I've been playing video games since 1993 at the tender age of 2 years old. I started on the Super Nintendo, which was way ahead of its time looking back, and my favorite games were Super Mario, of course, and Final Fantasy III/VI. I know some of you are thinking "Final Fantasy, that's a little heavy for a two-year-old, isn't it" and looking back, it was, because I've played it again since then and t was a whole lot easier than I remember and there was a lot that I missed, but even as a toddler, I knew I loved RPG's, but it wasn't until later that I realized why.
During this time, in the early 90s, Video games were finally leaving the "Just a fad" phase of their lives and rapidly becoming a multi-million dollar, established facet of popular culture, and with the rise in fame and technology, video games, as a whole, were beginning to see a significant change in how they were viewed by society. What at first was seen as a mindless diversion for children, were quickly becoming works of art, masterful multimedia productions with epic scores, blockbuster voice actors, and narratives to rival some award-winning films. The scene was changing, and thus, so was the gamer, we needed more from our games. Long gone were the days of Pong, Frogger, and Q*Bert, with their linear or non-existent stories, nonsensical gameplay, and simple unengaging characters. Gamers needed more, we needed characters that grow with us as we play, we needed to feel like our objectives had a purpose, we needed to be rewarded for our efforts in a fulfilling way, we needed to feel like we were part of this world that had been created and not just controlling a sprite, we needed RPG elements.
Now among video games, there are many different types. The most popular, among the young male demographic, or the target audience, were; the first-person Shooter, like Call of Duty, and the sports sim, like NBA2k. The least popular, in America at least, would probably have been RPGs like Final Fantasy, but even so, the stats and numbers of D&D, which had been incorporated heavily into most RPGs, would change the face of gaming forever. Now in first-person shooters, you control a character that is oftentimes some sort of soldier or weaponized person, in the first-person view, completing missions and commands. The fun was to be had in creating death and destruction, or skilfully executing objectives with cunning and tactics, or just shotting your friends in multiplayer, and it was a hit, a working formula, for a long time, from Goldeneye for the N64 all the way to the first Call of Duty, but then something changed, developers realized that wasn't enough, players needed more, they needed RPG's. The sports simulator, which would arguably be the furthest from a traditional RPG, essentially has you command and control a sports team to play simulated matches against other teams. The fun to be had was controlling your favorite team and holding the narrative of some iconic games literally in your hands, and of course, playing against and besting your friends, a tried and true method that has worked in repeat fashion, and seemed to be self-developing as sports teams changed and grew, still needed to evolve as gamers did. There are also Life simulator games, Adventure Games, Puzzle Games, and many more, all of which would eventually develop some or all the elements of my favorite genre, the RPG or Role-Playing Game, which, for a long time, was a niche genre of gaming only enjoyed by D&D players and other enthusiasts of mystics, might and magic, which admittedly, was not a large portion of mainstream gamers.
Now when I say RPG's leaked into every other genre, I don't mean that basketball game's began featuring werewolves, and wizards (which they did) or shooters started incorporating spells and potions (which also happened) but the elements, the way characters develop and grow, experience points, these things Developers realized were necessary to retain the attention of the modern-day gamer, to give a person a reason to come back, turn the game back on, and continue to develop. Now, in almost every game, you see some form of leveling, or character development, where it wasn't important at all in a sports sim a decade ago, these days you now have some form of career mode or player creator in all of them where you essentially play an RPG version of your favorite sports sim, tweaking and changing stats, buying gear, the whole nine. In shooters, instead of just making everything available to you at once, as would make sense in war or if you were a special agent, you now have to level, grow and develop your character, which is so much more engaging and rewarding, and a direct cue from the RPG's of old. These two titans in the gaming industry took a cue from arguably the weakest genre in mainstream gaming media and changed the way video games were looked at entirely.
Honestly, I was a little worried to see where video games were headed, it is clear the mainstream side of gaming is much more focused on multiplayer action, high octane, hyper-realistic, the tactics were leaving, the engrossing elements of losing yourself in another world....just not the direction games were going when I started. Video games were supposed to be an escape from the real, I was afraid video games would literally lose the "magic". It makes me really happy to see RPG elements holding strong, actually bridging the gap between Nerds and Jocks even if people don't realize it. Your small-forward in MyCareer is basically my Agility build in Dark Souls, how cool is that. With the advances in technology and capabilities of gaming, the line between genres isn't getting more defined, but the opposite, in fact, the line between genres is blurrier than ever, we're able to incorporate all the elements, and that's what makes a great game, but the RPG has leaked into every genre, that is undeniable, my first love has grown so strong. There are no games these days without some sort of leveling or development, and it really warms my heart.