Traditional RPG Decline: Is The Culprit A Dwindling Attention Span?
Attention spans are sinking to an all-time low and while one could consider any number of reasons, I firmly believe the primary culprit is the "information age."
The current situation: The constant drive to be plugged in, the suddenly insatiable desire to remain continually updated in regards to the lives of others (despite the mundane triviality of those updates), and the ingrained belief that any information that takes longer than ten seconds to deliver is too slow.
This logically generates a declining attention span, which has become painfully obvious. It's why a film camera can't stay in one place for more than three seconds at a time, why previews are nothing but chaotic, seizure-inducing flashes, and possibly why the traditional role-playing formula(s) have fallen by the wayside. The virtual disappearance of the turn-based mechanic is a common topic of conversation among veteran gamers, those who recall a one-time emphasis on patience, strategy, storytelling, and dialogue.
Today, a game like Vandal Hearts II would be deemed unplayable by the mainstream crowds. It featured a ton of dialogue (and in those days, without voice acting, this meant a lot of reading), and an in-depth turn-based strategy system that was the exact opposite of fast-paced, in-your-face action. There are a hundred other examples of strategy/role-playing titles from the original PlayStation era and PC heyday (mid-to-late 90s) that would be quite simply viewed as "boring" by today's standards. And why? Things just don't move fast enough.
I know we've seen better examples of storytelling since, as the writers in the industry have become more skilled over the past few generations. I also know that increased technology has given us the opportunity to view strong emotion like never before. I'm not saying this hasn't helped. What I'm saying is that in a culture where attention spans have been quickly and tragically erased, any game that "stops" - as all turn-based games did - will cause the twitchy younger generation to have some sort of stroke. And of course, that's a good explanation as to why shooters now dominate.
One could make the argument that because a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sells millions, there are still plenty of people out there who can be patient. But that's not a great example, is it? It's real-time; as vast and epic and immersive as that world is, and despite the hundreds of hours it could theoretically absorb with its beautiful and authentic fantasy setting, it's still real-time. You're always moving, always doing something. There's really no pause. You can pause combat to select skills but it's not mandatory. If it were, would it still sell millions? I'm not so sure.
It's not just about shifting industry trends and the fact that technology allows us to implement the same amount of depth without forcing us to stop. It's about how in general, this society has rapidly come to include nothing but those who seek instant gratification. And I'm using the most literal definition of "instant." It's also another reason why non-interactive cut-scenes are dwindling in length; we just can't handle it. We can't sit still for more than two minutes. Hence, we're deprived of potentially fantastic scenes. That picture you see here, of the first meeting between Squall and Rinoa at the ball in Final Fantasy VIII, was brief. But it's an example of what we're losing...nothing blows up in that scene, after all.
Traditional RPG formats still exist. But they're tough to find. Just about as hard to find as someone who can read a book the whole way through.
P.S. Yes, for the uninitiated, that picture is old. FFVIII released for the PS1 in 1999...characters are more realistic today, but that still looks pretty, doesn't it?
8/5/2012 8:16:12 PM Ben Dutka