I never understood why people like RPG games, but recently I had a realization--because life is an RPG game. Let's look at the similarities between life and the role-playing gaming genre.
In RPG, you start with a character in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fog of war. You are unsure what your goal is, and you scout out + explore territories around you on the unexplored map to uncover tasks and missions until you find your ultimate goal.
In life, you were born somewhere on a little planet called Earth, unsure of your life's purpose, and you travel around to different places and examine different cultures, in an attempt to find reasons and purposes to make yourself useful to the world at large.
When you start an RPG game, you typically start with some kind of points which you can assign to different specialties. If you don't know the game, you can either choose a specific character class or allow the AI to randomly generate one for you using equal amount of attributes.
In life, everybody gets the same amount of genes, where different combinations of these determine your character, charisma, physique and personality. They are not randomly assigned, and are governed by the laws of nature, which is highly dependent on the genetic make-up of your parents and ancestors.
In your journey as an RPG character, you explore dungeons, collect golds, acquire skills, find treasure items, fight dragons + demons along the way, and receive experience points for your various random tasks.
In life, you earn an income, acquire knowledge through education, discover useful gadgets and applicances that make your life more livable, conquer challenges and receive experience from every mundane and exciting interaction with the world around you.
In an RPG, there are many different kinds of magical potions. Some help you regain your health points, some enchant you with special abilities, some last for a long time and some give you short-term effects. Some create very positive impact on your character but will have a negative impact after its use.
If you find enough of these, they help you perform various tasks that your character does not normally possess. If you are not fortunate to find them but have enough gold, you can purchase them at a dealership in a nearby city.
In life, these magical potions exist in the form of medication. Some help you fight diseases, some help you sleep, some imbue you with special abilities that last for a short while until its effect dies out. Some have severe side effects if your body is not compatible with them. If you cannot find natural herbal substitutes, you can always pay your way and get it from a local pharmacy.
Over time, you figure out what you're good at, and assign experience points to different lines of specialties, until you become a highly skilled fighter, wizard, druid, ranger, cleric or a combination of two or more of the above.
Good game engines like BioWare's Neverwinter Nights do not apply a lot of penalties to your decision to have different specialties. You are also not stuck with the character class that you originally picked.
When you past a certain point in life, you receive recognitions, honors and awards for your contribution to different communities in the form of degrees, publications, certificates of commendation and Nobel prizes.
Based on your experience, you decide to become a an artist, a banker, a designer, an engineer, an entrepreneur, an information architect, a professor, a public relations magnet, a scientist, a strategist or a writer. You can make a career out of a single category, but you can also choose to combine different skill-sets and work on multiple compentencies.
Life places some penalties if you decide to have multiple skills, as you have to work multiple-times as hard to keep track of the happenings among all the industries, but if you are willing to devote the time, you can certainly be successful and become an expert in all of them.
Midway through your life, if you decide that a particular profession is not right for you, you can choose to move onto something else. You will have to work hard to start from scratch, but you are certainly not tied to the decisions in your personal history.
6. Life + Death
In RPG, you try hard to maintain your health points, because if it dwindles beyond absolute zero, you will hit game-over, and you have to start all over again. You might not understand the whole purpose of the game even though you have spent nights and days trying to figure it out, but you stick along because the adventures you are going through are interesting enough and you are having fun.
In life, you aspire to live, because you are never really certain where you will be going after death. You are also not sure if you will really get a second chance. Things that happen around you are sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but they are often interesting enough to keep you going, and the negative impacts you pick up along your journey are negligible when placed against the big picture.
In a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game), game play gets a bit complex, because human players are much more complex than the AI which you might be able to figure out. If you could not, you can always cheat by getting the game guide.
Because of the added complexity, you have to be mindful of relationships with other characters and try hard to maintain healthy friendships. If your believes align with others, you can form guilds and conquer the universe together. You can also contribute your skills and services for others in return for favors or monetary exchange.
Life is full of its complexities, and you have to be mindful of not just human relationships, but also human-computer relationships and computer-computer interactions. Through your various conscious or subconscious decisions, you make friends and you gain enemies. Based on your career choices or interests, you form groups, clubs or societies based on your profession or your passion. You can volunteer your talents to charitable organizations, or you can sell them as services and create business entities.
When we examine the similarities, it becomes apparent that RPG is really a simulation of life. It has a D+D setting, but it bears no difference with simulation games like SimCity--a computer game which allows you to be the urban planner for a city. Many gaming industry experts doubt the success of The Sims by Will Wright when it was introduced, because they could not understand why anyone would want to live in a virtual reality of reality, but the fantabulous sales figures prove the critics wrong. If an RPG can do well because it simulates life, a game which simulates life can only do better.
The awareness of life simulation has also created real-life economy for some, who spend much of their time creating clothings, entertainment opportunities and all kinds of products and services to allow Sims to live a better life, not quite unlike folks who find and sell unique items from RPGs on eBay for a profit.
Will is currently working on his next big project called Spore. It is a MMORPG where participants advance their species from a single cell organism to a highly complex animal race through evolutionary mutation. After you reach your goal to conquer your planet, you then get to discover the nearby planets and eventually attempt to conquer the universe either through force or diplomacy.
It has received a lot of PR when it was first revealed at the E3 in 2005. You can find various video demos on YouTube charting its development, and I look forward to its release.