The Missing Link
Aside from the neverending shipping debates and the timeline debates, the biggest debate—what some would actually call… controversy… le gasp!—in the Zelda community is the whole concept of genre. It seems to be mankind’s incessant desire to classify things. From the whole taxonomy of life divided into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species (or as I like to remember, Kings Play Cards On Fat Green Stools) all the way to the strict divisions of books in bookstores, people like to classify things into categories. Perhaps this is because we like to figure out what items are similar to another item, making comparative shopping all the more easier. (It certainly does guarantee that you won’t get a romance movie for Christmas when you asked for The Lord of the Rings on DVD.)
The video game world is not an exception. We’ve got a strict separation of games into various genres, and those division lines define what a game is. I mean, we all know that all of the Mario Kart games are racing games, all of the older Kirby titles are platformers, Final Fantasy games are RPGs, and Halo is an FPS. Thus, if you’re looking for a game where you get to shoot people, all you need to do is look at all the games in the FPS genre and figure out which one strikes your fancy.
But there are games that defy that mold, games which begin to eat away at the system. Take Metroid Prime. Before Prime, Metroid games have been action games, and that was that, but Metroid Prime was unlike those. It’s very easy to tell that it’s an FPS; however at the same time, it displays the characteristics of an adventure game where you go to point A to get this item, then go to point B to get this. It’s not like traditional FPSes where you complete the missions from one area then go to a completely new map. So how do you classify Metroid Prime? FPS? Adventure? Well? The answer many people came up with was to call it a “First-Person Adventure” game, but there’s no other game in the world that’s called an FPA. “You can’t come up with this new genre thing!” the people cried. “It’s illegal! It’s criminal! Make it one or the other!” Yet despite people’s attempts to change the system, and even though Nintendo officially calls the game a “First Person” game, it is still an adventure game in its own right.
This brings us to the main event of the evening: The Great Zelda Debate (Controversy). In this corner, weighing in at a scream factor of 65 decibels, The Adventure Kid! And in this corner, weighing in at 64 decibels, RPG-Man! Now, you know the rules, keep it a clean fight, no flaming one another, no insulting anyone else’s mother. And… go!
Needless to say, the bloodbath would be incredible. The rules would quickly be thrown out, Nazis would be mentioned at some point, and all of this would somehow be blamed on George W. Bush. Dear goddesses, what have we just done? Have mercy on us, Din, Nayru, and Farore.
But let’s get serious here for a brief moment. (You know some humorous quip will leak out of me sooner or later!) What genre is Zelda? Adventure? RPG? Sadly, the answer to this one isn’t as obvious as you think.
Everyone knows about adventure games. Adventure games primarily focus on exploration of a world as well as solving puzzles. There’s also a big emphasis on story and the unraveling of that plot. It’s no doubt that the Zelda games (and Metroid Prime!) fall into this category.
Much of the problem in this issue, however, is that the precise definition of an RPG is… well… ambiguous at best. The origins of the term stem from the traditional, non-video game forms of the RPG, which may seem to help, but even that doesn’t provide a clear direction. Most people, when they think of traditional RPGs, immediately latch onto Dungeons & Dragons, and thus, all RPGs must pull elements from there, but as 8-bit Theatre has talked about, there are many, many other forms such as live-action role-playing (LARP), multi-user dungeons (MUDs), as well as about a thousand other varieties of the genre. So much for definitions. (Definitions are dumb, anyways. Or something.)
Because of this lack of a good definition, people made up their own, and those that have “defined” what RPG means categorise into one of two schools of thought:
There’s virtually no middle ground on this one. You’re either one or the other. The problem is that both schools of thought have good arguments for their side… and they also both have good arguments against the other.
The argument against a strict view is based upon the meaning of the levelling system. The liberals believe that the concept of a “levelling system” is inherently abstract. In Zelda, you “level” from having only 3 hearts (a measure of health, mind) to having some maximum level of hearts when you’ve found all the pieces of heart and heart containers. What’s more is that items are inherently more powerful than one another, and while there are no visible numbers to define this, people generally figured out that the Fighter’s Sword of Link to the Past is precisely half as powerful as the Master Sword, a third as powerful as the Tempered Sword, and a quarter as powerful as the Golden Sword. Thus, every such game has a “levelling system”, even if there’s no “level 1″ ever found in the game text. Thus, there really is no strict viewpoint at all.
The argument about the liberal POV is that their version of what an RPG is is way too inclusive. By their argument, FPS games are RPGs because you actually take on the role of some character in the game. Imagine… Halo… an RPG! Surely those guys must be sipping a bit too much of the Chateau Romani!
So which side is “right”? Well, there is no answer to that. (Stop booing, guys. I’m not done yet!) Personally, I veer to a more liberal perspective on what an RPG is, but I can easily see the argument for a strict definition. They are both good definitions and reasonable points of view. So, let me pose a few probing questions:
The answer to the debate inevitably lies within those three questions, and I personally think the last question is, quite honestly, the most telling of all three.Follow This Entry | Read Other Posts by The Missing Link