Old CRPGs are Unplayable for Modern Gamers

They had five days to play (Ultima IV), and I asked them to make as much progress as they could in that time. When we gathered to debrief in class, a few students explained how they’d overcome some of their difficulties, but the vast majority was utterly flummoxed by the game. As one of them put it, “I’d say for gamers of our generation, an RPG like Ultima IV is boring and pretty much unplayable.” After removing the arrow from my chest, I asked them to explain why.

It mostly came down to issues of user-interface, navigation, combat, and a general lack of clarity about what to do and how to do it. I had supplied them with the Book of Mystic Wisdom and the History of Britannia, both in PDF form, but not a single student bothered to read them. “I thought that was just stuff they put in the box with the game,” said one student.

“Yes,” I replied, “They put it in there because they expected you to read it.” “Wow,” he responded.

Some of their difficulties must be chalked up to poor teaching. I should have done a better job of preparing them for the assignment. I resisted holding their hands because in the past I’ve found it useful to plop them down in Britannia and let them struggle. Figure out the systems, grok the mechanics, and go forth. Ultima IV may be a high mountain to climb for a 19-year-old Call of Duty player, but it’s well worth the effort.

At least that’s what I used to think. Now it seems to me we’re facing basic literacy issues. These eager players are willing to try something new, but in the case of a game like Ultima IV, the required skill-set and the basic assumptions the game makes are so foreign to them that the game has indeed become virtually unplayable.

And as much as I hate to say it - even after they learn to craft potions, speak to every villager, and take notes on what they say - it isn’t much fun for them. They want a radar in the corner of the screen. They want mission logs. They want fun combat. They want an in-game tutorial. They want a game that doesn’t feel like so much work.

I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to teach Ultima IV. The series is simply too foundational to overlook, and I can develop new teaching strategies. But I believe we’ve finally reached the point where the gap separating today’s generation of gamers from those of us who once drew maps on grid paper is nearly unbridgeable. These wonderful old games are still valuable, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest we should toss them in the dustbin.

Notes:

Folksonomies: history preservation gaming

 The CRPG Book Project: Sharing the History of Computer Role-Playing Games
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Pepe, Felipe (April 2017), The CRPG Book Project: Sharing the History of Computer Role-Playing Games, Retrieved on 2017-07-20
  • Source Material [crpgbook.files.wordpress.com]
  • Folksonomies: rpg crpg