've observed) completely embrace gaming because they grew up with it. I dated a girl a few years back who completely lamented that I had Civ IV installed, and she had to keep playing Civ III. The girl I'm with now, who I intend to marry, was demonstrably "The One" when, one day, in the afterglow, when I assumed I was now obligated to "snuggle", she rolled over and suggested, "Hey, you wanna play Halo?" For many/most born in the 80s, in North America, computer games have surpassed all other forms of entertainment to become the prime way to spend leisure time. From what I've seen, that encompasses both sexes.

    1. My kids were born in the 90s. My son is a gamer, and my daughter is very supportive of my pastime. Neither seems to feel the video game shame.

  13. You certainly found a keeper, Anon. I agree that part of the problem is a generation gap. I'm almost 40. But knowing it's a generational thing doesn't help because most of the women I'd go for are my age.

  14. Like I said, I'm your age... truth be told, in my adult life I've always tended to date 10 to 15 years younger, though. Maybe the gaming thing explains why.

  15. CRPGs most definitely can be used as teaching tools. While it in no way compares to modern commercial CRPGs, we built a role-playing game to help troubled teens (depressed/suicidal) deal with :

    It's essentially one big conversation engine, so it doesn't compare to traditional fantasy CRPGs, but it does track your mood (similar to standard STR/DEX/INT stats) and has an inventory.

    The site was a big success - players became quite engaged with it, we received some great feedback from people who said it genuinely helped them through tough times.

  16. Good argument, RM. Just because most games are derivative high-fantasy slogs doesn't mean that the genre CAN'T be used as a teaching tool. However, I think Barton's argument was that commercial CRPG games already ARE teaching tools, which I just can't agree with.

    I'll give your game a try when I have a chance. Didn't feel like going through the registration process tonight.

  17. Its funny to see the various comments.
    Most people I know play some form of electronic game these days outside of the 40 and up crowd who mostly just seem to care about watching sports. (With larger percentages the younger the age. There are guys I work with who were watching Pokemon on TV. Which is the first year I began my current job type!)

    I can't say I hide most of my nerdiness from anyone though. I'm 36 and love RPGs and almost everything dorky.

    Heck, I bring D&D rulebooks to read on break, or have my face stuck in a DS, PSP, or Ipod Touch!

    Nobody cares and in a few cases its gotten some conversation.

    I dunno. I just don't get how anyone should care if someone is doing a harmless pass time or not.

    Life is too short and sucky to just do stuff to fit in.

    If some people don't like my horde of nerd stuff they can piss off. I do a damned good job at work (to the point of getting citations and having many floor supervisors sigh in relief knowing I am in their pit), and don't hose anyone over.

    Its how I gotta be and always will.

    Though all the RPG stuff IS good for education. I sucked at math as a kid. RPGs made my math skills improve. I wouldn't have been able to deal at a casino without the initial boosts all those digital numbers and dice rolls had me dealing with.

    Add in all the reading it requires and it does have some enriching characteristics.

    (Well these older CRPGs did. The newer ones not so much.)

  18. First off, I found this blog a few days ago (possibly via a link on the forums) and like it very much. It's a great read :)

    Now I wouldn't agree with the idea that CRPGs are great learning tools as such (the commercial games). I also agree with the arguments that the view of games is a generational thing.
    However, being 22, I have to say that it is rarely one of the first things I tell about myself. While I have experienced gradually less ridicule or judgemental attitudes since leaving elementary and even high school, it is still very much in my mind when meeting new people.

    I don't advertise my geeky/nerdy sides until I know people fairly well!

    One thing about learning and speaking as a non-native user of English - I feel very confident that if I hadn't played so many games, CRPGs among them, my English would not have been nearly as good as early as it was. Granted, I read a lot of pageturner fantasy novels and stuff as well. But the games played a fairly large part as well I think. So regarding language-acquisition I think they can be very useful :)

    Any day now I will install a game in German and train that language! Any day now.... any day...

    1. I'll answer this 7 yo thread just to say that CRPG (and games ingeneral) have been instrumental in giving me a good command of English at an early age.

      Growing up in Italy, translated games were more the exception than the norm, and playing text heavy games like Ultima VI/VII in my early teens helped me way more in learning the language than English classes at school (for which I had always good grades with zero effort).

      By my later teens I was able to basically understand fully games like BG2 and Torment, and that knowledge allowed me later in life to have a internship in the US,finding a professional job in the UK, and today I use it daily when dealing with international customers.

      Also, being able to appreciate great blogs like this is a nice perk!

  19. Equla, you and Rizla have really opened my eyes to the language-learning possibilities of CRPGs. Maybe when I get to some of the more familiar games, I'll set the language to Spanish and see if I can't improve a bit. I don't know exactly how much "Atacas a los ojos, Boo, Atacas a los ojos!" will help in Buenos Aires, but I'll be ready.

    1. Being from Argentina, I wonder: did You ever visited Buenos Aires?

    2. I did! About six months after this, I had a contract that took me to Buneos Aires and Montevideo, and after that to Santiago and Bogota. I was hustled around by local hosts, though, so I didn't get much chance to do any exploring. I enjoyed my time in South America and I'd visit more often if it didn't take so damned long to get there.

      If I ever get a chance to visit again, I am absolutely taking some personal time to go to Tierra del Fuego. I'm still kicking myself for not doing it when I was already in the hemisphere.

  20. Hi,
    i recently stumbled across your little project and it's relly interesting to see how gaming looked liked when i was born.

    since i was born in the '85s my first gaming experience was the Atari 2600 and then the NES so i missed the whole classic RPGs like Wizadry, M&M and Ultima (but after I started Wizardry 8 i will play 6 and 7 and also the M&M games)

    I have to admit that i improved my english really through replaying old console RPGs (Final Fantasy I - VI, Dragon Quest) which are only available in english so i had to sit there with a dictionary just to know what the hell the NPCs try to tell me :) was kinda fun

  21. So Matt Barton was right after all; CRPG _are_ educational. ;-)

  22. Thanks for visiting, Zanji. I'm glad you like the blog and you're discovering some historic gems.

    Stories like yours make me feel bad I didn't give Le Maitre des Ames a better try.

  23. Sorry, I'm playing catch up still, on one of the best blogs I've read. I love the "asides", like this one, but the comments from everyone and interaction are just making a great blog greater.

    I think the younger generation are getting away with it a lot more. Us 30+'ers were the pioneers of Gaming, often ostricised cause we'd rather spend time playing a game than watching a game of football.

    I still see watching football matches as only slightly above smashing my face in with a hammer, but you know each to their own... oh but hold on, we weren't afforded that when we were young. But I digress... as always...

    I remember back in the mists of 80s, on a BBC B Micro, playing a text adventure/interactive fiction (A new crap name, seemingly devised to attempt to raise it's cultural value.), in which you had to answer various Maths problems to progress. It was an awesome educational tool, it made me go and investigate various maths things that I've remembered ever since. If you want to investigate it was "L An Adventure" and there was also "Granny's Garden", which might have been the follow up.

    1. A new crap name, seemingly devised to attempt to raise its cultural value


      Sorry; I know this has very little to do with the actual post, but it was so refreshing to find someone else who shared my feelings about that horrible, sterile, pretentious term "interactive fiction" that I just felt I had to acknowledge it... even if the person in question posted his comment over two years ago and is unlikely ever to see my reply.

    2. Ha! Glad it touched someone!
      Jeez, I made that comment 8 years ago!


    3. I also always hated that new name. This deserves more threadmancy :)

  24. I'm glad you like the blog, marshalsea. I can't imagine interesting myself in math-oriented text adventures, but I wouldn't mind if someone wrote an application that forced me to complete at least ONE item on my "to do" list before I could play a game that day.

  25. "I have to admit that i improved my english really through replaying old console RPGs (Final Fantasy I - VI, Dragon Quest) "

    ^^^ quote from another comment

    Hehe, funny thing that console rpgs are infamous for the exact opposite reason, the bad translation from japanese to english :D :P

    On topic, I;ve also bookmarked the amazon links to both books, but I will wait a bit since I have a full "to read" list with computer related books (atm reading Commodork)..

  26. Quick fact check: I just referenced pg. 93 in Barton and he doesn't say Bard's Tale was the first game series to generate a series of fantasy novels.

    If he had, he would be incorrect. The first Bard's Tale novels wouldn't be published until 1992. Lynn Abbey's first two Ultima books beat it to market in 1991 and early 1992.

    There were also six novels published by Avon and based on the Infocom games in 1989-1991. Four of these were based on Zork.

    The Pool of Radiance novels (based on the CRPG) might also count. They were published starting in 1989.

    Re: Games as educational experiences. Math and reading skills are obviously improved by early CRPGs, but this is no longer true (since modern games hide the math and rarely require you to read). They certainly have great potential as educational tools, but are probably only slightly more intellectually stimulating than your average television show.

    Re: Social acceptability. As others have said, if you're 35 or under at this point there's really no social stigma attached to playing video games.

    1. Justin, I somehow overlooked your comment when you first posted it. I went back and looked at the book, and you're right: he mentions the books but doesn't say they were the first. I edited the text above.

  27. Hmm, well, I'm 30 so I guess I'm on the fence a little. In fact, I sometimes think I'm the so called 'lost generation' stuck between X and Y. As a result though, I think I can empathise with both.

    When I grew up, the first games I remember were The Hobbit and Transylvania on my father's Apple Macintosh. Oh, that and also I remember him playing Dark Castle. It was way too hard for me. :)

    My first real RPG was Ultima VIII: Pagan when we acquired a PC in 1994, my introduction to both CRPGs and Ultima.

    I then discovered Fallout, Ultima Online and later sank God knows how long into Morrowind etc...

    And I think it's really by the time Oblivion came out that a shift in the atmosphere occurred. The LoTR films were hugely successful with the average peon, WoW was in full swing and the younger generation were legion enough now for it to just about register in the public "extelligence" (thanks to Terry for that one).

    Mass Effect gave it a nudge, I then like to think that by the time games like Deus Ex 3 and Skyrim arrived last year (the latter's particular impact registering almost on a Call of Duty scale), CRPGs have finally started to become accepted as entertainment.

    Unless you're 40, then you're fucked.

    I did very much feel afraid to admit my interests as a teen. The stigma was far too much, I would never have dreamed of reading a magazine such as PCZone on the bus (my favourite PC publication growing up) or playing a handheld.

    Now a lot of that was probably teenage paranoia but these days I can do both with impunity and have a girlfriend who's addicted to Mario games, Bejeweled and Plants Vs. Zombies and who is extremely successful socially.

    In fact, I have met a great deal of people in last couple of years who I would *never* have guessed played and enjoyed CRPGs.

    There's hope for us yet. :)

    Side Note: Ironically; a recurring theme in CRPGs (to me anyway) seems to be around the concept of social acceptability.

    1. Nah, we're the first wavers hitting 40+ now (6 years after this post) and still gaming!

      Hell, I don't get a lot of time, but still dive in, and yes, I still prefer the story driven ones. Currently on Vane.

      Need to have a trawl of this site haven't read it in ages.

  28. Regarding the things to be learned from these games, while I don't for a second believe they're the "best learning tool ever", I do believe that they:

    A.) Taught me an appreciation for tactics, leveraging the right tool(s)/skills for the job at hand.

    B.) Taught me the importance of strategy and how to manage resources for a series of probable events.

    C.) Taught me, through interesting quests and dialog with NPCs (more-so in later games as story techniques improved), the art of paradigm busting and a study on objectivity vs. the player's personal beliefs.

    D.) In some cases, taught me good narrative and story arc.

    E.) Taught me to never trust an Elvish Assassin ever again.

    I'm sure there are more but seen as I'm at work, I should probably browse to Technet now or look busy or something.

  29. I am not a native speaker of the English language. But I do believe I'm relatively proficient enough to even teach it as a subject, at least to 3rd graders and below.

    And this ability stems from my hours of playing CRPGs. And of course, most of what Niceman pointed out.

    Finally, "From Geek to Chic"... To a certain extent, I do agree. Anyone remember Final Fantasy VII (FF7), the console RPG which went cross-platform to the PC? Supposedly, it was during this time that RPGs became cool. Chicks were digging the romance and music of that game. So much so that a music video for the theme song of FF8 was released with much fanfare a whole year before the actual RPG was available on Playstation 2.

  30. On the topic of learning languages from CRPGs, there's at least one CRPG specifically designed to teach Japanese... and which does so, at least in my experience, with considerable success (in the language-teaching part; that aside it's admittedly not the most enthralling CRPG ever produced). Since it's at least marginally a commercial product, in that the creator does charge a little money for registration of the full game, in accordance with the blog rules I won't link to it, but you can find it easily by googling "Slime Forest Adventure".

  31. This are interesting observations, and I will give also my Impression to this 7 years old thread, but I stumbled onto this great blog also recently.

    As a kid, I was very interested in history ready, especially about the romans. When I grew older, as a teenager, not unlike many others, I lost all my interest in any things but gaming and partying sometimes.
    This is about the "learning" aspect of games. In 1996 I stumbled not onto a CRPG (which I also played a lot), but over Panzer General. This and his successors are my favorite games since 21 years now. By playing the various Scenarios back then, I began to wonder: why was one set in Norway, and were there really battles in the middle east in WW II and so on. The game influenced me on buying and reading new history books. First only WW II, but then I started to renew my interest in archaeology and so on. And now I am actually working as a historian. So, I think you could learn something from gaming...

    On the other hand, I am totally with the CRPG addict on the acceptance topic.
    It was not a totally straight way and there are much more aspects to it, but I do think without Panzer General I would never got the job I love to have.
    This is not something I could ever tell my co-workers - becoming motivated for a job by pushing units over the screen in a wargame. Time is not ripe for such a story, though I think of the younger guys in my Profession are 75 % nerds.

  32. I agree here, you don’t learn anything from playing games. But I wouldn’t consider it a waste of time because I’m having so much fun (hedonism is a very good thing)

    1. Thanks for the THREADMANCY on the site!

      Hell, learnt so much from games - and still do.
      Definitely down to which games you play tho.

      I think the main thing I've learnt is hoarding tho.
      My house is a bag of holding the likes that Guybrush Threepwoods pants would be proud of!

  33. It's interesting to read this from the future where there are a plethora of Rogue-like games that are very commercial, and have also mixed the CRPG elements pretty firmly with that Rogue style.


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