6 Horrifying Implications of the Most Popular RPG Universes
The entire appeal of role-playing games like Skyrim and Final Fantasy is that they are immersive -- there are cities, cultures, and hundreds of acres of land to explore. If you grew up as a gamer, the odds are that at least once you wished you could live in one of these places.
But in the course of building fictional worlds full of magic and wonder, they've thrown in a bunch of incredibly disturbing elements they're hoping you don't notice. Just consider that in the world of RPGs ...
Losing a Piece of Clothing Is Like Getting Severe Brain Damage
Many role-playing games have a system that lets you change your character type, right off the bat. This is usually called a class or job system, although if you're playing Final Fantasy X-2 they're called dresspheres, because Jesus that series got ridiculous. So if you like casting spells you can be a wizard, if you like punching things to death you can be a barbarian, and so on. Makes sense -- you're basically picking what genes you were born with and what training your character had growing up. But then, as the game progresses, you find gear that enhances those abilities -- it's not just armor that lets you take more damage, it's armor that changes you.
And that's where shit gets weird. Think about it:
Everything in that universe is kind of like the magic sneakers in Like Mike that give the little kid the supernatural ability to play basketball. Put on the right hat or gloves and you'll see alterations to your statistics (-20 to Intelligence, +10 to Strength and Not Giving a Fuck). As players, we just accept that this is our reward for either having the money to buy the gear or for ripping it off of some poor bastard's corpse, but the implications of this are freaking mind-boggling.
Those are all the same person on different days.
One minute you're proficient in axes, clubs, and tearing off limbs, and the next you're a magical nerd with the upper-body strength of an especially lazy cadaver, but with the IQ of Stephen Hawking -- just by swapping out a bracelet. So, in the world of RPGs, does everyone have enchanted gear? Wouldn't a farmhand find clothes that make him better at picking crops? Or, better question -- why would he bother being a farmhand when he could track down clothes that could make him smart enough to be a lawyer?
"I decided that retail wasn't for me."
If a child aces a test with the help of a necklace that gives her +10 Intelligence, is that cheating? Does she legitimately have the knowledge, or does she risk getting Flowers for Algernon'd back into the previous grade if she loses her necklace at the pool? What if you woo a date by wearing a shirt that spikes your Charisma? Will they leave you in disgust once you take it off in bed? Or will they not care anymore because they took off their Self-Esteem pants?
Plus, if you can gain knowledge through your wardrobe, there's no motivation to legitimately learn anything. Look at the, ugh, dresspheres. By putting on a different dress, the heroines can make themselves master alchemists, but they'll also forget how to shoot a gun. Are they actually skilled, or just lucky to have the right clothes? Does that distinction even have meaning?
Would your career choice come down to avoiding whatever made you look stupid?
Combine this with the income inequality present in all universes, and you've got a full-fledged dystopia on your hands. Rich people can make themselves smarter and more attractive at will by visiting Ye Olde Navy. The poor, meanwhile, will be lucky to scrape up a rusty ring that makes them better sandwich artists. They'll have to do all their work legitimately. How can hundreds of hours of hard labor on a single subject compete with magical clothing that makes you adept at half a dozen different skills throughout your day?
But that just brings us to ...
Income Inequality Is Rampant -- and Lethal
Sure, income inequality is a problem in the real world, but the United States looks like a communist paradise compared with Cyrodiil or Midgar. A new shirt and a bag of Funyuns will cost you more or less the same regardless of whether you're in L.A. or rural Idaho. But in RPGs, the Podunk village you start in will sell only cheap crap, while the final city will sell only gear that's many, many times more expensive (and powerful). The implication is that there are no rich people in the first town and no poor people in the last.
Or, in the case of the town that sells glass armor, no smart people.
That's problematic enough on its own, but let's consider the implications for weapons and armor. We'll pick a random example here -- Bravely Default. In the first town's weapon store you can buy a dagger for 50 fantasy bucks that gives you a measly +2 Attack. That's like going to Walmart to buy a pellet gun, basically. But in the final city you can buy an Assassin Dagger -- it costs 200 times as much, but it's much more powerful and has a chance to immediately kill anyone it so much as scratches. That's like going to Walmart and buying a railgun.
The same is true of armor -- the first shield in the game is a simple Buckler that costs 50 bucks. A late game shield is 80 times the price but is "imbued with curative powers that heal targets when the shield is raised and a special chant is spoken." Yes, with this shield you can chant stab wounds away.
And look stylish while doing it.
The holder of that shield becomes effectively invincible to everything but WMD-level attacks. Meaning, the rich can't be touched. In our world, these would be considered military-grade items, but in RPG land they aren't limited to soldiers and world-saving heroes. That shit is for sale off the shelf -- a rich person could walk into a store, flash some cash, and hit the street with equipment that could decimate an entire army of poor people. It'd be like if Donald Trump was allowed to buy a tank. A magical one.
Less linear games sell both the good stuff and the bad stuff in the same stores, like a hot dog stand that offers filet mignon. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you can buy a 150-credit military suit, or you can buy Exar Kun's 6,000-credit battle suit. For those of you who don't have Wookieepedia set as your homepage, Exar Kun is an infamous Sith Lord. So why on God's green Yavin can you buy his armor at the local five and dime? What possible motivation would there be to sell an investment banker an evil suit that's far, far stronger than what the freaking military wears?
It's like being able to walk into Macy's and buy Himmler's sweater vest.
Then there's Fallout 3, where a store in a post-apocalyptic settlement sells miniature nuclear warheads. At least that world has the excuse of total government collapse, but letting rich people pick up a few weapons of mass destruction with their bread and milk sure as shit isn't going to spur a recovery.
"That'll teach Steve to let his dog shit on my lawn."
But really, this is just one of many instances in which ...
Life Is Hell for Anyone Who Isn't a Superhuman Killing Machine
To keep role-playing games interesting while your party is wandering from one dungeon to the next, the game makers sprinkle the world with random encounters -- basically, monsters you can run into along any road/field/forest on the map. That's part of what makes the games fun, knowing that stepping one toe outside of a town can instantly trigger a fight to the death with some fanged horror, literally out of nowhere. Observe as three sentient firestorms, three human-sized scorpions, and two possessed suits of armor somehow sneak up on a group of warriors in a flat desert:
To the player, that's awesome -- we didn't spend 8,000 gold on a sword that shoots fire for nothing, and our group of four magical-powered super warriors is usually more than equipped to handle it (including spells that'll just bring our shit back to life if we lose). The problem is that this would make life hell for anyone who isn't part of a band of legendary warriors, i.e. literally everyone else in this world.
These people are just trying to live their freaking lives. Imagine wanting to visit your family on the other side of a forest, only to be attacked by walking trees, gigantic bugs, and poisonous sentient mushrooms the moment you step onto the path. Imagine you're a farmer who risks getting mauled by half a dozen zombie bears whenever you go out to tend your crops. Imagine you're in a trade caravan traversing a desert where every cactus is a needle-shooting monster.
When the flora start growing facial hair you're officially in trouble.
Civilians would be ill-equipped to deal with these threats, and that's our entry in the Understatement of the Year Competition. This isn't like frontier times, when settlers occasionally had to fend off the odd bandit or wolf -- we're talking bands of goblin archers and skeletons that can fling fireballs lurking outside every home. We'd tell you to imagine it, but you don't have to -- fire up Skyrim and see what happens when you lure a giant troll into a quaint farming hamlet. It's a massacre that even the local guards have trouble controlling.
Now consider this: one of the most common observations about RPG universes is that they're always sparsely populated, with even the bustling metropolises having no more than 100 people. We assumed that was simply due to technical limitations, but now we're wondering if thousands more tried to travel and got devoured by roaming vampires. It's a wonder every society isn't run like ancient Sparta. But even if every citizen in the world gets combat training to give themselves a fighting chance, what good is that to children, the elderly, and the infirm?
Anyone who asks their spouse to kill the spider in the kitchen is risking widowhood.
The only solution seems to be to become part of the problem -- every RPG has like 200 bloodthirsty bandits for each hard-working person with an honest job, and if running an inn or working as a store clerk means never, ever venturing outside for fear of sudden decapitation, who can blame them?
Anyone Who Isn't Evil Is Incredibly Fragile
To further compound the monster problem, in the world of an RPG, being evil just makes you stronger. Much stronger.
The games never explain why -- player characters just have far, far fewer hit points than monsters and bosses, even when those bosses are just other people -- it's as if the heroes, by comparison, are all terribly unhealthy in some way. While it's all the more noble that a ragtag band of fibromyalgia sufferers are fighting for the good of the world, it makes one wonder if there's anyone with a conscience in the ranks of the insurable. Take this boss from the aforementioned Bravely Default:
Her special attack is "embarrass you into turning off the game."
The player characters all have around 2,000 hit points, yet they're expected to take on Lolita the Playboy Bunny, whose deceptively slim frame hides some 54,000 HP. Stew on that for a moment -- this fetish model can handle 27 times the physical punishment of anyone on Team Protagonist. To accurately picture this, lie on the ground and have a friend drop a 16-pound bowling ball on your stomach (if it hurts, that means it's working!). Now picture someone, presumably not a friend, dropping a 432-pound ball. While you're recovering in the hospital, imagine her shrugging off that same blow with a giggle.
Or, consider The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. It features Saruman's minion/sidekick/BDSM partner, Grima Wormtongue, as a boss.
Seen here having a stroke at the very mention of the word "fight."
It's hard to imagine that a guy with sunken eyes and a complexion that lies somewhere between "sallow" and "embalmed" is somehow haler and heartier than the sword-wielding manly men standing against him, but the numbers don't lie. He has almost 15,000 HP, while our heroes barely clear 3,000. The only reason anyone ever manages to win a boss fight in an RPG is that most villains don't believe in healing.
But again, think of the common folk -- it's unlikely that the man selling lettuce out of a cart knows how to weave together the subtle magic that would unventilate his own chest. And we doubt that a middle-aged midwife can shrug off sword blows to the face all day like an evil bandit king can. If heroes are statistical wimps, civilians are irrelevant blips. Again, the only way for any of them to have even the slightest chance at holding their own in a fight would be to embrace evil.
Sephiroth used to be an insurance salesman.
Wait, is that what's happened here? All of these bad guys were once good guys who got rich enough to afford the really good armor, and the power drove them mad? Shit, is that what's going to happen to us after the credits roll?
Some of These "Side Quests" Really Shouldn't Be Optional
In order to give hardcore players a challenge while still giving casual players an achievable goal, saving the world is frequently not the toughest thing you can do in one of these games. Usually there are side quests along the way that involve slaying some lethal beast ... one that really shouldn't be allowed to roam the countryside just because the player doesn't feel like messing with it.
For example, beat Borderlands 2 and you can, if you choose, take on one of the skyscraper-sized Crawmerax creatures (of which there are at least two):
It's ruined countless long walks on the beach.
Yeah ... it really feels like somebody should have insisted on getting rid of that thing.
Final Fantasy X is even weirder about this -- you can help a monster breeder by capturing specimens for him to, well, breed. The beasts he creates are all much, much tougher than the world-threatening final boss whose defeat makes the credits roll. Sure, he supposedly keeps them tame, but look at this thing:
It's called Nemesis. Pets should not be called Nemesis.
If that wants to break out and raise hell, a barn ain't stopping it. It's almost a moral failing on the part of the player to be aiding in the construction of these behemoths. But even they pale in comparison to some of the monsters that are just allowed to wander freely and wreak havoc. Final Fantasy VII has Ruby Weapon, a building-sized beast summoned by the planet itself to raise hell. It stomps around outside FFVII's equivalent of Las Vegas, presumably causing all sorts of death and destruction, and you can just ... ignore it. You can go beat the final boss, save the planet, and retire to a lifetime of Chocobo racing while this titan continues to lay waste to all it surveys.
"Enjoy your newfound freedom from evil, citizens! But never, ever go
outside, or a giant 'fuck you' from Mother Nature herself will strike!"
It's like the heroes said, "Well, we saved 90 percent of the world, surely someone else will take care of the final 10," and then no one does. And these aren't lawless worlds -- there are kingdoms and governments with standing armies. But if you don't fight these planet-threatening beasts, no one else will. Would fighting them require an unpopular tax hike? Are the monsters protected by seriously misguided endangered-species laws? It would be like if Godzilla ended with the Japanese government deciding to just let the guy stomp around the suburbs to its heart's content.
Killing People Somehow Improves Every Aspect of Your Personality
In pretty much every RPG you earn experience points to better yourself, and the vast majority of this XP invariably comes from killing sentient creatures. That in and of itself is OK, because they usually pick fights with you. But what's strange is the way the XP is applied. Killing doesn't just make you better at killing -- that would kind of make sense -- it makes you better at everything. You get stronger, you get wiser, you get more charismatic ... totally unrelated skills can for some reason be honed only through violence. For example, when you level up in Fallout 3, here's what you can spend your skill points on:
Why anyone would pick Unarmed instead of Big Guns is beyond us.
Speech? Barter? Science? If you want to get a good deal at the store or learn how to make chemical compounds, you don't have lots of conversations or study textbooks. You start shooting fuckers square between the eyes. Everything your character gets good at, from picking locks to fixing computers, is built on a foundation of ending as many lives as possible. And while there are certain elements of society that might be impressed enough by your body count to find you extra inspiring at the Rotary Club dinner, you use your speech to influence everyone from children to the deeply religious. And every single person is unconcerned by the fact that your silver tongue was forged in blood.
"I finally mastered that chili recipe, and now I have no one to share it with."
Of course, this raises the question: does that mean that every time you encounter an NPC who possesses skills that you don't, they've committed more murder than you? If you're nervous about a big presentation at the office, do you go out and beat hobos to death until you're confident? Do serial killers grow in power with each unfortunate victim? If you have an exam coming up, why would you spend hours poring over a textbook when you could just go duck hunting and come back with the entire curriculum in your head?
Killing made this teenage boy luckier.
Let's put all of this together. Rich people can become proficient at almost anything with a change in wardrobe, but poor people can't afford that. What they can afford to do is murder their way to talent, which would explain why almost all luxury goods are mighty weapons and sturdy armor -- the rich need to protect themselves from hordes of poor people trying to stab their way to an engineering degree, and they can pick up a few skill points for themselves in the process.
No wonder RPGs are so sparely populated -- if the easiest way to better yourself is to shoot a bunch of dudes, take all of their money, and spend it on items that make you even better at killing, even the nicest person would become a psychopath rather than spend another tedious day developing their life the old-fashioned way. And they all live under the constant threat of death by roving packs of monsters and super-beasts that could hold their own in a fight against God. Man, maybe the villains who want to destroy the world and start over are onto something.
For more horror hiding beneath the surface, check out 6 Horrifying Implications of Awesome Fantasy Movie Universes. And then check out 15 Famous Movies With Hidden Symbolism You Didn't Notice.
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