So, when I left my story last time, I mentioned playing role-playing video games.
The first RPGs I remember were for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). I don’t remember exactly which one I played first, but my friends and I would often rent games and play them over at my friend Mark’s house. We played a lot, including some of the early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. While they are one-player games, we usually played together, taking turns controlling the game. I enjoyed that style of playing because I found (and still find) it more entertaining being able to share the experience with someone. I think it’s the same reason people still go to the theatre to watch a movie even when they can get a similar experience at home.
The game I played the most of all was undoubtedly Final Fantasy VII (FFVII). For a lot of RPG players, it was the most important video game of its time and undoubtedly changed the way games were played and developed. It was one of the reasons I bought a Playstation (that and sports games, but more on that later.) I easily spent two hundred hours playing FFVII, much of it with my friend Mike. I played it by myself as well, but it was mostly the building levels (walking around the same parcel of land for hours on end looking for monsters to trounce in order to gain experience) that I did by myself. I saved the story parts and big battles for when I was playing with someone.
The other games I played most were sports games, more specifically hockey and soccer. I’ve been a player of the EA Sports NHL and FIFA series since they came out. My favorites were probably NHL 94 (Sega), 95 (SNES) and FIFA 98 (PS1) I also dabbled in the Street Fighter games, but was never any good.
In 1998 I moved to Japan. I bought a Japanese Playstation and a few games to play, but mostly played alone, as my days off didn’t really coincide with my friends’. They were also into different things than games, so my social activities changed.
It was also a while until I had a computer of my own to play games on. The first PC game I had was NHL 2001, but my computer was too underpowered to run it well, so I saved my gaming for when I bought a Playstation 2 later.
The PS2 also revived my RPG playing like a dose of Phoenix Down with Final Fantasy X. I enjoyed the next generation of graphics and the renewed complexity of the game. However, I missed the social aspect I loved about previous games. In other words, I had nobody to play with.
I thought my wishes might be fulfilled when I first tried online games. I played a couple of online fantasy games, but was severely disappointed by what I found. To put it bluntly, online gamers were no fun to play with. How much fun is it to play when the other players are immature, foul-mouthed and all suffer from what I like to call Internet Badass Syndrome. In fact, this comic from theoatmeal.com sums up my experience nicely. I tried meeting up with my friends back home online, but the time difference and new-found familial and occupational responsibility made it impossible.
Then, in 2006 I got a new computer. The first game I got for it was NHL 07. (coincidently, I still haven’t figured out why the game “07” came out in 2006 and with player attributes and rosters from 2005)
I also discovered that it was possible to modify the PC game’s files to change team names, uniforms, players, and so on. It was possible for me to recreate my own hockey teams from my past and (at the time) present. I made virtual versions of the Wild Cards and the Kofu Monkeys to face off with the teams in the game.
These “mods” led me to the web sites NHL Depot and NHL Downloads, where I came across other like-minded hockey and hockey game enthusiasts.
It turned out that the NHL Downloads site was part of a larger site known as thebreakaway.net (TBN) and it would eventually merge with its parent site.
Little would I know that this would lead me to my current RPG hobby, simulation sports.
The idea of a sim league takes a bit of explaining. I think it is a bit of a rare activity and hasn’t caught on just yet.
A sim league is, in its essence, a mass RPG. People join up to participate in the league through the web site, in this case TBN. They take the role of players and go through the process of playing as prospects and later get drafted onto teams in the league. You create your own player, so you also get to control what type of player you are and his or her attributes.
But wait, you might ask, how does one play?
That where the simulating comes in. All the games in the league are simulated using a video game with the computer controlling the outcome of the match. The leagues I am currently involved in use the NHL series and SI Sports’ Eastside Hockey Manager, and the soccer simulator Football Manager. These games take the place of the pencils, paper and dice of the old table-top RPG.
A few of the players also take the roles of General Manager and coach for the teams in the league. The coaches input their tactics and strategies into the games, and the GMs trade, encourage and occasionally negotiate with their players. Team reloactions and changes of identity are commonplace, as when the people in charge of the teams change, the team itself sometimes also changes with them.
Many people play some version of themselves in these sim leagues, but others choose to take on characters much different than their real life personality. There is room for both.
For the time being I play as myself, and just react the way my real self would, though with a little more prescience (and presence) than I might normally have. It’s also handy to be able to take a little time to think of witty things to say.
As the leagues go through their seasons, players who are more active and contribute more to their teams are rewarded with the ability to improve their player characters. Thus the most active members are often the best in the game as well. These rewards encourage everyone to contribute to making the league better.
The main reason I like sim leagues is the sense of community and team (and league) camaraderie that I love about playing team sports in general. I count amongst my virtual friends people from all over the world, including the US, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Latvia, just to name a few.
The people involved in these games tend to be younger than me, which I think has given me a bit of Elder Statesman status, which is also nice, but occasionally leaves me stranded in a Betamax moment. I’m lucky that I can get by, and leave most of the technical stuff to minds more suited to the tasks.
Who can say where the future of RPGs will take us, whether it be in the real world, such as Live-Action Role-Playing or through the virtual world. For me, I’m happy to continue my career as a simulated sports star as long as they’ll let me.
And if you ever want to join, tell ’em I sent you.