Rogue Legacy, The Medieval American Dream
The roguelike genre is a fun, addicting subgenre of games that has garnered more attention in the previous years due to the success of game such as Spelunky(2008) and The Binding of Isaac(2011). Rogue Legacy, which was released in 2011, followed suit in the standard formula of creating randomized levels to explore upon each new endeavor, but took a new twist on the connection the player had with their characters by incorporating the deaths and resource acquirement of the player into the gameplay narrative, which mimics the real life “American dream”.
Nothing but the Clothes on Their Back:
When the game begins, the world is immediately a scary place. You don’t know anyone, know anything, and all you have a small sword that you know is weak because the first enemy thought it was a back scratcher. But you do have is a dream, to open the big door that you see the moment you enter the castle and be the hero. And Rogue Legacy’s daunting castle is technically possible to beat in one life, so this dream should be possible, right? If only it was so easy.
The American Dream holds the belief that through hard work and dedication, one can move upwards in social standing and quality of life. It was the driving force for the nation in the early 1900’s, and is still held in today. Though there are those lucky few who see the realization of the dream in their short lift time, like the speedrunner who has more drive than any casual player, the American Dream’s most common manifestation is that of Rogue Legacy. Relying, taking advantage of, and building upon the work of your ancestors.
In Rogue Legacy, the characters that the player controls are the descendants of the previous character that was vanquished while exploring the castle. Unlike The Binding of Isaac which offers a set of consistent characters to choose from, or Faster Than Light which offers select ships/races to choose from, the new character the player selects is one of the three children of their recently deceased self, each with their own unique skillset.
The characters that you select have a many areas for variance, such as their spells, class, or birth effects. None of these traits are inherently superior or inferior, and it is up to player to use their character’s area of expertise to best deal with the randomizing landscape of the castle. The player has no idea what to expect in the new dungeon, so picking a character with dwarfism because they ran across a ton of little passages last time isn’t an informed, logical choice. A parent can assume they have prepared their child as best they could, but then its up to the child to use the tools they have to excel.
Building Upon the Legacy:
Of course, while natural talent/drive is easy to notice and attribute success to in life, what’s harder but just as important to note are what they started with. This is castle mechanic of the game, and where I find the strongest parallel of this in game family and the families across the country. After selecting a new heir, the player can use the gold that had been collected in the previous run to upgrade permanent stats, unlock new abilities for future heirs, etc. All the work done by family members is towards providing a smoother path to success for their children.
By being more equip, players are able to experience more leniency on their path to success. They have more health so they aren’t punished hard for a slip up when they fall on spikes, they have more strength so they don’t have to find a way around a tough enemy. While the dream is the same as it was when the first ancestor set out, the victory conditions are much more attainable for the player because of where they’re starting from.
Further Down the Rabbit Hole:
I believe there is further commentary and discussion that this game allows through the lens of the American Dream, that I implore people to explore. If the enemies of game were reskinned to be other adventures looking to be heroes, then stealing their money to better your family would be very much like the actuality of the American Dream. While it is a tantalizing vision, not everyone can reach it, and to take opportunities to reach it means closing those doors for others. And man, what I’d give to open that door.