Liquid Reign Excerpt (The Role Playing Fallacy)

The following post is an excerpt from my new novel Liquid Reign.

The Role Playing Fallacy

“Ha, role playing games were one of my last research topics prior to the accident.” Wondering how hedid in the old academic success metrics Daniel asks: “Sirvi, could you tell me how many citation the scientific literature mention the term RPG fallacy?”

Sirvi shows up in her elven avatar, sitting on the sofa next to Ana: “Scientific literature is no applicable search category. But I can find a total of just under sixty seven million mentions.”

“And what is the RPG fallacy if I may ask?” Ana wants to know.

Daniel has given a number of lectures on the topic and rolls out his standard spiel: “Roleplaying games were invented long before personal computers took off. They used to be played with paper, pen, dice and erasers. For every challenge in the game you would compare your stats to a value, and roll a die. The damage of a sword was defined as 2D6, so roll two six-sided dice. The RPG fallacy was named after the fact that the first computer-based RPGs used the game, on a Turing-powerful machine.”

Ana is confused: “Dice? Did they then also animate a die on the screen?” “No, ‘dice’ in those games were random number generators. The concept of using the sum of two random numbers between one and six as damage value was carried over from the paper games, simply because it had always been done
that way…”

“But who cares?” Ana doesn’t get it. “I mean you have to define the range of a random number somehow…”

“The fallacy is more impactful for other technologies — those specifically introduced into the paper game to reduce the eraser usage. Even in 2015, that was forty years after the first computer-based RPGs, it was still common practice to give the player ‘experience points’ after a won fight. Those points are recorded in a separate variable, generating rare ‘level ups’ at certain thresholds, which then improve all the characters’ statistics at once, by a large margin. This was the only way to make character improvement work on paper — for the simple reason, that every time you change values, you had to use an eraser and thus break the narrative of the game for a moment. Discretizing the learning process into ‘level ups’ at the end of a story was a genius solution on paper. But in a digital environment, it becomes an entirely unnecessary mechanic.”

“Some games still use such a level-ups, even new releases.” She still doesn’t get why this is supposed to be interesting. “Ehm, sure, that’s a funny story, but why would sixty seven million people discuss the history of role playing games?”

Daniel takes a deep breath and continues in his lecture voice: “In slightly more abstract terms, the RPG fallacy describes the tendency of people to copy-paste the mechanics of a paper-based system when digitizing it. I fell into a coma during a time when political activity was restricted to a single cross once every four years for the vast majority of the world’s population, while the same people stated their opinions in dozens of likes and tweets and posts every single day. Yet, the first digital election systems back then only gathered the sovereign voters’ opinion once in four years, on a pre-selected set of a few choices. When the university asked me to develop a so-called Massive Open Online Course, they wanted me to just film my classroom lecture and upload the videos. Thousands of contracts were printed, signed by hand, scanned and sent off by email every single day. And yes, it was easier to fake the scanned signature than even the sender-address in the email header, and proper digital signature technology had been around for more than twenty years by that time. The most common computer keyboard layout had been optimized to prevent the arms of a mechanical typewriter from interlocking. Welcome to the early twenty-first century. The RPG fallacy occurs every time a designer thinks ‘we’ve always done it that way’ when re-solving an old problem in the digital sphere. The fallacy is particularly interesting if structural details of the analog system were introduced only to bridge mechanical weaknesses of the old technology. Ironically, the level-up mechanism makes it more difficult to get immersed in a digital role playing game, as it forces breaks in the flow of the game, reminding the player that the avatar is not growing stronger muscles but just changing a number defining its strength. In the same way, people were afraid of digital voting, because the act of voting on paper leads to irreversible changes for many years to come. Sirvi, what is the most common case the RPG fallacy is applied to?”

Sirvi fails to find an answer by herself and hires a literature crawler to help her out. Daniel doesn’t seem to mind if she spends a few coins on external computational resources occasionally: “67% refer to voting and similar opinion aggregation mechanisms.”

Ana understands and tries to come up with an example herself: “Does it also count as an RPG fallacy that our school server asks for a password every time I log in? Even though I already used my Nym to authenticate?” “You forget that I missed out modern technology development. No idea if passwords make sense in the modern world.”

“They don’t. Not at all, not even a teeny tiny bit. The school Nym is secured by my TrueName, that is the most secure login there ever was, and if it were compromised I would have a giant problem. Passwords… Pfft.” Ana has to laugh, thinking back how quickly she got around those. “I mean passwords are super annoying to remember and then, our school server’s security system is so crappy, it’s easier to just bust it open and recover the password yourself
than talk to admin for a new one. Ehm, at least that’s what they say.”

Now it’s Daniel who’s laughing: “Aha. Let me guess, someone has cracked that school system before.”

“Possibly.” Ana changes the subject. “But hey, if you’re interested in character development in role playing games, we should play a round of Karitubal. It’s kind of old, but the character development is great. It’s a hundred percent in 
the background, your character is just getting better by doing stuff repeatedly, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if your character got better or if you got better yourself.”

Daniel is happy to play: “Sounds interesting…”

And it is. Despite a relatively primitive tolkienesque goodversus-evil story line. The game is fast paced, they close the main storyline after two hours, and as they watch the extro, Sirvi enters the scene: “The shuttle to Chicago leaves in half an hour.”

Sources of Inspiration

Pool of Radiance and all its successors
The character development system of Skyrim
Attempts to digitalize higher education
Swiss electronic voting attempts